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This topic sheet was originally devised for the Exciting Plot Writing course. There is a table of links to other teaching resources towards the bottom of this page.


Most writers prefer the work of writing to that of conceptualisation.

Whilst it may be intellectually very satisfying to conceptualise a plot by working at helicopter level, such work can be slow and even tedious because it is often more analytical than creative.

Writing, by contrast, is predominantly creative. There is much potential for excitement in the fact that a single unexpected word falling onto the page can be the entry point to an unforeseen universe of thought. In truly creative writing, characters are not constrained (or at least not knowingly constrained) by "the big picture". They are free to behave unexpectedly, often surprising themselves as much as they surprise their creators.

If the task of writing, then, is good "therapy" for the writer who feels bowed down by analytical processes, the writing of dialogue is the most powerful therapy of all. Whereas the writing of straight narrative, such as paragraphs of descriptive text, causes the writer to enter the mind of the story-teller, the writing of dialogue requires two or more minds. Accordingly, the writer is never free to pursue one character's line of thought without interference from another. It is this constant interplay that makes dialogue such a fruitful source of creative inspiration.

When using dialogue as a plot development tool, it is important to remember that the quality of one's creativity is more important than the quality of the dialogue itself. In other words, it doesn't matter if the dialogue is unconvincing, inconclusive or even incoherent as long as opens up new vistas.This topic sheet is not, therefore, to be taken as a guide to writing good dialogue.

Having said that, the creative potential of the dialogue, whether written or improvised, may be enhanced by observing a few of the basic rules that provide for good dialogue, as follows:

  • Each character should be reasonably clearly defined, with some clear objectives to be achieved in the course of the dialogue.
  • There must be some degree of conflict between the respective characters' objectives.
  • No character should be allowed to speak for long before being interrupted by another.
  • Characters should always listen and respond to others unless they have good reason to do otherwise.
Email Paddy Gormley Telephone +4420 or 020 8319 4276