This class was given by Tom Leveen, the author of two books: Party and Sick. He asked us up front not to publicize too much of what he was going to talk about, because he makes a living from teaching his approach to dialogue as well as writing books, so I am just going to give some overarching points and maybe expand on them a little.
The first point, which I hadn’t really thought about in such an explicit way before, was that the word ‘dialogue’ means ‘two logics. He didn’t particularly expand on this, except to say that those logics should be in conflict (which we all know, right?). I’ve thought about this idea since then and realized that when I’ve been writing dialogue, I have been thinking mostly about the different personalities and desires of the characters. But there is a deeper place to go when you understand the idea that fundamentally, everyone’s brain is wired differently. There have been hundreds of books written on the topic of logic differences between men and women, between different cultures, etc. However, there are deep logic differences between every single person even in my own family – and we all lived in the same house for 18+ years.
All too often, I’ve seen books in which the plot relies on something as simple as the characters reamining silent when they should speak, or one character misunderstanding the other. It’s a shame, because deeper logical differences could be played upon to create drama and tension in a way that mimics the deep frustrations of real life rather than remaining on the surface of communication issues. I think delving into logic differences, as well as personality differences and goal differences, could bring added depth to the characters and to the plot of your work.
The second major idea that Leveen mentioned was that you should be able to think of your book like a stage play, with the characters acting out the plot. In a good stage play, the actors should be able to act out their parts with no props or costumes, and they should be just as powerful as if they were surrounded by all of the special effects. If you want to try a different twist on your story, imagine your characters acting out their roles on stage, and all they have are their actions and dialogue to drive the story forward. This gets you to focus on their words and actions, and to really ‘see’ them and their performance in your mind.
The last idea I will mention was simple, almost an afterthought, but I found it extremely powerful. He mentioned that 2 to 4 lines (maximum of 6), well-placed in the story are enough to vest the reader in your characters. It might be good to go back over your manuscript and make sure you have that key moment for each character where the reader realizes that he or she wants the character to succeed or find happiness.
Overall, I enjoyed this workshop and found Tom’s combination of stage history and writing to give him a fresh look at writing dialogue. I would recommend seeing one of his workshops if he is in your area. You can find him on the web at tomleveen.com.