Character Relationships Revealed through Dialog

Posted by on Mar 2, 2012 in General Chaos | 2 comments

I don’t use this space to discuss writing often because mostly I find that stuff so boring. Not that it isn’t important, because it is, I just hate talking about it because I don’t feel like there’s much interesting to say. However, while I was watching The Abyss this week I was struck by how much well-handled dialog can help writers avoid the dreaded info dump. [Aside: If you haven’t ever seen the movie, I highly recommend it. I think it holds up very well, though it’s over twenty years old now.]

There’s a scene early on in the movie where Bud is speaking to Lindsey over the radio. We don’t know much about either of them yet, only that they don’t seem to get along. Bud disconnects from his conversation and says, “I hate that bitch.” Hippy, another character in the room with him says, “Well, you probably shouldn’t have married her then.” Cue laughter.

Wow. With two very natural lines of dialog look what Cameron has accomplished. He’s told us that Bud and Lindsey are married, that there is a lot of tension in their relationship, and they fight so often that it’s a joke among those that know them, all without Bud saying, “That’s Lindsey on the radio, my soon-to-be-ex-wife.” So subtle and so powerful, I actually paused the movie and mentioned my thoughts to my husband.

I think I’m going to try and benefit from James Cameron’s experience on this one. Next time I want to pass along a tidbit of information a character should already know, I’m going to try my best to disguise it the same way.


  1. Interesting post. It’s all about POV and who knows what and how they perceive what is going on around them. I’m sure if the guy sitting next to Bud wasn’t his friend he wouldn’t have mentioned what a bitch she was. Conversely, if Hippy wasn’t as comfortable with Bud as only a true friend can be, he wouldn’t have pointed out the fact that the whole marriage thing probably wasn’t such a good idea from day one.

    • You’re absolutely right, the conversation only really works because of the parties involved. There’s so many nifty things I notice now in my favorite movies, it gives me a whole different experience.

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