Last night I was asked to give a talk about dialogue. The poor fools. They thought they’d get me for an hour or something, but instead I got them. Barricaded the room and settled in for at least a month’s discussion about this.
I’m quite keen on dialogue.
Toward the end of the session’s official, planned, reported running time, though, one man there asked a question that ultimately became the answer. Not just to his point, but actually to just about everything I love about dialogue in scripts and prose fiction.
He asked whether what I was really saying was that character comes first. That without the characters, the dialogue won’t ever be any good.
I know that this is what I have always believed, I know it. But – possibly ironically given the topic of the talk – it was someone saying it that made it work. That made it real and concrete.
For all the things I could enthuse at about dialogue, as I pulled down this barricade stuff and let them out as free human beings once more, it does come to this. What a character wants, what a character does, who a character is, that is what makes dialogue powerful.
We had an example last night, for instance – wait, I’m making an example of an example, I’m not sure that’s even allowed. Anyway. We had an example of one character who is advising another not to take a particular job.
If that first character is a good friend looking out for his or her pal’s best interests, the dialogue will be one thing. If this first character wants the job and is trying to get rid of some competition, it will be something else.
The words will be remarkably similar, but the dialogue will be totally different.
I would like to say that I went last night to bubble over at people about this wonderful topic. You could say that I grandly went to dispense wisdom.
But you can’t and I won’t deny that I learned something.