Writing for the stage offered me an opportunity to explore the mechanics of dialogue.
In a play, the spoken word carries a weight that in other genres it shares with written descriptions, insights into situations, references… On stage the word is heavy, alive, seemingly alone.
No matter your genre, writing for the stage can be an excellent exercise to explore new mechanics, deepen your characters, and add texture to your conflicts.
Here are some tips for those who are tackling the challenge of writing dialogue, and those who want to play around with new ways of writing.
1. Get out of your comfort zone.
Explore the inner life of your topics, your plots, and characters. What else is there? Comfortable and safe places can be sterile. Pull up your sleeves, scratch the surface, find the experience that is uncomfortable to address, and bring it into your writing.
Every word, every silence can carry a weight beyond itself. Mundane things can be symbols for something bigger, darker. And dark things can emerge from everyday elements. Play around with images, explore the unsaid. Walk the path with your characters.
2. Look for trouble, but pace yourself.
The dramatic conflict is the reason the story must be told. Readers expect the conflict(s) to be resolved (or to fail greatly), and to experience that progression. Dialogue is a powerful tool to escalate those conflicts to their culmination. However, progression and emotion can be challenging to balance.
Explore your story. What emotions does it evoke? What are the most powerful ones? How can you bank on them? Will you hold your audience’s hand while you walk them gently through it? Will you hint them towards ideas, and leave them to ponder? Will you throw them mercilessly into it, with no warning?
3. Try new things, and find inspiration in the great authors.
All great writers are also great readers. The history of literature is full of pieces that were possible only because of the influence of others. Look at your favorite authors (or come to class this fall to look at mine with me), identify their narrative mechanics, and try to apply them to your own writing.
It’s like trying out someone’s clothes. How do they build their conflicts? How do they develop their characters? Why are their dialogues, monologues, scenes so powerful? Rummage around in their tool box, borrow them, use them.
As a creative exercise, it will broaden your mindset toward your own writing, and help you develop new tools you didn’t even know you could handle.
4. You are here to have fun.
This is the mantra. Repeat it. Take every challenge, every new work, and every writing class you attend lightly. Don’t overburden yourself with the pressure of writing your life’s masterpiece here and now. Relax, it’s just a game. Get in the sandbox and have fun! Only good things can happen.
To learn more and practice writing great dialogue, come to my class, Writing Dialogue, on Tuesday evenings beginning October 15.
A native of Barcelona, Ana Pastor studied European Theater, Playwriting and Literature. She wrote and directed “El Oyente” (2006), and a free adaptation of a Jean-Paul Sartre play (2010). Her short story “La noche del elefante” received the 2011 Fungible award. She is a translator and a Spanish language teacher, and writing fiction is her passion.