Tuesday, 7 October 2014

A crash course in writing dialogue

I don't write dialogue in my stories. Or at least sometimes I do, and then almost always I cut it out again. 

I know it's a handicap. I even went on a one-day dialogue writing course with the lovely Vicky Grut, and afterwards I did think I could write dialogue - a major step forward - but somehow I rarely get the urge, mid-story.

So I've really no idea why I said yes when a friend said, you write stories, don't you? How about writing our village play about the home front in the Great War?

I procrastinated, of course. I wrote an outline, and we workshopped it. The workshop was great - some new ideas, some offers to research particular areas - but I was left with my outline and a lot of stage time to fill, a lot of dialogue to be written.

So I read Paxman's Great Britain's Great War, I ambled about the internet, I listened to archive recordings ...

Till I had one week in which to write sixteen three-minute scenes. 

So I sat down and I wrote. And I discovered that writing nothing but dialogue is liberating. All you have is people's voices - their words alone must tell us everything about who they are, their motivation, what they're hiding, what they fear, and what they all think about each other. So all you can do as their writer is put them in a space and hear what they say to each other. What a joy!

Of course, you also have to find ways of transmitting information, without it being in the least bit obvious. And you have to create a bit of tension in each scene so your audience doesn't fall asleep or start talking or texting. And you have to have some idea of the overall story, and keep it on track - it was terribly tempting to go off down some of those small side lanes, pursuing an individual character's particular passion ... but I dragged them back and I think we got there.

I finished the first draft yesterday and sent it off to a trusted friend and to the director. It's rough around the edges, but I think it's all right. And I really enjoyed writing it.

Tomorrow, I'm returning to a story I started ages ago. It has one character and no dialogue, but I've a feeling that may be about to change ...