Getting characters to sound like real people…

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So much of learning writing dialogue, even between just two characters in plays, is really looking intrinsically, at least for me into who your character really is without
assumption–meaning, for me, it’s studying different types of dialogue as diverse yet familiar to help shape the rhythm of the language I want working in my plays. By intrinsic, I mean what sounds internally close to the nature of the real thing, something obviously inherent; and as always learning and studying from some of the great writers–some of which I’ve read and I’m currently reading Donald Margulies’s Dinner with Friends, Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, Sam Shepard’s Seven Plays inclusive “Buried Child,” that I saw this month at the local theater. It was a very good production–and timeless, which I think is so important with writing in that a story whether, play or novel, can stand up to its time and even 30+ years later.

August Wilson’s King Hedley II is a really good play for vernacular, location, and time; and William Inge’s Picnic and forthcoming Bus Stop for my playwriting class lets me look at timelessness and how good his approach to comedy is. In reading Inge’s work, one can see the balance of serious issues with characters obviously flawed and what the central issue is within the play to also see characters not so flawed; and again, picking up a play and reading it for the first time, cold turkey, and the effect of balance and character dimension shows work as timelessness retrospective of the 1950s…a time before my time. And, as always, reading Tennessee Williams’s work and “The Glass Menagerie” for the first time, or forty-first time, is timelessness in craft, universal issues, reality, and great writing. The whole idea for me with dialogue is having the play sound and be as realistic as possible; it takes a skill to avoid stilted language and to foster a connection with an audience/reader, to have dialogue sound authentic and not forced.

Exploring characters anew…

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For my next playwright class, I’m working on three distinct ideas and having two of the same characters involved within these three separate ideas; and what a great way to see how
these two characters reveal their true colors–being as polar opposite as they can be–along with sustaining conflict between them within these separate ideas. This is a great exercise from my playwright class this week in which this weekend has me also exploring and drafting one page biographies on each of them in as much detail as possible. The biography part is similar to what I worked on in drafting my novel, to a certain extent, with profiling attributes for each character. But the difference I’m noticing here is ensuring and keeping that conflict between the characters happening, not that you wouldn’t in a novel with certain characters; but to see a play live makes all the difference in the world. This list is some of the biographical criteria I’m considering for my two characters.

–What do the characters look like?
–What are their backgrounds?
–What emotional/psychological issue does each character have?
–Characters’ wants/needs/desires?
–Characters’ fears/phobias/addictions/habits?
–Characters’ strengths and weaknesses?
–Are the characters smart/shrewd/clever/devious/charming/funny/ethical/pragmatic/
pathetic, etc.?
–What’s significant about the characters? Are they trying to get something from one another?
–What’s the motivating assumption of each character?
–What are their favorite foods, etc.

Some choice dynamics…

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I’ve been reading up on and watching plays with an interest in topics of family structure, values, and how they are depicted, looking at, perhaps, the American dream and/or myth, if any, and what the characters do inside their family environment as well as what society encourages and doesn’t encourage. I’ll be getting to see a few plays this coming weekend that work with and explore the family dynamic. It’s also nice to see local theatre producing a wide variety of plays that offer diverse topics examining sometimes realistic, close-to-the-bone, plays that–at the same time–are entertaining.