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Writing a Dialogue-Heavy Scene

magicallynormal asked: “Hi Lizard, I was wondering, what do you do when everything you write feels disjointed? I have trouble working in dialogue and description and emotions and when I try, it feels like I’m just trying to connect things with with a few extra words in between.”

Oh, I’ve been there I practically live there. But really, that is a very familiar feeling for me. I start with dialogue and can just get carried away in the conversation and lose track of the rest of the scene. It’s a natural thing I think actually. 

In general, I think if you’re great with dialogue, you just have an ear for it. You like writing how characters are bouncing off each other and watching the conversation unfold. I think it’d be really awkward for me to write some of those scenes while still filling in all the smaller details. I can’t focus on all that at once. 

My scenes with a lot of dialogue usually start with just dialogue, nothing else and then once I finish that conversation or come to a point where I can take a break, since the scene is still in my head, I’ll go back immediately and just start adding in the details that I’d thought of or imagine while dictating the conversation in my head. It still won’t be perfect, but no scene ever is the first time around, but often enough, if I’m really thinking about the scene itself, trying to imagine the characters doing something or about to do something – even something stupid, like making a bowl of cereal while on the phone, I like to know what they’re doing. I’ll write about them doing it and I like to make characters active in conversations, multitasking away if only because then they’ve already got something in their hands that either can factor into the conversation or emphasize their emotional state. Like for instance, that character eating cereal might play with his spoon if the conversation bores him. The cereal itself might come up in conversation. 

Generally, I try to include details that will tell the reader more about who this character is within the context of the conversation. A character on the phone eating cereal does not really give that much away about who that person is, but if he happens to be an eccentric CEO eating cereal in his office on a conference call, you suddenly are learning a lot more about who this guy is. 

Anyway, enough with that example. When I’m feeling stuck and have literally only focused on the dialogue in that scene, I usually try to do a little bit of backtracking and figure out how that scene could be made more interesting. Is it the setting that’s holding it back, what could be happening while this information is being conveyed in dialogue to make this scene more dynamic. Where is there conflict? What draws out tensions or curiosity? How can emotion be conveyed through action in the scene? How will it show in setting? The times I struggle most I’ve noticed is when characters are talking on the phone. It just is not a strength of mine. Often if I plan out the scene first, the dialogue will come out anyway and the whole thing will feel a little smoother. 

Some exercises that have helped me in the past are along the lines of describe this room in the moments after an argument. Thinking of emotion within a setting can be really impactful.

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