Dialogue is the primary tool used for storytelling in theater. Film uses imagery, novels use descriptions, comics use pictures, theater uses dialogue. As a playwright the audience will not read, hear, or see your stage directions, but they will hear every word of your dialogue. Dialogue and action are how you drive the plot, develop characters relationships, and tell your story. Dialogue is also used to reveal characters inner emotions, their past experiences, or their vulnerability and frustrations. A character also cannot overcome an obstacle or fulfill his/her needs alone so they are reliant on others for help. If a character needs money to get to the hospital, that character must spend the scene either finding money in the apartment or using dialogue to convince each person to give them money. Conversations are always based out of need and it is a means to fulfill that need. If a character is bored a conversation fills the time, if a character is lonely a conversation has the potential to fulfill the need for companionship. Ultimately dialogue should flow naturally and build toward the desired outcome of the scene.
The hard part of dialogue is figuring out how people actually talk. Each person you meet has a distinctive rhythm, flow, and vocabulary used while talking and as you create a world you want the characters in the world to also feel distinct. In order to get good at writing dialogue you are going to have to study conversations and many different people. Interview people, go to coffee shops and listen, or sit with friends and listen to how they interact with each other. How do their thoughts shift? What words do they use, would they make an interesting character in a play? What other kinds of characters do you think share those traits? As you train as a playwright you will need to be constantly creating scenarios where characters are working towards a goal or involved in a conflict and use dialogue as your means of resolving the problem. This will be difficult at first, but like everything, it will get easier with time. Side note: When writing DO NOT edit while you write. Edit once you have finished the scene.
All of the action should be done through dialogue and physical action rather than narration. Remember show us don’t tell us.
Playwriting Activity 1
- Go outside of class and a record conversation and write it down. Go to various locations and listen to interactions between people. Study verbiage, delivery, and subject matter. See if you can decipher each person’s need.
- Write a dialogue between two imaginary characters.
- Give both conversations (one real and one fictional) to a friend and see if they can determine which conversation is the real one.
- Repeat until you are good enough to fool your audience.
Playwriting Activity 2
- Write a dialogue that introduces a conflict
- Write the following scene where the dialogue further develops the conflict and stakes raise for the main character.