Some Notes About Dialogue from Lee and Naked Playwriting

last revised 2/20/08


I always tell students that dialogue is not real, it is realistic (or not if we're dealing with some postmodern or absurdist works).  Like the famous postmodern novelist John Barth says, " . . . our conversations are tedious beyond appraisal; our bodies are preposterous, our minds a bad joke,” but our novels are meaningful, ordered universes.  And so are our plays.  In other words, just as characters are not real people, but cohesive bits of art, dialogue is also a cohesive bit of art.  Naked Playwriting backs this up.  They take it a step further by saying, "Dialogue is action: action taken to satisfy a want or desire . . . Any line that is not a motivated action will fail" (142).  The book likes to talk about everything in a play being action, but I like to make more distinctions.  Sometimes dialogue is about revealing character, for instance.  Sometimes it's about revealing the major dramatic question or premise or theme, and that isn't necessarily action at all.

Still, chapter 6 has a lot of very good technical advice about dialogue that I think can especially help you when you revise: