• Keep the story moving forward
• Reveal character
• Add atmosphere
• Add interest by having a character say one thing but mean another
• Sound as if it belongs to the character speaking it – if you can take one character’s line and give it to another, it isn’t right.
• Make clear who is speaking by what they are saying.
• Inject tension or conflict
• Be stylised but sound natural
Sit in a café or on a train and transcribe a conversation you hear. Examine this. Is there anything that might be worthwhile? If it doesn’t do one of the things listed above it isn’t useful. You may be surprised by how little you have left.
Download a couple of pages of script from a TV programme you like. You may find many on BBC Writers’ Room, http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scripts/ . Again look to see how this script performs the functions mentioned above. Is there anything that seems superfluous? How do these pieces contribute to the story, if there are any? What do they do? Does any of it sound unnatural? Does it matter?
Type half a page of dialogue between some of the characters you have created. Now enlarge the print, say font size 30 or so, take out any tag words, and cut your dialogue up into strips. Give them to a writing buddy. Tell the buddy a little about the characters if they don’t already know them. Ask them to sort out who said what. Hopefully, they’ll get it right. If not there is plenty to discuss.
Next time we’ll look at how to set out dialogue.