Writing dialogue is like talking to yourself…
One of the things I noticed when I started writing the story for my upcoming RPG is that I couldn’t quite get myself going with the dialogue between characters. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t quite develop the characters, or if the story itself wasn’t developed enough. The truth is I was taking the wrong approach completely.
I’ll never call myself an expert on writing dialogue. I can write a good blog post, probably pen a short story without much trouble, but I’ve never actually sat down and written anything quite like this. I’ve never had an ambition for script writing, and I’m certainly not going to be a play writer. But the fact is, video games need character dialogue.
I decided to turn to google and look up some of the scripts to my favorite episodes of Stargate SG-1. I wanted to see what it looked like to have the conversations written, rather watching them spoke on TV. Does the script read the same as it watches on TV? Does it help shape the story? As I read the scripts something finally clicked.
I was going about this completely wrong.
I realized the first thing I needed to do was listen to the characters each talk inside my head. They needed a voice, an accent, a dialect, and a personality. I read over my character development notes to help me remember each personality better. After that, I was able to hear them talking inside my head.
The next thing I did was put a picture of the scene with the characters in my head. I could now see them walking around, and talking to each other. I can honestly say it was somewhat like a day-dream. My mind drifted off into another place, and my fingers began to write conversation. I used capitalization and punctuation to give some emotion, but the main thing was I felt like I was having a conversation with different pieces of myself.
It’s not unlike talking yourself through something difficult. Imagine you’re trying guide yourself through a maze. You find yourself at a dead-end, and have no idea where to go. At that point, you talk it out. “Ok. Step back. We made three rights. Let’s backtrack three lefts, and try this again.” Once you get back to your spot, you realize it was just around the corner 10 feet away, and say to yourself “No, we can’t simply start over from this point, we need to re-think things.” You’ve just talked to yourself from two angles. Congratulations, you’ve now created conversation between two characters.
So back to my original dilemma of not knowing where to begin. It seems I just had to engulf myself into my own day dream, and engage in conversation with myself. Johnny, Korin, and Pastor Quinn then had a lengthy discussion. It was heated, but with reason, and finally some calming. There was franticness and shouting. Finally, nervousness, and hope.
What I started out doing what was trying to write lines to say. In the end, I ended up having real conversation between real characters, and a scene was born. Three people in a new world driven by emotion, reason, and conversing. Remember this the next time you bring characters to life. If you want them to interact, just talk to yourself.
Dan Joseph is the CEO and head of Software Engineering of Familiaris Games. Aside from my personal flash game projects, I am collaborating with Ben Davis on multiple future projects, and writing the story and script for an upcoming AAA level RPG, modelled after the same type of game play you see in Lost Odyssey, Final Fantasy, and other Japanese-based RPGs. When I'm not developing games, I'm working as a Web Developer on various major brand web sites. You can follow me on twitter @iamdanjoseph. If you wish to contact me, please click the contact page, and fill out the form. I will get back to you as soon as I can.