On Dialogue and Playwriting by Zai Deriu

Playwriting in general has never been my strong suit. I attribute this largely to the fact that for various uncontrolled circumstances, playwriting units have always been given the short end of the stick during my time in CW. Covid-19 broke out in the middle of our sophomore year playwriting unit, and the following years had to be done online entirely. Playwriting is such a performance and community based unit, so having it online was simply not as effective. Poetry and fiction, although they suffered from the online format, had more of a chance.

Additionally, I notoriously hate writing dialogue in all forms of writing, which is unfortunate as I consider it to be a primary aspect of playwriting. Everything about putting any speech into my work feels gross. Not only does it feel clunky and unnecessary, but I hate the way it looks on the page. Quotation marks are my least favorite form of punctuation. They look weird. The lovely thing about writing, however, is that then I simply don’t use them. In fiction I typically opt to put my speech in italics (or not use dialogue at all.) With playwriting, however, I am a bit more trapped, as it is difficult to dodge dialogue in this format.

Our playwriting unit culminates in each student turning in one completed ten minute play. Mine was inspired by fairytales, focusing on a character being cast away after their brother becomes convinced they are a monster. I’m happy with how it turned out, as I think I found a way to work with my strengths. 

I think what I usually find so irritating about dialogue is that realistic speech tends to contain so much filler that I feel as though I have to decide between realism or conciseness. In this play, however, cutting away dialogue actually helped to bolster my whimsical tone. Leaving long pauses between most lines made the entire piece seem more like a dream. If it were to be put on stage, I imagine the actors would utilize this to act out their characters in the absence of sound.

Despite all my feelings around writing dialogue and playwriting, I am quite pleased with my work this year. I am happy to say I am confident in the work I have done. It feels nice to leave my last CW playwriting unit on a good note.

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