Low Intensity Dialogue 205-04

Conversations take many forms, but they generally hinge on 3 variables: complexity, intensity, and importance/value.

Complexity is how much mental energy a person has to spend to follow and participate in a conversation. Intensity is level of mental/emotion engagement the character feels about the conversation. Importance/value is the extent to which the conversation “matters”, whether the conversation will affect other aspects of the character’s life.

Here is a partial list of types of conversations, their variables, and a brief description.

1. Casual/Small Talk
Three people talking casually

Low complexity (easy to follow)
Low intensity (calm, mellow)
Low importance/value (no need to remember it)

This is the ho hum conversations that flesh out the quieter moments of the story, when characters are relaxing, or calmly working their way through a task, scenes that have no sense of urgency, and no strong focus.

Often it’s because a scene lacks focus that characters will opt to fill the silence with casual conversation, asking personal questions, and/or sharing details about themselves. It’s a good way to reveal character, and show who has a strong relationship with whom, if the story features a large party, as is the case with Fellowship of the Ring.

2. Focused Discussion

Medium to High Complexity
Low to Medium Intensity
Varying Importance

A focused conversation is one where characters have an agenda. They want to discuss something specific, whether it’s the path they’ll take in Fellowship of the Ring, or what lies beyond the third floor corridor in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone.

One of the most defining features of the conversation is, of course, the topic. The topic will determine the complexity of the conversation, and the importance.

The other defining feature is its intensity, which remains consistently “medium”. The fact that at least one character has a specific agenda often lends the conversation a certain amount of intensity, but there’s still a relative calm about the issue. Characters are level-headed, if perhaps passionate, and while the issue may be important, it doesn’t have to be resolved “right now”.

3. Obligatory Information

A man stands at a lectern with a presentation projected onto a screen behind him.
Low to Medium Complexity
Low Intensity
Low to Medium Importance

Obligatory information is relevant information, but it isn’t terribly significant. A good example would be anytime a character meets someone new or enters a new location. There are inevitably many things that they simply don’t know, which others promptly teach them. Consider how many things Harry learns from Hagrid during his first days in the magical world.

The distinction between obligatory information and important information is how knowledge, or its absence, affects a character. The fact that Harry doesn’t initially know about Quidditch or magical prejudices may lead to some confusion, but it never leads to any severe consequences. In contrast, not knowing that a powerful and dangerous creature is in the area could have severe consequences.

Next Time…
High Intensity Dialogue

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