Writing Dramatic Dialogue

A story is a completed process of change which has the ability to move readers’ feelings powerfully and pleasurably (or painfully) in a certain, definite way. Although the story arises out of and progresses through causality ― which develops into plot ― and is driven by the wilful and/or unconscious desires of a character or characters who are the main protagonist/s, much of the narrative is propelled by dialogue.

Good dialogue shows and expresses rather than tells. It makes the story fly.

A story may be structured like a journey  with…

a compass — the premise… theme… threads.

a map the plot

an enginethe motivation of the protagonist (and perhaps other central characters).

fuel ― dialogue

Of course, straightforward narrative can move the story forward and supply exposition (backstory) but dialogue is the high-octane fuel that propels the story and supplies much of its drama.  It is sometime difficult for writers to know when to employ dialogue instead of narrative (and vice versa) but appropriate and authentic dialogue lifts the story and gives it impetus… proving the premise, revealing character, progressing the plot and carrying exposition.

Course Structure

  • The five functions of dialogue
  • What makes good dialogue
  • Voice
  • Revealing character through dialogue
  • Exposition through dialogue
  • Colour and texture
  • Economy with words
  • Subtext… don’t write every line ‘on the nose.’
  • Bad language. Be honest. If you don’t want them to use it,  don’t create the characters
  • Speech tags and alternatives to said
  • Attribution ― how to handle it
  • A short session on writing dialogue for the screen

The difference between dialogue to be read as opposed to spoken

The ‘through line’ development of the story – what the actor is looking for.

  • Exercises in writing dialogue

© John Harman 2011