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Writing Dialogue - Do's & Don'ts


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#1 RiedelK   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 01:33 PM

Hello my fellow enthusiasts!

 

First off I would like to point out that I searched for this topic and didn't find anything like it (but I could be wrong), if there's another topic like this one please lock this thread and point me in that direction, otherwise let's have a nice discussion about writing dialogue.

 

We all have our shortcomings and my biggest when it comes to creative writing is to write actual dialogue between characters. That is mainly why I am asking for your Do's & Don'ts, Tricks, Tips, Hints, etc. I also thought that this thread could serve as a source of knowledge for anyone else wondering about dialogue writing.

 

I would like to start with some more technical questions:

* How do you format the text when you write your dialogues?

* What grammar rules are there to follow when it comes to english when writing dialogue?

 

Now... to the big question:

What are your Do's and Don'ts when it comes to writing dialogue?

 

Edit: Yes I know that there is a do's and don'ts thread regarding writing for games, I am asking for a more specific discussion here.


Edited by Ried, 10 April 2013 - 01:34 PM.

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#2 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4785

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 05:00 PM

I'm not sure I have a lot to say about dialogue.  It should sound natural, which means descriptive grammar, rather than the more prescriptively proper grammar often used for narration.  It should sound different for different characters, so you may want to think about whether one uses longer sentences and words and another uses shorter ones, whether one uses more slang or has an accent, etc.  In the final version of the script it should have correct capitalization and punctuation and tagging as to what character is speaking it.  If you're writing prose instead of script format then it needs to have quotation marks and all that.

 

What kind of grammar rules are you wondering about?  Because other than quotation marks, dialogue doesn't have special grammar or punctuation.


Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#3 RiedelK   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 12:50 PM

Yes it seems mostly like common sense, any techniques that you like to use when thinking up/jotting down a dialogue?

 

I've read about a practicing technique where you imagine the dialogue of three characters around a camp fire, the setting (and topic) is yours to decide, so let's say post-apocalyptic for the sake of being cliché. Then you decide accent the differences characters shall have, each one must have a different accent. Then the game is on pretty much. Has anyone tried this type of technique, or something similiar to it?

 

The thing I wonder the most about grammar is how to format it on paper.

 

Lord Fluffybottom's pants fell to the ground as he happily raised his glass and screamed "Hail to the queen!". The entire room of diplomats gasped and stared at his rainbow striped underwear with a pink unicorn on the left leg.

 

Lord Fluffybottom's pants fell to the ground as he happily raised his glass and screamed.

- "Hail to the queen!".

The entire room of diplomats gasped and stared at his rainbow striped underwear with a pink unicorn on the left leg.


Edited by Ried, 12 April 2013 - 03:10 PM.

- The key to any great idea is to keep it simple. -


#4 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4785

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 04:38 PM

If you are writing it in a story, it would be:

 

Lord Fluffybottom's pants fell to the ground as he happily raised his glass and screamed, "Hail to the queen!" The entire room of diplomats gasped and stared at his rainbow striped underwear with a pink unicorn on the left leg.

 

But if you are writing it in a screenplay format it would be:

 

INT. PALACE - DINING ROOM - EVENING

Drunken Lord Fluffybottom stands to make a toast and does not notice his pants falling off.  He is wearing rainbow striped unicorn underwear, at which the diplomats in the room gasp and stare.

FLUFFYBOTTOM

Hail to the queen!

 

For video games and comic books there isn't a standard format.  This is what I personally use for comic books:

 

Numbering is: scene.page.panel

 

Scene 1 Summary – Lord Fluffybottom's drinking catches up with him in the middle of the diplomatic banquet at the palace.

 

1.1.0 - Scene Title "A Toast!" (All scene titles should be in the same cursive font.)  Exterior of the palace, evening, showing the arrival of expensive cars with diplomat flags/plates and the well-dressed diplomats emerging to enter the palace.  Chauffeurs and uniformed guards also decorate the scene.  This panel is the full page width and 1/3 of the page tall.

 

1.1.1 – Lord Fluffybottom is seated at a banquet table, with other diplomats beside him  His cheeks are red and he is holding up a champagne flute which a waiter is refilling.  On the left sits Lord Suchandsuch, who is also somewhat drunk and in the middle of a rambling speech, "...good lord, Limburger, on the Queen's birthday?  Stilton, man, Stilton!"  Left half of the page, middle third.

 

1.1.2 - Lord Fluffybottom is overcome with a sudden fit of patriotic ecstasy - he stands, his chair shooting back. His glass is raised and he shouts "Hail to the queen!" while Lord Suchandsuch blinks up at him through his monocle.  Right half of the page, middle third.

 

1.1.3 - Lord Fluffybottom's trousers, alas, couldn't take all the excitement - they fall down around his gartered socks, revealing his rainbow striped boxers with a pink unicorn on one leg.  Lord Suchandsuch now peers downward through the monocle and his mouth has fallen open a bit.  Suchandsuch mutters "I say, dear boy, I believe... you may have had a bit of a wardrobe malfunction..."  Left third of the page, bottom third.

 

And for a video game, you may have the player making a dialogue choice.  Again, this is the system I personally use:

 

Numbering: 30 is a plot milestone, these can be universal for a game or specific to a character or quest; they are done by 10s so there is room to insert things in between if necessary.  1 is the first in a sequence of dialogues and/or actions from a character.  R is Root, meaning that the dialogue does not depend on any factors besides the plot milestone.  A, B, etc. are the player's dialogue choice that the player is responding to.  Q is a condition that the game checks to see if it is true.

 

FLUFFYBOTTOM 30.1R  Lord Fluffybottom is holding a glass.  When the player approaches, He raises his glass, shouts "Hail to the queen!" and his trousers fall down with a comical sound effect.  His boxers are revealed to be rainbow striped with a pink unicorn.  Player's response choices: A. Pretend you saw nothing and walk away.  B. Point and laugh.  C. Flirtatious Compliment.

 

FLUFFYBOTTOM 30.2A  A waiter places a folding screen in front of Lord Fluffybottom, who then fixes his pants.  The waiter removes the screen.

 

FLUFFYBOTTOM 30.2B  FluffybottomRep -5  Fluffybottom notices his trousers, says "Ohdearohdearohdear..." and pulls them back up.

 

FLUFFYBOTTOM 30.2C FluffybottomRep +5  Flufflybottom laughs sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head.  "Eheh, I believe my patriotic fervor may have gotten the better of my suspenders!"  Then he leans forward and adds, "(whisper)Come to my room some time if you want to see my My Little Pony collection! (wink)"


Edited by sunandshadow, 12 April 2013 - 04:39 PM.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#5 RiedelK   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 05:06 PM

This, my friend, was exactly what I need to get started on practicing to write dialogues. Thank you! I think that this thread will be useful to others that wonder the same things as I did, not that many people do wonder this very often.

 

I love how you grabbed my 2 minute story and took it further.

 

his glass and screamed, "Hail to the queen!" The entire room

 

I notice how there is no punctuation after the dialogue in the story text. Is that how it works? Comma before the dialogue while the dialogue ends the sentence.


- The key to any great idea is to keep it simple. -


#6 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4785

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 08:37 PM

This, my friend, was exactly what I need to get started on practicing to write dialogues. Thank you! I think that this thread will be useful to others that wonder the same things as I did, not that many people do wonder this very often.

 

I love how you grabbed my 2 minute story and took it further.

 

his glass and screamed, "Hail to the queen!" The entire room

 

I notice how there is no punctuation after the dialogue in the story text. Is that how it works? Comma before the dialogue while the dialogue ends the sentence.

Glad it was helpful. smile.png  Yes, if the punctuation ending the quoted material is a sentence-ending punctuation mark, then there is no punctuation after the quotation mark.  And the comma before the quoted material is used in most cases where there is narration first.  Sometimes you will have a quote divided around some narration, or narration divided around a quote.

 

Harold grumbled, "Hail to the queen..." and smacked himself in the forehead.

 

"In the event of my..." Susan choked back a sob, "untimely death..."

 

 

There's one odd bit of punctuation around quotation marks.  I personally disagree with this "rule" and do not use it, but if I even have an editor working on my stuff they tend to change my punctuation around to fit this convention.  The "rule" is, when a quoted statement would end with a period (only a period - exclamation points, question marks, and ellipses aren't included) but be followed by more narration, replace that period with a comma.

 

"I don't care," she said.

 

I personally think that this convention makes no damn sense and is confusing to read.  So I guess I'm boycotting it.

 

Oh, there's another rule that's a good basic rule.  You can never have two different people's dialogue in the same paragraph.


Edited by sunandshadow, 12 April 2013 - 08:38 PM.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#7 RiedelK   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 14 April 2013 - 03:47 AM

I will definitely boycott that last weird thing as well. Takes away the feel for energy in the dialogue and as you said, makes it confusing to read.

 

Could you give an example of the basic rule regarding:

You can never have two different people's dialogue in the same paragraph.


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#8 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4785

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Posted 14 April 2013 - 03:00 PM

How not to do two people's dialogue:

 

"How's the weather?" asked Jim.  Sally replied, "The temperature is nice but it's too polleny out."

 

Also don't do:

 

Jim didn't know what to think.  "I have no idea!" exclaimed Sally.

 

 

Instead, give each person their own paragraph:

 

"How's the weather?" asked Jim.

 

Sally replied, "The temperature is nice but it's too polleny out."

 

 

Jim didn't know what to think.

 

"I have no idea!" exclaimed Sally.


Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#9 RiedelK   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 15 April 2013 - 11:29 AM

Oh I see, but that is just common sense. :)

 

Thanks a lot.


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#10 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4785

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Posted 15 April 2013 - 04:02 PM

Oh I see, but that is just common sense. smile.png

You'd be surprised, lol.  I have definitely seen fiction written by inexperienced writers that makes exactly this error.


Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#11 RiedelK   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 12:35 PM

I guess the tiny part programmer in me keeps that error away. I call him "the Structure-nazi", since I just can't ignore such things as not being allowed to breath when reading texts, which is why most of my texts contain, probably too much, air and space in between.


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#12 L. Spiro   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 13157

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 06:45 PM

The rules you noted on quotation marks are standard English rules, as is true for any dialogue written for games.

You can always brush up on your grammar and punctuation via any of the numerous grammar/punctuation sites found via Google.

 

For example, http://www.grammarbook.com/.

Note the first rule of quotation marks: http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/quotes.asp.

So for example, you would also write, “I call him ‘the Structure-nazi,’ since I…”

 

For formatting, I will touch on the tools rather than the format itself, since that was already covered well.

 

I use Excel and basically put a similar type of format into a grid-based structure.  It has the advantage of being able to insert both rows and columns when you discover you are missing information, and the rows can be of variable heights to keep related information aligned.  You can highlight/color characters’ dialogs in any software (almost), but Excel gives you more options.

 

It was once very handy to have Excel’s ability to insert columns, since after I wrote a script for a game once we had problems during the translation process.

I had added a lot of famous quotes from games, such as, “For great justice…” which were just confusing for the translator.  I had to add a column to add extra information specific to these points, explaining that they are quotes from certain games and the translators should either find the game in his or her language and use the proper quote or just make a similar culturally equivalent quote.

 

Likewise, it is just a generally good idea to add as much context as possible.  It helps your translators, artists, and programmers.

 

 

L. Spiro


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#13 RiedelK   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 01:57 PM

Great addition to the discussion Spiro! Those links are very useful, and are now bookmarked. Thanks a lot. :)


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#14 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 17912

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Posted 21 April 2013 - 12:29 AM

...examples of different formats...

Is there any particular book or online resource that's usually recommended for learning these types of formatting conventions?



#15 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4785

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Posted 21 April 2013 - 05:29 AM

...examples of different formats...

Is there any particular book or online resource that's usually recommended for learning these types of formatting conventions?

There are probably more than a hundred books and web pages describing such conventions, not all in agreement, and some describing outdated practices, because they have all changed in the past 30 years.  Punctuation for prose is a major topic of pretty much every grammar textbook used from middle school up.  MLA and Chicago are the two big professional ones, but reading them is like trying to read a dictionary, they're not intended to be textbooks.  Screenplay formatting is included in almost every book covering the topic of how to sell a screenplay.  For comic scripts there are fewer examples and no agreed-upon standard, though most comic production companies that buy scripts and assign them to staff artists have house style sheets.  Game scripts vary wildly, and can include things like flowcharts that have a completely different set of conventions.  So, it would take serious research to figure out which reference would be the best one to point people at.  Good question though.


Edited by sunandshadow, 21 April 2013 - 05:30 AM.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#16 RiedelK   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 21 April 2013 - 06:33 AM

Game scripts vary wildly, and can include things like flowcharts that have a completely different set of conventions.

 

Do you have any personally preferred examples of how those flowcharts could look like?

 

And any examples of the comic script style sheets?


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#17 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4785

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Posted 21 April 2013 - 01:24 PM

I'm not personally picky about flowcharts because I'm not involved in any of the fields where they are used professionally, with formal conventions.  Anything that has arrows, color coding, and shape coding, that are easily intuited from looking at the diagram or easily explained with a visual key, is fine with me.

 

I gave an example of my personal comic style above.  Panel One and Panel Two are collections of professional comic scripts, so they are a good place to look at examples of the different styles pros are using.  The style used depends a lot on whether the writer can supply crude drawings (more like a storyboard than a plain script), whether the artist likes a lot of stage directions or likes to be left to their own devices, and whether the script has to be sold to an editor or evaluated by a committee, or whether it is being given directly to an artist, or even whether a writer/artist is creating it for their own guidance before starting to draw.


Edited by sunandshadow, 28 April 2013 - 09:36 AM.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#18 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 9410

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 07:55 AM

I would like to start with some more technical questions:
* How do you format the text when you write your dialogues?
* What grammar rules are there to follow when it comes to english when writing dialogue?

Now... to the big question:
What are your Do's and Don'ts when it comes to writing dialogue?

Edit: Yes I know that there is a do's and don'ts thread regarding writing for games, I am asking for a more specific discussion here.

 

When you say you want more specific do's and don'ts, can you be more specific as to what's missing from the existing do's and don'ts thread?

 

Formatting of dialogue text:
Use Courier (or Courier New) font.
Each line (or each continuous scene) needs to be preceded with an asset name.
For each line (or continuous scene), you have to precede it with a description of how it's used in gameplay.

 

Grammar rules:
Use normal grammar rules, or use grammar rules that are appropriate for the speaking character.


Edited by Tom Sloper, 28 April 2013 - 08:35 AM.

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