Problems with dialogue in your plays, and how to fix them, part 1

I went to the Dramatists Guild conference in August, and I went to some truly amazing sessions. One of them was “Dialog Isn’t Talking.” I’m going to post some of the great things I learned about how to fix problems with dialogue in your plays.

These all came from Gregory Fletcher, one of the panelists. You can find out more about him at

All of the characters sound alike (and they all sound like you)

Has someone ever told you that all of the characters in a play of yours sound alike? Or do you want to make sure that all of your characters have a distinct voice? Here are some ideas.

Write a detailed bio of each character

Write a detailed bio of each character. Include the usual info you probably think of, such as age, gender, race, the job they hold, where they live, where they’re from.

Also include info you probably don’t think of, such as

  • childhood church affiliation
  • scars
  • survival jobs
  • criminal record
  • recurring nightmares.

The more you know about your character, the more different you can make that character from the rest. That includes how they talk, their “voice.” You can also make sure their voice is different from yours.

Gregory gave us a handout with a long, comprehensive list of biographical information you can keep about a character.

Read all of one character’s lines

Read all of one character’s lines. Pick one of your characters, and go through your script, reading that character’s lines out loud. Then pick another one of your characters, and do the same thing, and so on.

If you go through all of one character’s dialogue, you can easily see if the character has a unique and consistent voice. And on the way, you can see if the character sounds different from you.

Also, you can avoid getting sidetracked by things you might want to fix in the scene itself. (Cause there’s always that one little thing that would be so easy to fix, right? And half an hour later…)

The characters don’t have strong needs

Everyone says you should make sure your characters have strong needs, but is it always easy to do? Here’s a way of thinking about it.

Imagine your character is a little child

Gregory told this great story about someone he’d observed who had a strong need. He had seen this man it out with his little girl. She was fussing and unhappy; clearly, she wanted something, but she wasn’t old enough to tell him what she wanted in words.

So her father was asking her about things she might want. “Do you want some juice?” She shook her head emphatically “no,” with a negative sound that was something like “Nn!”

“Do you want your pacifier?” Emphatic shake of head. “Nn!”

“Do you want me to hold you?” “Nn!”

She kept saying no to everything her father suggested that wasn’t what she wanted.

She had a strong need and she kept acting emphatically to get it. Make sure your characters do the same.

(She wanted her father to pull up the top of the stroller and let down the curtain, so she could take a nap. When he did that, she settled down and went to sleep.)

Read all of one character’s lines

Same thing as I described earlier. While you’re seeing whether your character has a unique and consistent voice, you can also see whether the character has a strong need and is acting to have that need met.

Try these, and let me know how they work for you

When you try these, post a message here and let me know how they work for you.  And if you have any questions, ask.

More later

I’ll post more things I learned from this great session.

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This entry was posted in Dramatists Guild Conference 2013, How to Find/Create Characters, How to work on Dialog. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Problems with dialogue in your plays, and how to fix them, part 1

  1. Pingback: Dream Logic – how it can help your plays | Playwright's Muse

  2. Pingback: Reading one character’s lines — it works!!! | Playwright's Muse

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