Have you ever finished writing a scene of dialogue, re-read it and wondered why it doesn’t sparkle?
Below is an example of such a piece of dialogue:
A: ‘I knew the day I saw Maggie we were going to get married.’
B: ‘Oh, yes. Why was that?’
A: ‘She had the loveliest smile. It reminded me of my mother.’
B: ‘I never met your mother, did I?’
A: ‘No, she died of cancer the year before you started at the college.’
B: ‘I’m sorry. That must have been hard.’
A: ‘It was a difficult time, but I’m over it now. Life goes on, as they say.’
B: ‘I’m not sure I could feel the same. My parents and me are very close.’
A: ‘Maggie sometimes says I haven’t dealt with it yet, that I’m burying the pain, but I don’t think I am.’
B: ‘Sounds like she knows what she’s talking about.’
A: ‘Maybe? I’ve always respected her opinions. That’s why I promised her I’d go and see a counsellor about it. I don’t suppose you could recommend someone?’
So what’s wrong? It’s dialogue that shows the characters’ feelings, history, relationships, emotional tone. It even goes a little way towards driving the plot – character A’s impending visit to a counsellor. So why doesn’t the scene work? Why does it lack that special spark?
The answer is a simple one: dialogue needs conflict.
Give each character a goal they are trying to achieve within the scene, and then add something which stops them achieving it. In dialogue each character can become the other’s conflict.
Perhaps character B has spoken to A’s wife and is trying to recommend a counsellor to him. However character A wants to talk about more practical, work related matters. Maybe he’s worried about a new policy in HR which means he has to undergo an interview with the college psychiatrist.
Have a go re-writing the scene giving each character a definite goal which is somehow thwarted by the other during their conversation.
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