MAKING €“BELIEVABLE- DIALOGUE (EDITED VERSION 3.0!).

Layer your character, because people are like onions.

  • Puddor
  • 12/17/2009 09:18 AM
  • 6420 views
Making –BELIEVABLE- Dialogue (title edited to save my ass...since the last one didn't really describe this well enough)

This is basically a guide to creating characters and dialogue people feel they can relate to. My methods might be considered unorthodox, but they get the job done.
I’ve seen all too many times characters with shallow personalities. It often means I resort to creating my own back stories, even if the game doesn’t mention it. It’s one thing to list your characters traits to ‘stubborn, stand-offish and cold’, and then another to have them willing accept a new party member, chat with them for the entire cut scene and then suggest they all go and rest since someone looks tired. Your character can be given as many traits as you like, until that character shows that trait I’m going to think you’ve described them poorly.
One thing to do is to pluck out two of your characters and hypothetically, stick them in a room together. Open up a word processing program, and just start typing dialogue.

The key to making decent dialogue is understanding your character as a person rather than an object. Your characters should react to their surroundings, situations and the people around them according to their personality, experiences, morals and beliefs. If they go against their personality, it confuses the player.

A good solution for this is to wait until you've gotten someway through the plot and established the characters fully before even describing them to the public. This way you can think about the way they'll react to your plot, to their comrades and their rivals. Have a sketchy idea of them prior to actually beginning the story is a good idea (see below), which gives you a base to work with, but develop them as the story progresses. Characters that remain stagnant and do not develop are boring and, by my standards, poorly written.

Each character will react differently to another. Pick one character and stick to it, then cycle through your cast. Have them have an extended conversation. As they talk, you’ll get a better understanding of the character themselves- just let your mind flow as you write. This way, you’ll have an example of how each character will talk to each other, how they’ll react to specific situations. This is good for getting rid of blocks, too, because it allows you to deviate away from your story.
Throw your character into random situations; in essence, make your own fanfiction for your story. Learn about your character as you do this and let build on their experiences. If you throw them into a group situation, how do they react? Are they social awkward? Friendly? Prefer to stick to similar people? The life of the party, even?
If you can’t think of something like this, starting off with a basic profile is generally a great help. Think about their age, their parents, their history, and the way they might react to an event. Develop a personality through their history, and in turn, develop their history through their personality. For example, an orphan who loses everything, and ends up alone, soon after their parents death. Some would despair, wallow in their grief, while others would look to the future brightly and say ‘Well, it can’t get any worse than this, can it?’. And as tardis pointed out, this is a poor example, since it has been done to death; but as a result, it is also the example most used. More likely than not, you've come across a character or two with this back story. Were they exactly the same person? Even if they were similar, it's likely you'd find a difference in the characters unless one game based their character of the other game's character. This is just poor characterization and probably a result of a burnt-out writer.

If you’re really stumped, try listening to friends or family and write down their traits. Create a scenario through this then ask someone to read it, and also ask whether it sounds like the person you’re trying to replicate. If it doesn’t, maybe you’re not judging their traits correctly. Trial and error with characterization is usually the best thing.
Try to keep in mind while developing a character how they’ll change as the story progresses. Try not to just stick with the personality you’ve given them. People develop as time passes, as they experience new things. Incorporate it through how they react to events in the past. Layer your character, because people are like onions.

This has basically turned into a collective of notes and things I've learnt, but it pretty much comes down to understanding your characters.
I don’t know if this will help anyone, but I’m just trying to contribute. If it does help you, I’m glad I could be of service.

Later,
Kyrsty.

Posts

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Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13585
I would just like to say that if you ever have pointless dialogue that long in your game, I will shut it off.
I think this article will help me make better dialog. I will try this and hopefully it will bring something great.
Puddor
if squallbutts was a misao category i'd win every damn year
4159
@ Craze: Most of my dialogue relates to what is happening around them during conversations. I probably should've mentioned that =/. Might update later with a paragraph on minding the characters surroundings.

@captainregal: I hope so too ^_^.
tardis
is it too late for ironhide facepalm
285
Blank: Jerk, Ignorant, Blunt, Highly intelligent.


You cannot simply label a character a 'jerk.' Their actions define them, and that is ultimately a decision best left to the player/reader. Ridiculously generic example: in the Harry Potter novels, Severus Snape isn't introduced as "Severus Snape, the potions master, and a real jerkface." It's his dialogue, specifically the way he phrases things and presents himself through his speech, that causes the reader to draw their own conclusion about him. If you label your characters right off the bat and play them to stereotypes, not only will your work sound like godawful fanfiction, you're likely to confuse, annoy, or lose your reader entirely.

For example, an orphan who loses everything, and ends up alone, soon after their parents death.


If you ever make a game that revolves around a protagonist like this, ten bucks says I refuse to play it. This has been done to death. I like to think of it as generally good writing etiquette to not subject my reader to pointless protagonist angst- it's not believable and it's not cute or entertaining. It's been done, and it's been done very very badly more times than not.

Granted, this sounds like a longwinded bitch-post. It's not- I'm just a bit skeptical of this article's advice insofar as it hugely encourages the use of stereotypes and horribly cliched tropes. No ill will intended, just some extra food for thought. ;)
Glad to see you contributing to the site.
Puddor
if squallbutts was a misao category i'd win every damn year
4159
Yeah, I suppose I really shouldn't describe Blank as a jerk, but I've played with his character for a very long time and through dialogue and discussions I've come to describe him as that. It's really unacceptable of me to write something like that, though. I'll go over this article fully soon and revise what I was trying to say.

And I'm not trying to encourage stereotypes, per say, I would like to think I'm encouraging a writer to embellish the way they describe their character. Giving a word connotations, so to speak. Most of the time, character profiles consist of about four words describing the characters personality. I'm trying to emphasize that characters need to display these traits in their dialogue.
Ark
Wario's-a number one!
1747
Did you rip that conversation straight out of Gaia Online?
I don't know if this will help anyone, but I'm just trying to contribute.


People who are still learning themselves shouldn't be writing tutorials.

If you want to learn how to write dialog, you only need to listen closely to how people typically interact with one another. The next time you overhear a conversation; pay special care to the nuances and mannerisms of the people talking.

Character - Nightblade
Traits - Jerk

Go figure, I've drawn my own conclusion.

Nightblade, you are at your worst when you have stopped learning. Remember that.
As long as you're alive, you should be learning.
Nightblade, you are at your worst when you have stopped learning. Remember that.
As long as you're alive, you should be learning.


Way to state the blatantly obvious. I have another fact of life I'd like to share.

Water is wet.

Before reading three words of my post and calling me a "jerk", read the rest of it.

I would just like to say that if you ever have pointless dialogue that long in your game, I will shut it off.


CRAZE UR A JERK!
Puddor
if squallbutts was a misao category i'd win every damn year
4159
@NB: I also said at the beginning of the article how I believed my methods to be unorthodox. People probably have a different method of creating dialogue/characterization, I'm just posting my own.
I also mentioned listening to other people speaking and trying to replicate it, which I do believe is a very good method of creating dialogue, however I'm assuming that while a person is in the middle of creating their game they don't exactly want to bounce up and find a couple of people talking and listen in.
Personally I'd find that sort of creepy.
@Ark: No. It was written while I was writing this tutorial.
@NB: I also said at the beginning of the article how I believed my methods to be unorthodox. People probably have a different method of creating dialogue/characterization, I'm just posting my own.
I also mentioned listening to other people speaking and trying to replicate it, which I do believe is a very good method of creating dialogue, however I'm assuming that while a person is in the middle of creating their game they don't exactly want to bounce up and find a couple of people talking and listen in.
Personally I'd find that sort of creepy.


I'm not suggesting you stalk people or copy word for word what they're saying; I'm just suggesting the next time you overhear people talking (it could be on the bus, while you're working, or whatever) that you pay attention to how people interact with one another.

I don't get how any of this is "unorthodox" honestly, it just reads as if you tossed it out off the top of your head.
So. Was that dialogue an example of what we should do with our writing or what we shouldn't do with it? To be honest, it's incredibly awkward and it doesn't go very well with your descriptions of your characters. If I had to be as blunt as Blank is (supposed to be), I'd say that your OCs are OOC. The general advice that's given in this is useful, but you can't back it up.
Krysty,
I am currently trying to better the dialogue in the game I am making (or trying to make). I like some of the stuff you say here like for example creating a simple profile for each character before you actually drop him or her into the game.
I do not know ANYthing about writing; lately all I write is my name on tests and then everything else is numbers, as I'm sure happens to some people around here.
Can you, or anyone else here give me other pointers as to what to do in order to avoid dropping the player into the game and have him control the main character right off the bat without knowing a thing about the character in question? I thought an introduction would be good for this, but I do not want to bore people with long scenes or anything like that.
In the other hand, is it fine to let the player familiarize himself with the character as the story grows? Without particularly having to know anything about his/her traits once the game starts?
I am sorry for the long post but I am sure you guys won't mind giving me your opinion.
So, in a nutshell, I know how my main character and some of the supporting cast behave and have laid out their basic traits; I am just having a problem presenting this to the player, or knowing when to present it.
I am sure this all depends on the story in my game and what kind of game I am making. At any rate, I hope to release a demo early next year and have people give me feedback. Thanks in advance!
Puddor
if squallbutts was a misao category i'd win every damn year
4159
It's perfectly ok to have the player learn through either methods you described, though player interaction makes them feel a lot more in-touch with the character, like they are actually meeting the character for the first time and then learning about their personality. You can have an intro if you like, but it should generally be a intro to the story and the situation. Intros aren't really used for character development. NPC's are a great source for letting your character display their personality, plus it lets the player interact how they want to. The more the player is in control, the more they feel connected to the character.
That makes sense! Thanks for your suggestions, I will try to implement this as best as possible.
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