Part 1 in the series, “Tricks to Making Dialogue Sparkle”
Before my latest book was released, I received a call from my publisher. “You’re saving us a lot of money,” he said.
My response was instinctive. “Add it to my next royalty check.”
“I’m serious, man. We hired a scriptwriter to convert your novel to a script for an audio book. She had it back to us in three days. She said your dialogue was so natural, she pretty much just transcribed it.”
“You know what they say: ‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.’”
“Well,” he said, “yours is on the page, so we’re puttin’ it on the stage.”
Although novels, short stories, and works of narrative nonfiction are venues of the mind, I try to write dialogue as though my readers will be in an audience listening to a performance. It forces me to keep the dialogue crisp, witty, poignant, and supported by the right stage business. In this new series I’ll share with you some tips from scriptwriting that will enhance your prose.
Begin by reading and studying other writers’ scripts. And by that, I mean reading them aloud. When I was in graduate school as an English major, one of my profs made us read out loud in class. We read long passages from plays by George Bernard Shaw, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder, Samuel Beckett, and Agatha Christie. I was amazed at how this approach to understanding literature also served to sharpen my ear in regard to writing dialogue for my short stories. I still do this today with TV and movie scripts, musicals, and stage dramas. You can do likewise by obtaining play collections from the library or downloading public domain scripts from the Internet.
Next week: “Try a Flip-Flop with Dialogue”
Dennis E. Hensley, PhD, is director of the professional writing department at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and a Christian Writers Guild board member. His 54 books include:
- Jesus in the 9 to 5: Facing the Challenges of Today’s Business World
- How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It
- Man to Man: Becoming the Believer God Called You to Be
- More Than Meets the Eye: Finding an Extraordinary God in Ordinary Life
- Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours
- Surprises and Miracles of the Season: Devotions for Christmas and New Year’s
- The Power of Positive Productivity
© 2015 by Dennis E. Hensley. All rights reserved.