From Dialogue to a Scene

Anonymous asked: “How do you have interaction without a 20 page mountain of dialogue? All my stories seem to just be talking and talking and I’m not sure how to even write dialogue.”

There were some things that I didn’t really learn about fiction until I began to try to write in other mediums. I didn’t learn how to write a scene until I started trying to learn screenwriting. 

While writing fiction, I knew it wasn’t great to have super long stretches of just back and forth dialogue with little else to hold up the scene, but there were no rules exactly. In screenwriting, when I saw examples like this, it felt even more “wrong” for there to dialogue and dialogue alone. Screenwriting made me imagine the whole scene. In screenwriting, you’re mostly working with dialogue, but you still have to build out the scene beyond just that. What are the characters doing during the scene? Imagine it as a play – the characters are actors on a stage, they aren’t just standing in front of a microphone and reading their lines, what are they doing? 

For me, whenever I this question comes back to me, my scenes tend to improve tremendously. The characters are doing things and moving around the scene and as a result, it comes alive. Action spurs reaction and suddenly they aren’t just talking for long stretches at a time, there’s more happening in the story. The plot even becomes more engaging. The characters aren’t just talking about what they’d like to do, but are unafraid then to take action and do the unexpected. There’s a president there to allow that, even in the quieter scenes. 

In the end, there’s no length a scene has to be. Conversation can stretch a very long time without it being an issue. There is no real rule and even if they were, there’s always exceptions. As for dialogue, while not every line of it needs to be related to the plot or the characters, if it goes on for too long and does nothing for the plot, it may begin to feel redundant or unnecessary. What to do with that will be left up to your own discretion. 

As far as writing conversations go, while it’s great to mimic how people talk, it is okay to skip a lot of the filler-talk. That means sometimes you can skip the small talk, you can skip a lot of the kinds of conversations that don’t advance the story forward, if something related to the plot is lurking just below the surface, that’s fine. The reader will hang on every word, waiting for something important to be said. But if it’s about pop culture, current events, and stuff to add to the setting, not necessarily showing anything particularly new about the character, it’s not needed. Also, you can write to show just parts of a conversation as well. You can write that a character went for a walk with a friend and they talked and at some point, they had this more important conversation. Include the important bits, the rest can be assumed or understood. 

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