“Dialogue isn’t just about the words on the page – it’s about the things that are not said. The space between the words. The silences that speak volumes. The subtext of what’s going on below and behind the words.” -BBC Writer’s Lab: Scriptwriting Essentials
The script format of StarBase 118’s posting style dovetails very naturally into dialogue. This can be a great writing tool, but it can also double edged sword. Dialogue is a great way to interact with other characters, but a post that is nothing but dialogue becomes bland and uninteresting to read.
Consider your favorite novel. Re-read a passage if you need to refresh your memory. Look at how much is added to the narrative beyond dialogue: descriptions, characterizations and insight into the character’s thoughts and feelings. If you strip all of this away, you would end up with a narrative that looks a lot like:
“I think you should fix the warp coil.” Lieutenant Smith said.
“I will do that, sir.” Ensign Door said.
“Be careful you do not touch the plasma coil.” Lieutenant Smith reminded.
“Why shouldn’t I touch the plasma coil?” Ensign Door asked.
“Because it would burn you very badly.” Lieutenant Smith said.
If you had a novel like that, you would probably stop reading and go find a better book. Not only is it boring, but many people find the choppy nature of nothing but dialogue difficult to read! Without a narrative to guide the action along, readers have a hard time following why things are being said and what plot is being created around the dialogue.
Think of your posts in the same way you think of your favorite novels. Note what you like about certain books and stories and add that to your narrative. Do you appreciate it when your favorite authors describe their characters so you can picture them in your mind? Then describe your character in a way that sparks your imagination. Do you enjoy it when your favorite authors tell you what their characters are thinking or feeling? Then describe your own character’s thoughts and feelings for your fellow players.
Consider the above example – if you were playing Ensign Door, how could you let your readers know more about her? Is Door an alien with an unusual appearance, or a human with an odd last name? Is she very young and worried about doing a good job, or is she naive? Door isn’t likely to outright say in a dialogue “I don’t know much about plasma coils because I just graduated from the academy.” But you can describe in the narrative between her pieces of dialogue how she started out as a medical trainee, but consistently fainted at the sight of blood and transferred into engineering late. She thinks of fixing computer systems much like surgery on a ship, but she’s a bit behind on some of the routine procedures.
Narrative helps your fellow players understand and empathize with your characters. It also helps you develop a strong voice for each character, which will improve your dialogue. Narrative also helps clarify the action so everyone playing the game is ‘on the same page.’ This is a skill you can develop in your posts now that will help you as you advance in rank and work with new writers on your ships.
If dialogue is the highlight of a script style post, narrative is the glue that holds a post together. Developing good narrative skills will strengthen not only your posts, but your overall writing.