Writing dramatic dialogue

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Dialogue should leap off the page. In novels, short stories, scripts and screenplays it must move the story forward, reveal character and provide essential exposition. Yet it must also be dramatic and believable. How to reconcile these apparently incompatible necessities is the subject of this dynamic and interactive workshop.

A story is a completed process of change which has the ability to move readers' feelings powerfully and pleasurably (or painfully) in a certain, definite way. Although the story arises out of and progresses through causality – which develops into plot – and is driven by the willful and unconscious desires of a character or characters who are the main protagonist/s, much of the narrative is propelled by dialogue.

Good dialogue shows and expresses rather than tells. It makes the story fly.

A story may be viewed as structured like a journey with:

  • Compass - the premise, theme, thread
  • Map - the plot
  • Engine - the motivation of the protagonist (and perhaps other central characters)
  • Fuel - the dialogue

Of course, straightforward narrative can move the story forward and supply exposition (backstory) but dialogue is the high-octane fuel which propels the story and supplies much of its drama. It is sometimes difficult for writers to know when to employ dialogue instead of narrative (and vice versa) but appropriate and authentic dialogue lifts the story and gives it impetus – proving the premise, revealing character, progressing the plot and carrying exposition.

In this interactive workshop John Harman will cover:

  • The three functions of dialogue
  • What makes good dialogue
  • Voice
  • Revealing character through dialogue
  • Exposition through dialogue
  • Colour and texture
  • Economy with words
  • Subtext – don’t write every line 'on the nose'
  • Bad language. Be honest – if you don’t want them to use it, don’t create the characters.
  • Speech tags and alternatives to 'said'
  • Attribution – how to handle it
  • Writing for the screen – the difference between dialogue to be read as opposed to spoken – the ‘through line’ development throughout the story
  • Exercises in writing dialogue

‘It was my first time at a workshop like this and I am very impressed! The lecturer made it fun as well as a good learning process!’" V Fischer

“The latest information from someone out there making a living from writing.” AM Price


This course will be held at The University Club of Western Australia.

Lunch will be provided and is included in the cost.
If you have any special dietary requirements please email our staff on info@universityclub.uwa.edu.au. 48 hour notice is required to meet your dietary requirements.

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