To a person, writers of fiction want their dialogue to be sharp, interesting, snappy and true. Nuanced dialogue is a cornerstone of character construction (think Steinbeck’s common man or Fitzgerald’s Gatsby spouting “Old Sport” when speaking to friends and colleagues). The old fashioned and highly effective way of creating dialogue is to listen to the world around you and to read other writers who’ve honed the skill of putting truth into the mouths of their characters.
But reading and listening might not be the only way to learn to create great dialogue. I read Edward Albee’s play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” this week. I found it powerful, emotionally provocative and difficult to put down. In finishing the text, I realized that I’d stumbled upon another source of instruction for creating strong, compelling dialogue: read and/or watch plays. Think about it; a play is built around one primary superstructure: dialogue. Dialogue creates the characters and is the sole written vehicle for moving the story forward. And so dialogue has to be superb in the best plays.
Do you want another source of inspiration and instruction for creating great dialogue? Get thee to the local library and check out a handful of plays. Some suggestions to get started:
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee
“Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller
“The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams
Don’t forget that the selection above is an expression of what appeals to Mohamed Mughal…and he’s an emotional, sentimental fellow with a philosophical bent and the academic background of a rationalist. Apply your own tastes and leanings to create a personalized list of plays to read. If your fiction falls into the genres of crime, romance, horror or comedy, you’ll definitely modulate your selections to reflect those dispositions.