This week, I took on my first task as co-screenwriter of OffWorld – writing small introductory speeches for each of the actors to record, in character, to be shared on the Kickstarter page.
Writing seven monologues back to back threw up some interesting challenges. Did I know enough about these characters to write them? Would what I write conflict with what Terry Cooper, my writing partner on OffWorld, was writing? And, of course, most importantly what the hell did these people SOUND LIKE?
With that in mind, here are a few things I learnt from writing a lot of dialogue this week:
Watch out for your own verbal ticks.
I start sentences with “So” a lot. So, characters I write tend to do this as well. I also like to sentences hanging, because it’s a good hack for creating… drama…
Now, neither of things are necessarily bad dialogue but if every character starts to sound the same on paper then the chances are that they are not well defined. If everyone has the same voice, then that voice is probably yours.
Not everyone is Shakespeare
As a writer, a little verbosity is to be expected. It’s in our nature to be loquacious. Not everybody is like this, so drop the ten dollar words when you don’t need them. I remember hating a lot of the dialogue in Dawson’s Creek for just this reason – for me, it was unbelievable that a group of teenagers existed that all spoke in the way that they did.
People stumble and trip when they speak
People don’t always… you know… express themselves clearly. They don’t always say what the mean, or say what they mean to say, if you know what I mean?
It will suprise people who know me but I spent a lot of time listening to people talk. Talking is messy. People trip over words. People rush to get their point across before the next person opens their mouth. People talk over other people.
I think this all boils down to “Don’t write dialogue in the way that you write prose.”
Dialogue is messy, contradictory, and requires each character to have their own voice.
You can tell me how well I achieved this myself when the audio previews of OffWorld are released later this month.