Writing Prompt: Dialogue During the Pandemic

24 Apr
Shakespeare The Complete Works

Image from Hoopladigital.com

Dialogue for me has been one of the toughest parts of writing.  I’ve admired friends over the years who could write plays with funny and natural interaction between characters with ease.  For me one of the things that has helped me in writing dialogue is to pay attention to examples I specifically find compelling.  Of course, Shakespeare is the master of dialogue, but I have to give a shout out to my favorite play Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, which gives a modern take on the classic characters from Hamlet.  The trick to good dialogue is that it should be natural to the ear even without the starts and stops and filler words that often dot our actual speech.

Dialogue itself should primarily be used to convey the mood and tone of the character, rather than a description of how they are saying it.  One thing I’ve heard time and time again when I’m in fiction workshops from instructors is the recommendation to not overly describe how a character is saying something every time, they utter a phrase; it doesn’t have to be yelled loudly or whispered or chortled or gasped.  Using that more sparingly allows for those times it is noted to have more of an impact and keep you from sounding like you are consulting a thesaurus every time your character opens their mouth.

It is an interesting time to be thinking about dialogue since we are interacting less overall with others verbally due to social distancing.  I find myself much more aware when I am talking to someone at a store or at a Zoom meeting than I would have in the past simply being at the reference desk and having multiple interactions with many people on a daily basis.  Try writing a scene that you could include in a fictional piece, memoir, or play about an interaction with a store clerk and shopper.  How do physical barriers and distances affect the way you/they interact?   How do masks change words said now that facial cues are not as notable?  Do interactions now feel more or less genuine?  Have the words we used changed?  What could you create in a story from this short encounter that would work to develop and propel it a long?

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference

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