This second part is going to cover dialogue. Dialogue is probably one of my favourite parts of writing (the other part is creating the characters themselves.)
I will be using examples of my own work for the most part and anything I mention will also be linked here.
I will be using a list from the balance careers website as a starting point for the advice I’m about to give. So let’s begin. (https://www.thebalancecareers.com/top-tips-for-writing-dialogue-1277070)
NOTE: some of these tips in the list aren’t relevant to game development so I’ve omitted them for the purpose of this article, but they’re all still worth reading if you want to venture into prose as well. Strong dialogue is where good character development happens. Each character should have a distinctive voice. A pattern if you will, in the way they talk. This helps to differentiate them from other characters, especially if they have similar names or their names begin with the same letter. For example, taken from one of my scripts:
What is wrong, Human-Hunter?
I swear I seen something just then…. it’s gone now..
An animal, perhaps?
Possibly, whatever it was, it decided it didn’t want to make friends with us.
Both characters have a different way of talking. One is more formal and ‘proper’ whereas the other, character is informal and more ‘laid-back’. This helps make them more unique and the audience can identify them through their use of words alone.
Listen to how people communicate - in real life.
The only way to learn how to portray realistic communication is to experience it first hand. You’re probably thinking ‘ But I do that all the time…?’ - true, to some extent, but you’re passively listening, not taking notes on how conversations work. There are ‘rules’ that are generally followed in order for a conversation to make sense and then, sometimes these rules are broken. Conversations can be maintained without complete sentences, especially if the people who are talking are good friends and have a rapport.
What I also found useful is looking into personality types, human psychology and ‘body language’. I’ve listed several books and youtube channels that I’ve found along the way at the end of this post.
Don’t go overboard on the realism.
Normal conversations between people in everyday life are full of long pauses, filler words (like er, um and oh), and people talk over each other a lot. This would be chaos and frustrating to read, or watch. While I think it’s okay to use filler words and pauses (don’t underestimate the power of silence as a reply as it can portray many emotions and feelings without a word, more on this later), they shouldn’t be used as much as they’re used in real life.
Here’s an example of how I’ve used filler words and pauses in one of my scripts:
Do you require assistance? Are you okay?
Umm... I'm fine, thanks...
If you are looking for the conference hall, it is this way...
The filler words and pauses here are used to portray the human characters’ discomfort and xenophobic attitude.
Don’t ‘lore bomb’
A lore bomb is exactly what it sounds like, an information overload being thrown at the audience all at once. In prose this can be avoided by pacing the story and not ‘feeding’ your audience all the information at once.
In gaming however, this can be trickier, games are a visual media, much like tv and film so there is no room to be subtle. It’s still a good idea to trickle information to the audience slowly, it helps give your story pace. If giving your audience a tonne of information is unavoidable, there are ways to do this, that don’t overload the audience. Story set in a fantasy world? Place readable books around the world for the player to read at their will (Hello Elder Scrolls). Writing a sci fi? Have a digital version of the book, like a computer terminal or ‘codex’ (Hello Mass Effect).
OR, if you’re okay with having periods of player disconnect (which can be useful to give a player a break from the action), then have dialogue such as the cutscenes in The Last of Us.
Go easy on the slang, yo!
And the profanity and the stereotypes….
Overuse of slang can alienate your audience unless you a find a way to give a clear explanation of what your slang terminology means.
Profanity kind of doesn’t bother me that much, BUT; it could bother other people and it depends on your target audience, the tone you’re trying to portray and hat the story is about. A story about a romance between high school teenagers is going to sound really weird if they’re all out there swearing like sailors.
Stereotypes can kind of annoy people as I mentioned in the previous article. If you find yourself writing a Stereotype, give that character a quality, trait or interest (or even several) that makes them break out of that mould.
READ ALL THE THINGS!
Okay, maybe not all the things, but it is important to read other people’s work, the good the bad and the ugly. The good, because it shows you how it works, good dialogue is memorable and inspiring. The bad, because it shows you how not to do it; Unless you’re trying to show how nervous/weird a character is, or using it in an ironic way, then it can be useful. And the ugly is probably best avoided at all costs.
Punctuate Dialogue Correctly
I can’t stress how important this is. There’s nothing worse than no punctuation. It makes anything very hard to read, especially for people with Dyslexia (myself included).
Using correct spellings of words is another thing to take note of.
Keep it Short
Pages and pages of one character talking generally aren’t so great, esp if it’s info dumping or lore bombing. Try to break up the conversation by having on character ask the questions and the other to give information, rather than have one guy go off on a 10 minute tangent about something.
Cut to the Chase
It’s probably not necessary to have your characters ask how everyone is all the time or talk about the weather (unless your story is about the weather, I’m not here to judge). Small talk can be awkward in real life, especially for introverts (I hear you all not talking in the back there fellow introverts, I got your back!) and if your character is an introvert, they probably will want to avoid smalltalk.
Let it Flow (not Snow)
First drafts tend to be terrible, so just write, let it flow and return to it later. Get feedback from peers and rewrite if you need to.
Act it out
It helps if you read your dialogue out loud, get someone to help you who you trust or the person you’re collaborating with.
Please hear me out on this one. Join a D&D game or a forum dedicated to roleplay, as in creating a character (or several) and acting as that character or writing a collaborative story for your character in that world. This makes the situations your characters are put in unpredictable and you have to think fast to how your character would react. This is a great challenge and can vastly help you improve your skills as a writer. You can also get tips and advice from your peers who you write or play pen and paper RPGs with.
I’m talking diversity across the board here. If you have any characters that are of different racial backgrounds, cultures, belief systems, different childhood upbringings and even disabilities, then you need to make sure that:
You have portrayed them correctly. Nobody wants to be that person who insults their audience.
Research your subject matter and find sensitivity readers if you’re not sure.
Minority characters are NOT just random filler characters or the ones that die first, etc. It doesn’t look good on you as a writer.
Useful links and references: