Tips for Strengthening Character Dialogue

With the new year at hand, you may have some refreshed ambitions about accomplishing the burning goals you’ve had for so long. For many of you in the animation world, this might come in the form of developing a story of some sort. All too often, it gets easy to fall victim to the invisible trap of flat, un-scintillating dialogue. To avoid this fate, here are three great suggestions to build your writing skills for more explosive and engaging dialogue between your characters:

1) Take an acting class or two! Yes, this certainly includes improvisation classes. This is especially great if you are in, or heading to, college and need to fill extra elective courses. It’s incredible for learning how to think like a character other than yourself. (On a parallel note: this is also a huge win for drawing better acting!) Remember, good acting comes from great reacting – from that comes better dialogue.

2) Watch both good and bad movies (or shows), and think about the dialogue from each character as you watch. Really try to isolate the dialogue by asking questions as you absorb. (This is easiest to do when trying it with stuff you’re super familiar with already so that you don’t get swept up in just watching it.) But ask questions like “Does where this person come from effect the way they speak?” and “Why would they say that? Would it work the same if they said it a different way?” and “What is the character trying to get across? Are they trying to say something different than what they’re ACTUALLY saying?” and other questions like these.

3) Try to assign your characters to someone similar them. That could mean someone you know personally or maybe an actor. But let’s say your character is an insecure, irritable guy who only looks out for himself. Could he be like George Costanza from the show Seinfeld? How would he act in a scenario at work when he realizes the box of donuts is empty, except for a half of the yuckiest donut? And what if it was half EATEN, not cut in half? What if all this happened on his birthday? What sorts of things would he say in that scenario compared to if he was like Walter White in Season 1 of Breaking Bad? See how assigning other similar characters or people you know helps give them a voice? It becomes a lot easier to think of dialogue that stands apart from character to character when they all come from one person’s head.

Of course, as with anything, these methods take time and practice. Methods such as these, though, make it far easier to write dialogue that keep your audience far more engaged because your characters won’t all sound like you talking, or like sloppy caricatures of archetypes you might have stored in your mind.

Hope this helps!
Disney Storyboard Artist
Creator/Host of The Animation Network podcast
The goal of The Animation Network podcast is to excite and inspire people interested in animation, answer burning questions specifically about TV animation, and share a colorful spectrum of experiences that lead industry pros to where they are today!

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