As if the world isn't already TENSE enough what with
just surviving another Rapture, today I'm going to
focus on creating tension with dialogue.
And I'm going to use a couple of plays as examples
since they are great sources. Without tense dialogue
the audience falls into a stupor.
|In a Stupor|
Here's a little bit from Edward Albee's
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf--there are four characters
in the room during this exchange--a young couple,
Nick and his wife as well as George and Martha,
the seasoned combatants.See if you feel just a touch of tension.
NICK (Peers at Martha)
Your eyes are ... brown, aren't they?
Green! (A little too fast) Well, in some lights they
look brown but they're green. Not like his . . . more
hazel. George has watery blue eyes. . . milky blue.
Make up your mind, Martha.
I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.
(Now back to the others) Daddy has green eyes, too.
He does not! Your father has tiny red eyes...like a
white mouse. In fact, he is a white mouse.
You wouldn't dare say a thing like that if he was here!
You're a coward!
Can you picture the other two people in the room with
George and Martha? In the audience, I was cringing.
What sharp spear of a word would they hurl at each
Now, here's a small of bit of classic dialogue tension.
The audience knows what Iago is up to and watches as
he starts to weave his web of suspicion to trap Othello
My Noble lord,--
What dost thou say, Iago?
Did Michael Cassio, when you woo'd my lady,
Know of your love?
He did, from first to last: why dost thou ask?
But for a satisfaction of my thought;
No further harm.
Why of thy thought,Iago?
I did not think he had been acquainted with her.
O,yes; and went between us very oft.
Indeed! ay, indeed" discern'st thou aught in that?
Is he not honest?
Honest, my lord!
Notice that in these very different examples there are some
The language is lean. No fat, but lots of sub-text in
each one. Martha choose the very unflattering
adjectives, milky and watery, to describe George's eye color.
Iago chooses the single word, indeed, which
I guess you could translate as, "foolish dupe." He then repeats
Othello's word, honest, implying, "whatever!"
The words themselves seem pretty innocent, but their
meaning isn't and that's what the reader picks up.
That's what creates the tension.
Here are a couple of earlier post about dialogue ifyou'd like to see them.
As always I really love your comments. If you have a
great example or want to add to what I've shared,
please do. I learn so much from my readers.