Prompts, tips and ideas for writing student duologues

Top tips for writing Duologues

Less is more

Don’t perform a duologue that lasts forever and ever. In most cases, less is more and you want to make sure that what you write is as concise and specific as possible but still maintaining a sense of realism and an actual conversation. The best advice is to actually write more than you need and to keep writing until you’ve explored everything you think you can. Then cut the text down until it is to the length you want it.

Length and depth

You will want to keep your duologue short. But if you make it too short you will lose any depth to your writing. You will need keep a fine balance in your mind as you write. Ask yourself if the characters are coming through in the duologue. Is there enough time for the content of the duologue to come through and be fully explored in to conversation?

Be realistic but not naturalistic.

Root the dialogue and characters in reality. Both the situation and the characters must be as realistic as possible. It has to be a conversation that anyone of us may have had or will have. However, give the conversation an exaggerated  and heightened feel. Write the duologue as if you would like to see how you’d like the conversation to go in your head rather than how it would go in reality. Say the things you would have liked to say but couldn’t think of at the time!

Make the characters real.

In every good duologue there are two very real characters that we can all recognise either in ourselves or in the people around us. We need to be able to relate to them and empathise with them. As writers, you need to make sure you know your characters extremely well. You need to work out their backstories and given circumstance. You need to make decisions on how that backstory will influence the characters motivations in their action. Even if only a few key pieces of information from the backstory you’ve written is directly referred to in the actual duologue, the research you do will indirectly inform your writing.

Treat it like improvisation but in writing.

Keep an idea of what each character sounds like by playing with them before you write anything down. Try things like saying the words out loud and give each character a different voice. Try to make them sound different and use language differently. Treat it like you are performing an improvisation except write it down afterwards when you are happy with what the character has said.

Duologue Prompts and Ideas

The Interview

This scenario involves one central character in an interview situation where they are asked questions to bring out information about themselves. This could be in the form of a job, police or journalist interview. Each scenario carries different connotations and outcomes for a duologue and character exploration. 

The confrontation. 

This involves two different scenarios. The first involves one central character confronting someone who is a higher status to them, like their teacher, parent or boss. Then starting an argument about something that they think is unfair, like a detention or a lack of a complaint made against them at work. The second scenario involves two characters of fairly equal status and one character confronts another about an issue, secret or lie that has been shared by the other character. This second scenario works better if the two characters are similar in status, perhaps friends or siblings.

Strangers meeting

A fairly straight forward scenario but a complex one to write. During the course of the duologue you need to establish both characters and find some sort of common ground between them in the short space of time of the duologue. You need to establish who they are, why they are there and what they are doing in a way that seems natural and reasonable way.

The confession

This is a lovely scenario to write with loads of possibilities for emotional responses. Essentially one character needs to make a confession to the other of something bad they have done. It works best when the two characters have a preexisting relationship which is clear to see from the very beginning of the duologue (such as parent and child, best friends, boyfriends and girlfriends). This helps because you can then focus on writing the confession and establishing the context behind that.

The reveal

Similar scenario to the confession but focused on revealing some good news rather than something negative. The same conditions apply as well, this scenario works much better when the two characters already know each other and you don’t have to spend too much time establishing what the characters relationship is.

The telling off

Similar to the confrontation but in reverse. This time, instead of the person with the lower status confronting the higher status character, the boss, parent or teacher is telling off the other character. This scenario works best when you focus on the reactions of each character as they are told off and the consequences of their actions are explored. The greater the injustice occurred the more justified any angry reaction is, but remember the top tip about rooting the action in reality!

The recount

A really emotional duologue can come from this scenario. A little like the interview, this involves a character retelling and recounting a past event to someone. This can be a very touching scenario where two characters become very close as one learns about the other characters past.

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