Long dialog segments

by Tom
(San Clemente, CA)


I'm writing a novelization of a stage play, a comedy. There are very lengthy passages of dialog between only two characters, some are about three or four pages. Is there a particular way to handle this without just adding, "he said" and "she said," and on and on? Should it be broken up with thoughts from the characters or a description about what they are doing intermixed with the conversation? Thank you.

Response: Playscripts are primarily dialogue, so there is a lot that is left out of the story that is created by the actors and other creative theatre staff.

Absolutely you will need to consider describing the action. A scene is not just about people talking but also people doing things. And action beats (little bits of business, action etc.) can be used in place of speech tags ("he said") to both identify the speaker and reinforce the reality of the scene to a reader who doesn't have the benefit of watching actors perform it. Beats also add variety within your dialogue.

You will also have to add some description of the setting and characters (from the main character's point of view), so the reader can visualize these elements.

And there are other differences between the two media to consider.

In a play, exposition (information the audience needs to understand the story) usually must be put into dialogue. This is one reason plays are "dialogue heavy."

In a novel, it usually works better to let the narrator provide most of the exposition, especially if it is information the characters should already know. This lets you use the dialogue more for exposing and developing character relationships and conflicts. You may find you can condense the dialogue when putting the story into prose.

You may also want some narrative summary to transition from one event (scene) to the next, possibly to explain what happens in between. Plays usually make transitions with a blackout and set change, and maybe a little exposition in the dialogue to explain what happened in between scenes. Again, that exposition can be taken out of the dialogue and put into the narration, so you can get on with the scene.

How you treat the main or primary point-of-view character may also be different. A monologue delivered to the audience may become an interior monologue and may have a different tone as a result. With a play, audiences watch the characters from an objective position (through the fourth wall), while in a novel, the story is more likely to be told from the main character's perspective. The reader usually likes to feel as though they are the main character, standing in his/her shoes.

This becomes an issue if you have scenes in which the main character is not present. You may have to decide whether to write the novel with an omniscient narrator (closer to a play, but less popular today), use more than one point-of-view character, which means getting into the heads of some of your secondary characters, or perhaps cutting scenes the main character is not present for.

Perhaps the biggest difference between plays and novels is that the novel form makes it much easier to describe what's going on in the main character's head. It lets the reader experience the main character's perceptions, feelings, and thoughts in a more intimate way. Taking full advantage of this can make the novel quite a different experience than the play, but it will make a much better novel.

Finally, I should point out that novels are usually much longer than plays. Converting a novel into a play takes a lot of cutting and condensing. Turning a script into a novel may mean a lot of additional development of characters, plot, etc. to bring it up to novel length (which is typically 75,000-95,000 words). You may be able to explore aspects that were only hinted at in the play. Just make sure you are developing (making it more interesting), not padding.

Best of luck.

Comments for Long dialog segments

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Aug 20, 2016
Long Dialog Segments
by: Tom

Thank you, Glen for such a detailed response! Well described and quite insightful. It gives me some very helpful guidelines for my current project.
I'm sure others will benefit from this as well.
All the best,

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