My Favorite Writing Advice ~ Learn Dialogue By Studying Plays

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Learn dialogue by studying plays.

Favorite writing advice:

“You want to learn to write great dialogue? Study great plays.”

Who said it:

Carson Grace Becker, drama & story professor and playwright

Why:

Writing good dialogue truly is a skill. It takes practice and listening to get the characters on the page to sound like real people talking & not figments of your imagination. There’s nothing that will drag your reader out of a story quicker than having stilted dialogue that no one believes. If the whole point of writing is to foster a connection with your reader, well, then you need to have dialogue that sounds authentic. Studying playwrights can teach you dialect and slang and how to make your characters come alive with their own voices. Playwrights mainly write dialogue, and you can learn from them if you’ll take the time.

How it changed my writing:

For starters, I studied some of the greats:

  • A Raisin in the Sun
  • Glengarry Glen Ross
  • Death of a Salesman
  • Fences
  • Buried Child

Reading pretty much nothing but dialogue taught me the rhythm of language on the page. It showed me how conversation should flow between characters. It taught me how to use dialogue to move the story along and add to plot/character development. It helped me connect with my characters and figure out who they were as people so that eventually instead of talking just to me on the page, they actually started talking to each other while I just wrote it down. If you let your characters be themselves and study a master playwright to help you write it down better on the page, I promise you that your dialogue will sound true. And that, IMO, will make your readers believe.

So do you read plays?


10 Responses to "My Favorite Writing Advice ~ Learn Dialogue By Studying Plays"
  1. Thank you, Shelli!
    A wonderful recommendation on a go to place for great dialog 😀

  2. Great point. But may I add…it’s even better to learn dialog by WRITING plays. Two person plays, three person plays. Or scenes, rather. Quick 2 page or 3 page scenes. It’s AMAZING how tricky it can be, and how much better you can get when you learn by doing!

    Cheers hon…

    • Hi Christine! *waves*

      You are absolutely right, doll. Nothing will help you learn faster than actually doing. And you’re right, too, that it doesn’t take much; even writing a few scenes will help tremendously. I took a drama class & wrote plays in grad school. It really was trickier than I thought to get the words to ring true. Thanks so much for pointing that out. Cheers right back!

  3. Sandy Coelho says:

    Hi Shelli,

    This is wonderful advice, I love “A Raisin in the Sun”, great time (and excuse) to re-visit the story.
    Have a fabulous week!

    • Hi lovely Sandy!!!

      Thanks for the fantastic compliment. I love that play, too. Got to see it performed live when it came to Chicago. 🙂 Thanks for the good wishes. You have a fab week, too, darlin.

  4. Audrey says:

    Fantastic advice, especially for someone who shies away from dialogue (like me). You’ve inspired me to read some plays, and maybe even challenge myself to write a few dialogue-only scene.

    Also going to post a link to this on my Facebook author page, to share with other writers!

    • Hi Audrey!

      I’m so glad you found it helpful & inspiring. Makes me smile to hear it. 🙂 Writing even just a few dialogue-only scenes will help you improve, no doubt. Thanks for the share too, darlin. Cheers!

  5. Great blog, Shelli! I specifically liked your discussion of the importance of rhythm/flow in character interaction and development. Thanks for passing your favorite writing advice on!

    • Hi Jennifer!

      Thanks for the fab compliment, darlin. One of my favorite parts of writing is when the characters stop talking to me & start talking to each other. Have a great week!

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