Friday, December 5, 2008


Good morning. I realize I missed a Friday, but things in my world have been a bit busy, such as in yours, I'm sure.

Welcome back, everyone! We've finished with characters and believability and in the last lesson we tied it all together. Today, we're going to discuss dialogue. Here's what Bonnie Golightly has to say:


•In “Use of Dialogue,” Bonnie Golightly says that: “Clarity in dialogue is a must.” (61),¹ and “A writer of fiction is more or less a word juggler; he must keep many elements of action, plot and background going at the same time. But dialogue is his most useful prop…”(60).² Having characters talk to one another can give the reader insight into who the person is, what role they’re playing and why they’re in the author’s story.

•Additionally, the style of dialogue that is used for each character should show the type of character that is talking. For example, someone who was born and raised in Arkansas may not use proper, clipped words as a person from England might.

1,2 Oates, Joyce Carol. Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing. Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1982.

Using Golightly's insight, let's see what you have to "say".

Starr Reina


DJ said...

Proper use of dialogue is always a hot topic in screenwriting circles. The definition of "on the nose" is something that many screenwriters find hard to understand. It's really important to say what needs to be said without being too direct about it. Otherwise, your dialogue will be labeled as on the nose.

And sprinkling in dialect is also an issue of contention. We need to define our characters by the way they speak, and yet we need to limit the use of 'poor speak' because of actor prerogative and reader understandability. It's quite the tightrope act.

Here's some dialogue from a script I'm writing that may never see the light of day... It's a period piece about a real person in my family history.


OLIVER PERRY is lead to an isolated spot of land by his true love's father, a SPANISH RANCHER. The Rancher lances a shovel into hard dirt.

PERRY - Kind of dark for digging--

RANCHER - I know what you are. About your time in Minnesota.

Perry nods, then shrugs.

PERRY - Has something gone missing? You can check my bunk, my steamer--

RANCHER - Does my daughter entice you?

Their eyes read each other. Perry straightens up.

PERRY - No, sir! Not in the least. She's beautiful! But not-

The Rancher pops Perry in the face. It sends Perry to the ground. Perry grabs his nose. The Rancher grabs the shovel.

WHACK! it slams the dirt as Perry rolls away. The Rancher grabs Perry's legs before he can scramble away. Perry pulls out an awl hidden in his shirt sleeve. He slashes at the Rancher, and the big man smashes Perry in the face again.

The Rancher gains possession of Perry's awl. He keeps Perry pinned, ready to stab Perry's eyes out.

RANCHER - Sus ojos! Your eyes are mine! Mine if you look at her again! Eh, cabron? Understand?!

PERRY - Yes--

RANCHER - I don't hear you--

PERRY - YES!! SI! Si...

RANCHER - You have two choices. Leave tonight... Or dig your own grave.

The rancher frees Perry's collar. Perry gets to his feet, catches his breath. He gives the Rancher a swift kick in the nuts. And he runs! Back toward the ranch.


Marilyn said...

What I always tell people about dialogue is it must either move the plot along or reveal character.

In other words, don't put into dialogue the mundane things we actually say to each other, like "How're you doing?" "Fine, how about you?" etc. Nor have someone tell someone else something they already know.

To make it easier for your reader, always begin a new paragraph when someone new speaks or does something.

Be sure that the reader knows where the conversation is taking place. When I was a Writers Digest instructor when some new authors did the assignment on dialogue it was like people talking in space.

Of course that's a whole other subject, setting.


DJ said...

Here's a more on the nose version:

PERRY - Why did you bring me out here?

RANCHER - Because I know you're a criminal who spent three years in a Minnesota prison.

PERRY - I haven't stolen anything from you.

RANCHER - But you're in love with my daughter.

PERRY - She's a beautiful girl.

RANCHER - Leave her alone, or I will kill you.

Just thought I'd write a comparison of 'bad.' :}

Starr Reina said...


I like your dialogue here. Perhaps in screenwriting it's different (I confess to know next to nothing about screenwriting), but I wouldn't be able to tell who's talking without their names in the foreground.

As to you saying, "may never see the light of day" about your script, don't think negative. Always think positive. Keep plugging along; it's what we all do. But NEVER give up and never talk down about your work. If you don't love it and see it as a success, how do you expect anyone else to?

Thanks for your comments, DJ.

Starr Reina


I completely agree with the mundane dialogue. It's not necessary for one to say to someone, "It's nice to see you." Unless, of course, there's a reason for that person to say it.

I also agree that it's important that the reader knows where the characters are when speaking. The setting can affect the influx of their voices (whispers) and/or what they may say. For instance, you wouldn't try and have a private conversation with someone in a room full of people.

Thanks, Marilyn.

Starr Reina


That clarifies more for me. At least here (even though you called it bad), if we are shown more of the characters beforehand, which I'm sure we are, then the characters stand out as to who would be talking.

Thanks, DJ.

Starr Reina

Anonymous said...


I personally love dialog, however, the unnecessary kind, I feel I kick to the curb, i.e., "How are you?" I like to get to the meat of whatever's going on between the characters. I think dialog allows the characters to tell the story rather than the author, if you understand my meaning. Not that an author's voice doesn't have a place in their own work, quite the contrary, in fact. I just prefer to let my characters do the talking whenever possible. I feel it makes the story that much more believable and enjoyable.

Thank you so much for the insight. As always, you give me a lot to consider.

Terri Ann Armstrong, Author/Editor

Anonymous said...

My piece her is from a novel in the works. I know nothing about screenwriting. But here I am trying to cpature the friendship of two women. I confess-do a lot of telling, instead of showing to move the story along.

“I can picture you as a nun,” Myrtle said, grinning. It was true. Lorene had a serene, kind look, that would have suited a nun’s countenance perfectly.
“That’s what everybody said at work,” said Lorene, giggling. “They said it looked appropriate.”
“Did people see you driving on the way to work, and then let you into their lane, when they saw you wearing the habit?”
“I got dressed in costume after I got to work,” said Lorene.
Then they noticed the waitress waiting for them to order. “Can we have a few more minutes?” The menus alone were taking up all table space, and they were almost as tall as the table itself.
“You can order a senior special,” suggested Lorene to Myrtle.
“Why would I do that when I am only 54? You might be in your 60s, but I am not.”
“They’re not going to know that,” her girlfriend said.
“You’re saying that I look 65?” said Myrtle. She made a decision to consciously let this roll off her back if in case Lorene said: ”Well, actually, yes.”
“The senior age is 55. You’re 54," Lorene reminded her.
“Yeah, but the specials are probably really teeny as they think grannies nibble on tea and toast,” said Myrtle. ”They’re probably like the kids’ specials—they come in little boats.”
“No, they’re not. They’re cheaper and not bad actually.”
“Well, I’m starving and want one of the hungryman specials,” said Myrtle. When the waitress came round, Myrtle said, “Can my friend here order a senior special even though she really isn’t a senior? Or will she be carded?”
Lorene was turning beet red by now—the waitress smiled, and said, “Sure she can.” Lorene ordered the seniors’ bacon and egg combo. Al ordered the full sizzler breakfast, and Myrtle ordered a full serving of Eggs Benedict. Hollandaise sauce was a treat—why order bacon and eggs when she can throw that together any old day?
After the waitress filled their cups with coffee, Myrtle chortled. “She believed me,” she said. “She doesn’t think you’re a senior.”
“You made my day,” said Lorene.

DJ said...

Hi, Starr.

Thanks for the support. I mentioned that my script might never see the light of day because of ownership issues rather than doubting my ability to write.

Someone has written a biography about Oliver Curtis Perry, so the issue of the right to tell his story has come up... I've done a lot of research outside of this author's particular biography, and the man was a real person in the public eye (like Jesse James). My script is a work of fiction, but based on true elements of his life, so I think I have the right to tell a story with him as the central character. I'm not writing an adaptation of the woman's book, and I've found plenty of information on the man from sources other than her book... I'm sure you can see where this is going. And whether it sees the light of day or not, I'm glad to be writing it.

It might be an interesting future topic for you to discuss - about the business side of writing.

Thanks again!


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