Day 2: Dialogue
From Tania Hershman
As I mentioned in the introduction to our week together, one of the vital elements of a good story is a character we care about and that you, the writer, are intrigued enough by to want to keep following. Yesterday, you began a story using your set of prompt phrases, and you now have at least one character that emerged from that 20 minutes of writing. The next step is to bring your main character to life for you, the writer. To get to know your character, you need to hear their voice, the unique way they speak. So, we’re going to get them to talk.
Writing dialogue that feels real is a tricky thing to do. Watch something on television or on the Internet that isn’t the sort of thing you’d usually watch. Something where you don’t already know the characters and aren’t invested in the story. It could be a science programme or a reality TV show. Get curious and start wondering about the people. Listen to how they don’t finish sentences, don’t always directly reply to what someone else has said and how they go off on tangents. Listen to what they don’t say, which is as important as the words that do emerge
Let’s get back to the character you started to bring to life yesterday: you’re going to get them talking to someone. Pick one of the following locations:
a) A public place where they are queuing or waiting for something, i.e. the post office, supermarket, doctor’s waiting room, or somewhere odder, if it fits your story, like a rocket launch or the celebration of the design of a new robot.
b) The corner of the room at a family gathering. It might be a celebration or a less joyful occasion.
c) Stuck inside a small space with strangers or people they know i.e. a lift, an underground bunker, a space shuttle, a bus that’s broken down etc…
Now have your character say something to someone else – they speak first (they can say anything at all) and the other person will reply. Write at least a page of this conversation, letting the characters lead you, listening for your main character’s voice and how they phrase things. Are they chatty? Shy? Having trouble saying certain words? Scared? Comfortable? Bossy? Bored? Impatient? Kind? Cruel? This conversation may not end up in the final draft of your story, so don’t worry about the writing of it for the moment. You’re learning more about your character.
Remember that no-one really replies precisely to what someone else says and we often aren’t paying complete attention. We’re thinking about what we’re going to say next, we don’t listen, we repeat ourselves and we don’t always make much sense or finish our sentences. Confusion is fine, and the same applies if your characters are aliens, or chickens, or furniture.
Tomorrow we’ll find out more about our main character by playing with time.