Tips for Playwriting: Dialogue

In conjunction with the competition, a talk entitled How to Write a 20-Minute Play in 24 Hours was held at Bedok Library on Sunday, June 28 2009. Competition judge, playwright Ovidia Yu, discussed the importance of dialogue:

Dialogue: most important because it is what makes possible interaction with audience & puts live theatre in different category from tv & movies.

Dialogue takes place between characters onstage & characters & audience.

Even silence is a kind of dialogue. Can be very powerful. Don’t feel you have to fill every space up with words. words, words.

And don’t forget sounds, grunts, giggles, sneezes et.c – all part of dialogue.

1)  Appropriate to Character speaking
a) Who he is (includes his relationship to others on stage)
b) Where he is (mood/place)

2) Appropriate to Position in your play
a) What kind of mood are you trying to establish
b) What kind of information are you trying to pass on

3)  Appropriate to Audience.
a)  Me. The judge. The reader. The producer coming up with $. Catch the attention.
b)  Director & Actors. Are you giving them enough structure & backbone, enough meat.
c)  Audience. You’ve got to give them a reason to go on sitting there. Entertainment. Information. Maybe even insight & a glimpse of something that will change their lives. That’s what we all aim for. But first, get past 1) & 2)

1) Who characters are

Pair up. At least 5 exchanges. A pause where one doesn’t speak is counted as one turn as long as your other speaker reacts to the silence

A asks B out for dinner.
a)   Asking a parent out for dinner
b)   Asking a romantic interest out
c)   Asking out someone you don’t really like. You may need something/you may be doing it out of charity I don’t know.

Read out & let us see if obvious which scenario.

2) Position in play.  Establishing mood/information.
Monologue or one person’s part in a dialogue.

“I’m hungry”

Use it as:
1.     Distraction—either on your part or character’s part
2.     Establish Romance
3.     Establish Threat

Pick one, write it down—you have 1 minute.

3. Your audience.
Rewrite the sentiment in these lines to appeal to:

a) Us here today
b) Community centre aunties and uncles who have never heard Shakespeare onstage.
c) Grieving Michael Jackson fans.


To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

Give me 3 lines of dialogue. Before you panic, think:

Who is your character? Eg: Teacher or Social Worker? Cancer victim? Husband or wife of cancer victim? Lee Hsien Loong? Choose someone to be first.

Then, where when & with whom is your character speaking these lines.

Alone? In a room with other people? In a hospital or airport terminal? Wondering whether to report someone who might be carrying a bomb?


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