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Guest Workshop with Hugh Macgregor: dialogue: why do you always? : 0% read

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Guest Workshop with Hugh Macgregor: dialogue: why do you always?

Hugh Macgregor is a wonderful playwright, director and drama teacher. He also happens to be my husband and best friend. So, I didn’t have far to go to find an authority on writing amazing dialogue. Here’s a great exercise to make your dialogue real and punchy.

Over to Hugh:

What’s great about this exercise?

Bad dialogue often equates to over-written dialogue.  It’s amazing how just a few words can convey a word of emotion between characters. Here’s a good way to keep your dialogue sharp and clutter-free. 

Timing:  20 minutes

 Method:

 1.      Choose two characters, either from a piece of writing you are working on or just pick two names and ages e.g. John, 50, Dawn 45.

 2.      Start with one character giving him or her the line – which you complete:

 Why do you always…?

 Or

 Why do you never…?

Don’t worry about making the first line original.  Start an argument that an audience will quickly identify with.

 3.      Write a 10 line exchange between the characters. No need for any he said/she said tags. Just use the dialogue. 10 minutes

 4.      Now count the total number of words.  Once you have done this, re-write the conversation making two changes:

1) use half the original number of words

2) use more than 10 lines – aim for a total of 20.

10 minutes

 *You may have one long line of dialogue that doesn’t count towards your word count.  Make this work for you: see how your dialogue benefits from having one long line of dialogue begin/end a passage of short, snappy conversation. 

 5.      Keep cutting! Now see if you can cut any other words without losing the power of the exchange. Be bold!

Extension:

Once your dialogue is sharp, you can add some tags (if necessary) and some words which contextualise it in your story – character actions, references to setting etc. You don’t always need to do this though, even in a novel, you can have very simple, direct, dialogue.

Don’t be afraid to have your characters lie.  A little dishonesty goes a long way!

Experiment with repetition.  We repeat ourselves in day-to-day life all the time; each repetition changes or enhances the meaning of the words being used.