Open letter to Joss Whedon OR It's sort of your fault that I can't write dialogue

Dear Joss,

I need your help. I'm a writer. Well, filmmaker. Well... let's just say storyteller. I've quit all my day jobs and am finally focusing on telling stories. I was afraid I wouldn't have enough ideas but that, as it turned out, is not a problem at all. Fortunately. But lately I've realised that I have an even bigger problem than I feared: I don't write dialogue. I – or at least my creative subconscious – seem to avoid it at all costs. I have wonderful ideas for music videos, for short films that have the most impact without spoken word, for short stories that really don't need any more than one or two lines of dialogue.

So I lay awake last night wondering why that is. And I arrived at the conclusion that it's your fault. Yes, you read right. See, I am a huge fan of your work; and one of the things you do really well is dialogue. I think you write truly fantastic dialogue. It's funny and deadpan and conveys so many layers of meaning in text and subtext. That's great. I mean, it's great for you. Not so much for me, because it makes me completely and utterly scared to write dialogue. Every single line I write makes me cringe. To my ears it sounds so trivial, unimportant, un-heavy with meaning. And because this isn't only supposed to be a not-so-silent reproach on how you are too awesome to live up to but also a cry for help, here's my question: How the hell does one write dialogue?

I'm beginning to think it's a different species than narration but I can't figure out what to feed it exactly. On one hand it's supposed to convey everyday conversation, right? People in my stories would rely on the same words that every real-life person relies on. But to be honest, real life conversation does sound trivial once you put it on a piece of paper or on a screen. So I'd try to spruce it up, but then it just sounds fucking contrived.

I realise that in some way you avoided that problem by crafting a whole new style of speech for Buffy and the Scoobies, but you've got to have some input for me. Please?
I want to be able to write dialogue. Things are boring without dialogue. Characters are less well rounded. They can not express themselves, literally can't if I don't let them open their mouths. Please help my characters learn to talk. They would be eternally indebted to you.


P.S. I hope you don't mind that I just totally used you for part of my daily word count goal.


  1. I've got to agree. However, it is my suspicion that you had help. Didn't you, Joss? A whole team of creative geniuses. Maybe you even talked to each other and jotted down the coolest exchanges.

  2. yeah, but... in the beginning.. he must've done it alone!

  3. I find this interesting...stuff I write more often than not ends up as pure dialogue, with the occasional "She sighed impatiently." in between. I have no idea how to convey _anything_ without putting it between quotation marks. I'm all about the telling, literally ^^
    I find dialogue easier because the first thing I notice about a person is how they talk. And if it's a character I made up myself, I also know what they want to say, and how they'd say it. It's easier because I have so much more information than in real life. (Actual people are really hard to talk to ^^)
    Now, that isn't to say that my dialogue is always deep and layered. Sometimes it isn't even coherent. But I'm hoping that the depth might come with practice...or by accident, or something. And until then, I just write down what the people in my head are saying.

    The way I see it, if characters sometimes end up talking like socially inept dorks, or drunk freaks on the subway, or stubborn five-year-olds, or like they're just really, really stupid, that's fine because real people do, too. I do, at any rate...(see above)

  4. Maybe we should write together. We'll even each other out :)

  5. get people, so you will also get dialogue.

    But aiming for the quality of a guy who is one of the best storytellers alive might be a wee bit harsh on yourself. Even Joss Whedon had to practice for a bit before he got his first Oscar nomination.