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.

WRITER: Why?

SHEEP #2: Respect our boundaries.

WRITER: Sure.

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 host-party.com 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.

8 comments :

  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. :-)

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

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  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.

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

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

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

    Polly 2: That was the point.

    Polly 1: Exactly

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

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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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