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 Guide to Writing Dialogue

Discussion in 'Guides' started by Rhizome, Oct 21, 2018.

  1. Rhizome

    Rhizome primum dominum Community Helpers

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    Dialogue in Roleplaying
    Breathing life into imagined characters is an exciting aspect of roleplaying. As authors, we often write reams of pages that detail and chronicle what happens to the characters we create; but, our stories are not written in isolation. One key difference between roleplaying and traditional writing is how roleplaying constitutes an inherently collaborative effort. An author’s agency can be exhibited through the characters in the story, and readers can learn a wealth of information about the tale from how these characters interact with one another.

    The Dialogue section of the Improved Writing Guide offers a general primer on writing character dialogue. The purpose of this Guide will be to offer strategies for using dialogue between characters to help make interactions sharper, engaging, and more impactful. To meet our aim, we will explore four aspects of Dialogue: the context, the tone, the content, and the power of indirect speech or not saying anything at all.


    The Context of a Conversation
    Context can be described as “the place where the conversation occurs, [as well as] the circumstances leading to it.” Location and circumstances help generate a base tone that a character’s words and actions inherently respond to. For example, are the protagonists lost in a factory filled with zombies? Less dramatically, remember that characters are people too when crafting dialogue. Capitalize and expand upon the richness of a character’s past – use dialogue to describe the situation(s) that led to the characters speaking in the first place. When done with finesse, well managed dialogue can eliminate the need for heavy exposition that runs the risk of feeling more educational than evocative.

    “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Zach slipped the high-caliber pistol into his belt, next to the combat knife. His best friend came better armed, pulling a tactical, 12-gauge shotgun from the trunk of their parked car. “He is your father, after all.”

    “He killed my wife,” James intoned. After carefully sliding the last round into the breach, the pair approached the high-rise.


    The Tone of a Conversation
    Tone in writing is how a body of narrative makes you feel. The tone created in dialogue should match the tone of the story or scene within which it is situated – writing quippy lines of humor will break the tension of a war scene, for example. Settings can imply the atmosphere of tone, but the dialogue between characters (what they want and how) affects tone most clearly; in fact, one could argue that readers perceive tone most directly through the thoughts and words of characters. If they are somber, the story becomes somber; if they are aroused, the story takes on an enticing air.

    Having well developed characters makes writing their dialogue unique from other characters with whom they interact. Within the overall (atmospheric) tone of the setting, individual characters can lend their unique perspectives to the situation. Doing so introduces nuance to whatever drama surrounds them. Each character serves to help define the parameters of their predicament while reinforcing the overall tone of the scene. Remember that unique characters will not only have a unique approach, but also a unique style of expression or language. The word and phrases you choose to use helps identify them as much as dialogue “tags.”

    Scene: Married Man considering having sex with woman at bar.

    Example 01 // The Sultry Version
    “You look lonely, Sugar.” The sultry blonde draped her unbidden fingers across Jack’s hand. “No one to take care of you?” she asked, softly. Her finger felt the metal wedding band on his ring finger, somehow cool to the touch.

    Tobias stared at the woman’s digits, enrapt by sensations 一 long forgotten 一 that left his nerves screaming for more. “I have someone,” he insisted, “though … she not interested in those sorts of things.”

    “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said; the slight smirk of her carmine lips, however, betrayed that she found the news encouraging. “Have you ever been with a real woman before?”

    Blue eyes met his brown gaze, shocked and helpless at her bold words. His heart beat at what he knew was coming. “No,” he replied.

    Her playful hand curled around his, tugging his to follow her out the door. “Come on, then … Let’s see if I can do something about that.”

    Example 02 // The Coarse Version
    “Why you sitting here all alone?” The sultry blonde draped her unbidden fingers across Jack’s hand. Her finger felt the metal wedding band on his ring finger, somehow cool to the touch. “You married?”

    Tobias stared at the woman’s digits, enrapt by sensations 一 long forgotten 一 that left his nerves screaming for more. “I am,” he insisted, “but, my wife’s more interested in what on Netflix than what's in my pants.”

    “That’s too bad,” she said; the slight smirk of her carmine lips, however, betrayed that she found the news encouraging. “Wanna fuck?”

    Blue eyes met his brown gaze, shocked and helpless at her bold words. His heart beat at what he knew was coming. “Only if I can finish in your ass,” he replied.

    Her playful hand curled around his, tugging his to follow her out the door. “You can drive … I’ll blow you on the way to my place.”


    The Content of a Conversation

    Write only the essentials of dialogue to convey meaning. Remember that dialogue does not mirror real life conversations, and (like the narrative) should be exact and purposeful. Having characters say too much muddles the message you as the author are trying to express through that character. Movies are great mediums for studying efficient dialogue – even bad movies scripts attempt to maximize the delivery of information with as few words as possible.

    In terms of actual content in dialogue, consider three (3) options for why characters interact. These options indirectly answer the question of “What should my characters say?” by answering the larger question of why they speak in the first place.

    1.) Characters conversations can develop or resolve conflict, adding or relieving dramatic tension in a scene.
    2.) Characters conversations can advance the plot, moving the story along by introducing upcoming challenges and dynamics between other characters.
    3.) Characters conversations can help reveal aspects of the characters themselves.


    Example 02 // Developing Conflict
    Alban MacGregor leveled his steel warbrand, the sword tip mere feet from the Chieftain’s face. “I won’t rest until your blood soaks the ground.”

    Example 02 // Resolving Conflict
    “I told myself everyday that I’d never forgive you for what you did.” Alister watched Alban for some minutes in silence before carefully sheathing his sword. “What’s in the past is in the past.”

    “How do you intend for us to enter that Castle, your Grace?” Alban’s sneer and mocking tone defied the English Earl 一 the most unlikely of allies.

    “I say,” the Earl quipped, “If you’d stop fantasizing about fucking sheep long enough to listen, you’d have heard me earlier.” Earl Malborough cast his gaze from the smelly oaf, finding the withered oak near the south tower. “There,” he said, plainly, “the secret tunnel lies next to that tree.”

    The blood in Alban’s face drained at what laid between them and the tree. The Earl narrowed his eyes in bemusement. “Whatever is the matter?” he asked.

    Alban swallowed thickly. “There’s a river.”

    “Yes,” the Earl noted, waiting. “Can you not swim?”

    “Oh, aye … I can swim fine. It’s just that there be a kelpie in that river.”

    The Earl regarded Alban with a dumbfounded expression, one reserved for those who held nonsense superstition as fact. “You … cannot be serious.”

    “It’ll take a man to the bottom until he’s dead.” Alban regarded the Englishman with firm conviction. “Seen it meself, I have.”


    Things Spoken and Left Unsaid

    Sometimes, the core message or purpose of a moment of dialogue can be to hint at meanings. Such a strategy is different from writing that lacks focus or intention – the power of suggestion can intrigue a reader by conveying information in a unique manner. Writing two meanings in a single phrase is known as “subtext,” and can also be accomplished via symbolism. Characters who avoid answering questions or being cagey about their responses offer opportunities to show depth – revealing hidden truths or betraying their feelings in skirting honesty. Finally, characters can omit a response altogether, which lends itself to implying guilt or emotionally heavy investment in the question being asked. Consider non-verbal communication when considering how a character expresses themselves, amounting to subtle cues and gestures.

    Abby strutted toward her boss. The sex they’d shared the previous weekend left Abby breathless, and she was all too eager to repeat the pleasures of that night.

    “Mr. Stone?” she asked.

    Jacob Stone sat typing at his computer, his mind consumed with the problem of the day. “Yes?” he answered, distracted.

    Abby bent to his ear with a bitten smirk. Erotic want filled her whisper. “I just checked my calendar. I’m wide open this weekend. I was hoping you might have ideas on how to fill it.”

    “You can tell me what happened, you know.”

    Ajax listened to the words his therapist spoke, but he only heard a faint suggestion, his mind still enrapt in the fog of war that comes with memories of battle. Won or lost, conflict scarred the human spirit. Told that no one was truly innocent, Ajax wasn’t prepared for what had awaited him in the bombed out pile of rubble that was once a daycare and nursery.

    “Ajax?” the woman spoke. “What did you see?”

    “... I ...” The warrior’s face felt the sting of cold sweat. “The … building.”

    “It’s okay. I’m here to help you, remember.”

    The assurance did little to ease the man’s beleaguered state. The cost of war was paid with civilian casualties, glossed over in the slick language of unaccountability 一 collateral damage could be stomached by those who did not experience it.

    Ajax raised his tearful, tormented gaze. “They were all so young.”

    Jane burst into the house, the force of her entry startling Donald. He looked up from the newspaper he read while sitting in his favorite chair. “What’s wrong?”

    Jane stared at Donald, her eyes near feral. “I was just visiting mom. My sister happened to be there along with Helen, our little niece.”

    Donald quietly folded his paper, swallowing nervously; Jane shook with rage.

    “Is it true? Donald, she’s just EIGHTEEN!”

    Donald looked at his wife’s feet, then to the floor.

    Tears choked Jane’s disbelief at the animal in her husband. Her interrogation came in a strained whisper. “How? How … could you?”


    Dialogue Section in Improved Writing Guide
    https://blackdahliaroleplaying.com/index.php?threads/improved-writing-guide.1848/#post-48696

    General Tips Reference
    https://jerryjenkins.com/how-to-write-dialogue/
    https://nybookeditors.com/2013/07/dialogue/
    https://nybookeditors.com/2017/05/your-guide-to-writing-better-dialogue/

    Writing Conversations
    https://www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-write-dialogue-7-steps/

    Punctuating Reference
    https://www.novel-writing-help.com/punctuating-dialogue.html
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2018
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