Putting Dialogue Centre Stage

Some writers find dialogue difficult. I’ve even seen new writers avoid dialogue with the overuse of reported speech. But the best way to tackle dialogue is to tackle dialogue.

Listen to people out on the street or in cafes and tune into how they speak. Notice how they don’t always use full sentences. How they interrupt each other and how two people are distinct from each other, regardless of the sound of their voice, but just in the pattern of their speech and the words they use. Next watch TV, especially soap operas or dramas, if you want contemporary, everyday speech. Turn to films for more stylised dialogue, unless you go for someone like Ken Loach or Mike Leigh. Take a look at authors whose dialogue you admire. What are they doing and how do they do it?

Writing Prompt: Take a dialogue scene you’re struggling with or just want to improve. Now turn it into a screenplay or radio play, or any type of script. Strip away all description and steer away from any stage direction or dialogue notes, such as ‘said angrily’. Make the dialogue work harder. It should stand on its own to convey the emotions and thoughts of your characters, as well as giving an indication of setting. Make your characters’ voices distinct from each other. When you are finished, turn the scene back into prose, adding action and visual texture.

Dialogue in a radio drama has to do almost all the work

Dialogue in a radio drama has to do almost all the work

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