Writing is Rewriting IV

Dialogues gentlemen talking across a tableThe famous screenwriter William Goldman once said: “A good writer is not someone who knows how to write—but to rewrite.” In this forth post of our five-part series, drawn from Raymond G Frensham’s book, Screenwriting, we turn our attention to dialogue.

The Art of Dialogue

Good dialogue is never just about relaying essential information—moving the plot forward by fostering the outer journey. It’s also about the inner journey of the characters; its about revealing the reasons why characters act and say the things they do—the subtext that reveals their motivation.

In reviewing your characters’ dialogue look out for the following problems:

1. Are your scenes flat and listless? Are they governed by dialogue that lacks pace, spark? Try injecting emotion, humour—yes, even in drama, a prediction, a challenge, or replace it with silences in which we are shown rather than told things.

2. Is the dialogue in a scene interchangeable between characters? Could I take a phrase from one character and put it in the mouth of another without anyone noticing? If so, your cast and the way they speak, their viewpoint, background, and values, are not unique. Could you imagine interchanging the dialogue of Bart, Homer, or Marge Simpson? Of course not! That’s because these characters are strongly and uniquely defined. Re-examine your own character biographies and ensure that your characters are individuals driven by their own goals. Each character should have his own way of speaking that simultaneously reflects both his inner and outer journeys.

3. Are the major dialogue exchanges in your story governed by contrasting values, conflicts and innuendo? If not, they ought to be.

4. Does your dialogue ramble? Does it meander, seem unnecessarily “talky”? Cull unnecessary dialogue and pare down what remains to the bone. Good dialogue is sharp and precise and moves the plot forward while revealing the reasons for the views and actions it expresses, through subtext. (Please consult this blog for additional posts on subtext in which I provide specific techniques for creating vibrant, interesting dialogue that bristles with verisimilitude).

5. Try not to express plot and intent through direct on-the-nose dialogue. The cinema is not the place to showcase your skill as a soliloquy writer. Can you reveal plot through subtext rather than through direct statement? If you can, do so without hesitation. “I saw your girlfriend kissing a toy boy in the kitchen at your birthday party,” is better than “I’m sorry to hear that you and Marcy aren’t getting along lately.”

Summary

Writing good dialogue requires a good ear and an understanding of the medium you’re working in. Listed above are some of the pitfalls to avoid when rewriting dialogue during the forth draft of your story.

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Writing is Rewriting III

People talking
Characterisation:
Having already written two drafts, one focusing on comprehensibility and the other on structure, we now turn our attention to character.

Writer/director Clive Barker once said with regards to character: “Always try to trip yourself up—look for the places where you’ve done something which was convenient rather than true.” This is no more true than when applied to your characters’ actions.

Keys to Good Character

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are the characters in my current draft distinctive? Does each character have her own goals, foibles, mannerisms, and way of speaking that sets her apart from all the others?

2. Do I need all the characters in my story? Have I invented characters to solve plot problems that would otherwise require more ingenuity and hard work to solve? If so, cull them, or combine them into a single character and find better ways to solve story problems.

Remember that most stories revolve around three or four main characters: Protagonist, antagonist, mirror or reflection character and, sometimes, a romance character.

Character Check-List

1. Have you established the pivotal emotions and values that exist in your story-world from the start?

2. What attitude, emotion, value, and belief changes do your main characters go through? Do these changes occur at the structural nodes of your story (turning points, midpoint, climax)? We refer to such changes as the transformational arc of the character.

3. Is there a strong correlation between your characters’ (especially the protagonist’s) inner and outer journey? In other words, does your protagonist’s action stem from his inner values, beliefs, background, attitude?

4. Are your characters original? If not, think about having them act contrary to reader or audience expectation—though still in keeping with their defining traits. Have your character(s) do something unpredictable at some crucial junction in the story (usually at a structural node).

5. Avoid clichéd characterisation by ensuring that your tale contains unexpected outcomes stemming from pertinent but surprising character actions.

6. Try to establish an enigma around a main character’s actions and maintain it for as long as possible. Provide a satisfying answer by the end of the story as part of the climax or resolution.

Summary

The focus of your third draft is on character. Work on making your characters as sharp, true and interesting as possible, using the above tips as an aid.

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If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.