Friday, September 10, 2010

Writing Dialogue: It's about listening.

Yesterday as I sat and talked script notes with a director friend of mine, I scribbled down every suggestion he had for me. It didn't mean that this morning as I edited I used his notes verbatim, but it meant I had the essence of his vision, which is so close to mine that sometimes he and I can't even recall whose idea a favorite line of dialogue originally was.

But he said something else to me during one of our breaks. He told me about two people he chatted with who didn't listen to him. The experience, he said, has made him a better listener since he has a new appreciation for just how important the skill is.

The scriptwriter must be an acute listener, for not only must she hear what a director or producer is saying in a notes session, but she must hear her characters speaking to each other.  If a character asks a question of one character or makes an observation, then the next line from the other character needs to be in response to that (unless the character is known for his easily distracted tendencies).

As I revise some of my scenes today, I am also conscious of how each character speaks. The three buddies in my story each have a unique voice, and a distinct manner in which they interact with one another. You know you've nailed the dialogue when you can cover the name of the character and still discern who is speaking. If you can't hear the unique voices of your characters, it's time to go back and make sure you know who they are, and how each fits in with the others.

Listening in on everyday conversations is another skill the adept writer needs to embrace. I tell my students and workshop participants to listen in on their own conversations as well as dialogue around them. I have a slight hearing problem, so when I can overhear a conversation in line at the movie theatre, then I consider it a public conversation, inviting people like me to listen in and learn how different people speak with each other.  It's become a hobby of mine that helps my writing, especially when I discover a new speech pattern or a unique dialect. wanna be a scriptwriter? First rule (repeated from an earlier post) -- listen.

1 comment:

  1. I found this post really relavant as I was doing my rewrites for class. Dialogue is so difficult because it has to seem so natural. No one pauses, "uhms" or "ahs" or "likes", but it all has to sound natural while building plot. Its difficult to get the mechanics of a conversation down with all of this buzzing around my head while i try to write. I will try to keep in mind listening as I am writing.