Monday, May 22, 2017

Dialogue Tips from the Writing Sheep

EXT. A fenced meadow. Three sheep are grazing. More are in deep background. The WRITER approaches. The sheep raise their heads.

SHEEP #1: Stay there.

WRITER: Here? Outside the fence?

SHEEP #3: Yes.


SHEEP #2: Respect our boundaries.


SHEEP #1: We need to talk.

SHEEP #2: To be clear, she means we need to talk to you; not that we need to talk.

SHEEP #3: We can talk anytime we wish.

SHEEP #1: Which we do.

SHEEP #2: Often.

SHEEP #3: Sometimes about you.

SHEEP #1: Concerned?

WRITER: Not particularly. Why do you need to talk to me?

SHEEP #2: Why?

SHEEP #3: Because it’s in our nature, I suppose.

SHEEP #1: We are very helpful.

SHEEP #2: We are, aren’t we?

SHEEP #3: Very.

SHEEP #1: There should be statues of us across the country.

SHEEP #2: The world. 

WRITER: I suppose I meant ‘what’. What do you want to talk to me about?

SHEEP #3: Do we want to talk to her?

SHEEP #1: Not really. It’s more an obligation than a need, if I’m honest. 

SHEEP #2: Which you are.

SHEEP #1: Thank you. I do try.

WRITER: (exasperated) Honestly!

SHEEP #1: Yes. Honestly. Are you doubting my word?

WRITER: It was an expression of exasperation.

SHEEP #2: Oh. That wasn’t clear.

SHEEP #3: Perhaps because of your delivery.

WRITER: My delivery?

SHEEP #3: Of the line.

WRITER: I wasn’t saying a line. I was talking.

SHEEP #2: But that’s what conversation is.

SHEEP #1: Good dialogue is indistinguishable from normal conversation.

SHEEP #2: Except all the boring bits are cut out.

SHEEP #1: Yes. I cut that bit out.

SHEEP #3: Because it was boring?

SHEEP #1: No, because I assumed she knew that. Written dialogue doesn’t need all the bits and pieces life dialogue does.

WRITER: Life dialogue?

SHEEP #1: Yes. For example, when you’re meeting someone you both say hello and inquire after each other’s health. There could be a small chat about the weather - either praising it or complaining about it.

SHEEP #2: In Britain, that dialogue could go on for some time.

WRITER: In Canada, too.

SHEEP #3: Yes. It’s your way.

SHEEP #1: But no reader needs to read all those “Hi”, “Hello”, “It’s been a bit cold lately”. Boring. Get to the meat. In a vegetarian way, of course.

SHEEP #2: Always keep in mind why each character says what they do.

SHEEP #3: And what they’re wanting the other character…

SHEEP #2: Or characters…

SHEEP #3: Yes, of course…to say in return.

SHEEP #1: Remember what’s at stake.

SHEEP #2: Something always has to be at stake.

WRITER: What if there isn’t?

SHEEP #1: Then the dialogue serves no purpose.

WRITER: That’s brutal.

SHEEP #2: And honest.

SHEEP #3: So remember: Stakes, purpose, clarity.

WRITER: Thanks.

SHEEP #1: Now go away so we can talk about you.
Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "Which Guide Lied?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.


  1. Love the sheep, Elspeth. Dialogue, indeed, needs purpose. Without purpose, it doesn't move the story forward, and it must go. Great post in a fun format. :-)

  2. I LOVE this post. The sheep are WONDERFUL. What a fun way to tell important tips.

  3. It's a consensus, we all love the sheep. Keep them talking, but remember the stake, the purpose and the clarity. LOL

    Seriously, this was a great way to make the points.

  4. I needed this today. Every bit of it. Thank you!

  5. Don't be sheepish with your dialogue. :)

  6. Polly 1: It took a very long time to get to the point.

    Polly 2: That was the point.

    Polly 1: Exactly

  7. Such great reminders of how dialogue should be written! Thanks, Sheep (and Elspeth) Said in a very casual tone - just like normal conversation


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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