As Harry squelched along the deserted corridor he came across somebody who looked just as preoccupied as he was. Nearly Headless Nick, the ghost of Gryffindor Tower, was staring morosely out of a window, muttering under his breath, “... don't fulfill their requirements... half an inch, if that...” “Hello, Nick,” said Harry. “Hello, hello,” said Nearly Headless Nick, starting and looking round. He wore a dashing, plumed hat on his long curly hair, and a tunic with a ruff, which concealed the fact that his neck was almost completely severed. He was pale as smoke, and Harry could see right through him to the dark sky and torrential rain outside. “You look troubled, young Potter,” said Nick, folding a transparent letter as he spoke and tucking it inside his doublet. “So do you,” said Harry. “Ah,” Nearly Headless Nick waved an elegant hand, “a matter of no importance.... It's not as though I really wanted to join.... Thought I'd apply, but apparently I 'don't fulfill requirements' --” In spite of his airy tone, there was a look of great bitterness on his face. “But you would think, wouldn't you,” he erupted suddenly, pulling the letter back out of his pocket, “that getting hit forty-five times in the neck with a blunt axe would qualify you to join the Headless Hunt?” “Oh - yes,” said Harry, who was obviously supposed to agree.
"I can't go," said Jane. "But you have to." Kelly stomped her foot. "Call my mother," Brad said angrily. "We're going!" Jane sighed, threw on her coat and said, "If we’re going, let’s do it now." "Yeah," said Brad, "I don’t want to wait around any longer." "But if we leave now," Kelly said, "we’ll miss the next episode of Glee!" What, if anything, is wrong with the following?
"I can't go," said Jane. "But you have to." Kelly stomped her foot. "Call my mother," Brad said angrily. "We're going!" Jane sighed, threw on her coat and said, "If we’re going, let’s do it now." "Yeah," said Brad, "I don’t want to wait around any longer." "But if we leave now," Kelly said, "we’ll miss the next episode of Glee!" CORRECTED: What has changed?
Try it: You need to know how to punctuate dialogue correctly before you can write it effectively. If it’s not punctuated correctly, your reader will lose focus, and possibly misinterpret your story. Now: Practicing punctuating dialogue!
Get the content right Let the dialogue flow. You can come up with lines you never would have thought of if you tried to get it right the first time. You can often come up with a dynamic scene by writing the dialogue first. Record what your characters are arguing about, stewing over, or revealing Write fast, paying no attention to who says what, their actions, or how they speak. Once you get the right words down, go back and add normal speaker attributions and tags.
Try it: You have five minutes: Begin a scene with dialogue between two people. Write five lines per person in your scene, for a total of ten lines. Make your scene dramatic – begin with something mysterious, exciting, scary, etc. Do not worry about how they say things just yet – we’ll get to that later. Now, let’s hear it…
Avoid the obvious If you want to bore your reader, then keep to a simple back-and-forth exchange, and echo your characters responses: “Hello, Eliza.” “Hi, Anne.” “My, that’s a wonderful outfit you’re wearing.” “Outfit? You mean this old thing?” “Old thing! It looks practically new.” “It’s not new, but thank you for saying so.” There are no surprises, and the reader drifts along with little interest.
Avoid the obvious (cont’d) Your dialogue will be stronger if you sidestep the obvious: “Hello, Mary.” “Sylvia. I didn’t see you.” “My, that’s a wonderful outfit you’re wearing.” “Where is he, Sylvia?” This exchange is immediately more interesting and suggestive of something beneath the surface. Change some direct responses into off-the- wall retorts.
Try it: Again, you have five minutes: Go back to the scene you just created with your two characters and rewrite it, “side-stepping” the obvious. What is going on beneath the surface with these two characters? Yes, I am asking you to RE-WRITE your dialogue! Revision takes some effort – RE- WRITE! Now, let’s hear it…
Cultivate Silence Silence in your dialogue can be powerful. Consider this example from Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”:
“Hills Like White Elephants” excerpt: “Should we have another drink?” “All right.” The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table. “The beer’s nice and cool,” the man said. “It's lovely,” the girl said. “It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.” The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on. “I know you wouldn't mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.” The girl did not say anything. Any guesses on what they might be discussing? Why is the silence effective? Or isn’t it?
Cultivate Silence (cont’d) Her silence tells us how she feels about the situation – she didn’t need to talk. Try expressing what your characters are feeling in certain (perhaps tense) scenes by having them be silent.
Use facial expression Raising an eyebrow, furrowing a brow, biting a lip. These can all show emotion. As an exchange progresses and the emotional intensity rises—as the character’s dissatisfaction grows into anger, for instance—a character might set his jaw or narrow his gaze. His eyes may darken, his face may redden, his nostrils may flare, and so on.
Use facial expression (cont’d) Watch the following movie clip from The Shining with the sound off and watch closely the facial expressions being made.
Try it: You have TEN minutes: Create a new scene, with two new characters. Make them completely different from your first dialogue scene – different ages, different accents, different lifestyles, different mood, etc. This time I’d like you to incorporate SILENCE effectively in your scene, as well as using FACIAL EXPRESSIONS in your scene. Show at least one facial expression per character. The exchange should be a MINIMUM of fifteen lines. (One character may have more lines depending on how you use the “silence.”)
Talk with hands Just like facial expressions, talking with one’s hands can show emotion. point, steeple fingers, clench hands into fists, pound tables, hold hands up to surrender, cross arms in front of chests, throw up hands in resignation or despair “It's a fake,” said James, holding out his hand to me, palm upward. Upon it lay a tiny silver pistol, a “ladies’ model” with a pearl handle, no bigger than a deck of cards. His fingers closed around the little gun and he slipped it back into the pocket of his overcoat. “I found it in a drawer at home and I just started carrying it around. For good luck, I guess.”
Add movement Use movement to support and enhance your dialogue A character might push back from a desk to get physical (or emotional) distance from a heated conversation, an intimate moment, or even another character. She might move in closer to become more threatening or more intimate, or to drive a point home. He might put a piece of furniture between himself and another character to show he’s blocking the other character (physically, emotionally, etc.) Alexi stooped and picked up a rock. “Last chance…” “It’s your call.” Jack unbuttoned his winter coat, took it off, folded it carefully and deliberately placed it over the chair.
Build personality Don’t be afraid to have your character take big actions: throw a fit, throw a plate, or throw a punch If your character has a hair-trigger temper, bypass any eyebrow raising and go straight to breaking the furniture. But remember: Character Actions = Character Traits Every action should be a reflection of the character’s objectives and emotions, and of the scene. If your character seldom shows emotion, focus on small details that show his true feelings leaking out: a tightening around his eyes, a deliberate forcefulness in each step as he walks across the room, a tense grip on a pen.
Try it: You have TEN minutes: Last time: create a brand new scene, with two + new characters. They should be different from all of the previous characters you’ve created. (Or throw in one from the characterization activity!) This time have your characters talk with their hands and use body movement, all in an effort to BUILD PERSONALITY (might be hard to do in a short scene, but do your best) 15+ lines