6 Types of Dialogue
- Friday, March 4, 2016
- updated: Thursday, August 18, 2016
- 5 min. read (926 words)
- Degree of Intensity
- Share Stories
- Indirect Exposition
- Replace Silence
- Play the Objective
- Changing Topics
How do you evaluate if dialogue is good? Good dialogue is one that matches the character. How do you check if dialogue matches the character? Write least a 1 page character sheet or biography. Expect to throw 99% of all dialogue away without a biography. Starting dialogue without having a defined character will only leave you staring at the screen for hours, trying to guess lines. Guessing means depending on luck, 1 in 100 lines working kind of luck.
The purpose of Dialogue is to build character or set up a later scene in the story. The first 4 types focus on character building: degree of intensity, indirect exposition, sharing stories, and replacing silence. The next two focus on setting up a later scene: playing the objective, changing topics.
Degree of Intensity
Conversation boils down to two questions. One, is the character agreeing, neutral, or disagreeing with the previous statement? Two, how does the character feel about the previous statement?
- joy = smiling/upbeat (low), joking/playful (mid), trust(high)
- anger = annoyed, sarcastic, hateful
- sadness = sarcastic/ironic, disengaged/secluded, grief
- fearful = unsure, distrust/caution, horror
- empathy = patient, accepting, love
These questions are easily answered by referencing the biography. Jane and John are getting married, and John says, "Great news, Jack accepted, he is coming to the wedding." and Jane responds with:
- Great, the one person I wanted to invite. (disagree, sarcastic)
- You wanted to be nice. (weakly disagree, patient)
- We don't need his alcoholism. (disagree, annoyed)
- Fuck Jack! I told you not to invite him! (strongly disagree, hateful)
Jane is disagreeing to some degree, keeping the character consistent, and keeping the player immersed. Since the player is role playing, we give them a range of emotions to express themselves. If the biography actually said Jane likes Jack, then this would be considered bad dialogue, because it does not match the character.
Conflict is fundamental to plot. If characters are agreeing too much, that is a sign the cast is not diverse enough. Similar characters will confuse the audience on who is who.
People naturally share stories as they get closer to someone, because at that point they feel the other person will not judge them. Keep in mind, it is creepy to tell or ask for a personal story on the first meeting.
Pick stories the player, NPC, and protagonist have views on. Talking about a topic the player knows about will let them compare the character's opinion with their own. These types of conversations put the player's perspective in the world, making them feel like they too belong in the world. A good starting point is by referencing popular culture or lifestyle topics everyone has to deal with. Toilet paper, flap under or over?
Due to the exponential workload, not all dialogue can have story altering impact. Many times, the player will make dialogue choices that have no consequence to the story and plot. We can use this opportunity to reveal meaningful information. John says, "Jack really wanted to be here."
- He doesn't care about any of us.
- You always let him go when he does the wrong thing.
- I don't want to deal with damage control at my own wedding.
Regardless of the player's choice, John responds, "He's grown up since college." The player learns Jack is reckless, John's friend, and has a history of violence. Indirect exposition is a good way to:
Replace Silence with Internal Dialogue
Brackets can also be used to note internal dialogue. If two NPC characters are deep in a complex conversation, have the protagonist think in silence, commenting on how the overall conversation is going. The protagonist may also clarify lore related terms. When the protagonist finally speaks, the player now knows how to respond appropriately. In the below dialogue tree, John and Jane are talking while the protagonist, Bob, is silently listening.
Play the Objective
To progress the story, have characters speak about what their next objective or goal. John, "What do you want me to do? Disinvite Jack?"
- Do I need to come with you?
- No, I mean yes. I'll tell him myself.
- We'll go together.
The audience clearly knows what the next scene or future scene will be, go disinvite Jack. I've applied indirection exposition to show the reader, John is reluctant to disinvite Jack. I also hinted that the protagonist, Jane, needs to be present, so it will seem to Jack that John is forced to disinvite him.
To end a scene immediately, interrupt with action. Jack says, "I didn't have great parents, okay. I know I'm trash."
- [stare coldly] You're an adult, take responsibility for your own actions.
- Let's go John. [leaves]
- [turn away] You're not coming to my wedding.
The purpose of this scene is to disinvite Jack, not dive deeper into his personal issues. Jack could be a minor character, and does not influence the story overall. Each choice involves an action to draw attention away from Jack's insecurities. The topic could of also been changed with another interrupting NPC saying, "Police you're all under arrest!". Another way to change topics is by telling a joke.