13 SECRETS OF GREAT DIALOGUE
Most of these are borrowed from Dialogue by Robert McKee (which I highly recommend and which I'm rereading at the moment). And some come from regurgitated stuff in my head—things I'd picked up from various sources over the years. You can argue that there is no such thing as perfect dialogue, but I'd argue back that as much as dialogue can be fluid and nebulous, it must have a form. It can fluctuate within that form, but without form it bogs down the narrative with melodrama (which stems from unclear character motivations) and other dialogue sins (info-dumps, on-the-nose talk, repetitiveness of arguments, inadvertent summaries, random interruptions, unfinished thoughts, etc.).
So. I created a cheat-sheet of sorts for myself which I'll share here with you and will bookmark for myself to return to when I feel like my dialogue sucks and I don't know how to fix it (which is almost every day).
- ACCELERATE YOUR PACING VIA INDIRECT DIALOGUE
- WRITE THE WAY PEOPLE TALK: NOUN, VERB, OBJECT
- USE NOUNS AND VERBS FOR KNOWLEDGE; MODIFIERS FOR PERSONALITY
- PLACE THE CORE WORD AT THE END TO MAKE DIALOGUE SUSPENSEFUL
- IF YOU CAN SHOW IT WITHOUT DIALOGUE, CUT THE DIALOGUE OUT
- USE FOUR LAYERS: PHYSICAL, SOCIAL, PERSONAL, PRIVATE
- USE THREE LEVELS: THE SAID, THE UNSAID, THE UNSAYABLE
- USE CONCRETE OVER ABSTRACT, FAMILIAR OVER OUTLANDISH, SHORT OVER LONG, ACTIVE OVER PASSIVE
- SHOW EMOTION VIA LENGTH OF WORDS AND SENTENCES
- APPLY ON-THE-NOSE DIALOGUE IF YOU WANT LESS REALISM
- USE THE THIRD THING TO PIT TWO CHARACTERS AGAINST ONE ANOTHER
- ALWAYS APPLY THE RULE OF OPPOSITES (AS A CHEAT)
- HAVE EVERYTHING IN CONFLICT, AT ALL TIMES
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