Enhancing Character Dialogue with Laban Efforts

A Guide for Authors

NOTE: The following article was written by ChatGPT (GPT-4) after I had a long discussion about how I use Laban Efforts to describe character dialogue. If you feed this back into ChatGPT or another large language model, you can use it to instruct the model to write dialogue using this shorthand.

When crafting dialogue for characters in a novel or screenplay, it’s essential to create distinct and memorable voices that set them apart and breathe life into the story. One approach to achieving this is by using Laban efforts – a system rooted in movement theory – to provide a framework for characterizing dialogue. By understanding and applying Laban efforts, authors can develop unique voices for their characters, making conversations more engaging and authentic.

What are Laban Efforts?

Laban efforts, named after the movement theorist Rudolf Laban, were initially developed to analyze and describe human movement. However, these principles can also be applied to character dialogue, providing a systematic way to explore and create distinct voices. Laban efforts consist of four dimensions: Time, Space, Weight, and Flow, each with two extremes.

  • Time: Refers to the length and pacing of a character’s speech.
    • Quick: Short, fast sentences (e.g., “Let’s go!”)
    • Sustained: Longer, slower-paced sentences (e.g., “I believe we should take this opportunity to carefully consider our options before making any decisions.”)
  • Space: Indicates how direct or indirect a character’s speech is.
    • Direct: Straightforward, concise statements (e.g., “I’m hungry, let’s eat.”)
    • Indirect: Circumlocutory, vague, or evasive phrasing (e.g., “Perhaps we could consider the possibility of partaking in a meal together?”)
  • Weight: Describes the emotional weight or intensity of a character’s words.
    • Light: Casual, playful, or less serious tone (e.g., “Oops, I seem to have misplaced my keys again.”)
    • Heavy: Serious, intense, or emotionally charged tone (e.g., “Your betrayal has left a deep wound that may never fully heal.”)
  • Flow: Represents the fluidity or constraint of a character’s speech.
    • Free: Unconstrained, expressive, and dynamic phrasing (e.g., “I love how the sun dances on the water, casting shimmering reflections, like a beautiful dream.”)
    • Bound: Rigid, controlled, and restricted phrasing (e.g., “We. Must. Stick. To. The. Plan.”)

Applying Laban Efforts to Dialogue

To use Laban efforts in character dialogue, authors can assign specific combinations of these dimensions to each character. By focusing on two or more extremes for each dimension, authors can create distinct voices that make their characters stand out.

For example, a character with a Quick, Direct, Light, and Free dialogue style might have a lively, spontaneous way of speaking, while another character with a Sustained, Indirect, Heavy, and Bound style may come across as more reserved, cautious, and formal.

Using Laban efforts as a shorthand can help authors remember the unique qualities of each character’s voice, ensuring consistency and clarity throughout the narrative. Additionally, authors can use shifts in a character’s Laban efforts to reflect changes in their emotional state or to emphasize specific moments in the story.

Examples of Effort Pairings

  • Quick + Direct: “Get out now!”
  • Quick + Indirect: “Maybe, uh, take a walk?”
  • Quick + Light: “Oops, spilled it!”
  • Quick + Heavy: “Unforgiveable!”
  • Quick + Free: “Rainbows, butterflies!”
  • Quick + Bound: “Stay on task.”
  • Sustained + Direct: “We need to discuss the importance of adhering to the schedule.”
  • Sustained + Indirect: “I was wondering if, perhaps, we might explore the idea of considering alternative approaches to time management.”
  • Sustained + Light: “I must admit, it was rather amusing when I found myself accidentally joining the wrong meeting.”
  • Sustained + Heavy: “The gravity of your actions has caused irreparable damage to the trust we once shared.”
  • Sustained + Free: “The beauty of a sunset, as the colors dance across the sky, inspires a sense of wonder and awe.”
  • Sustained + Bound: “It is crucial that we meticulously analyze every detail of this plan to ensure its successful implementation.”
  • Direct + Light: “I can’t believe I wore mismatched socks today!”
  • Direct + Heavy: “You’ve betrayed my trust.”
  • Direct + Free: “Sunsets make my heart sing.”
  • Direct + Bound: “Finish the report by 5 PM.”
  • Indirect + Light: “Wouldn’t it be funny if someone happened to wear mismatched socks?”
  • Indirect + Heavy: “One might wonder if the bond of trust can ever be repaired after such an event.”
  • Indirect + Free: “Have you ever considered how the colors of a sunset can stir the soul?”
  • Indirect + Bound: “Would it be possible to complete the report by the end of the business day?”
  • Light + Free: “Like a feather caught in a playful breeze!”
  • Light + Bound: “You’ve been careless, but it’s fixable.”
  • Heavy + Free: “The crushing weight of heartache, a storm within.”
  • Heavy + Bound: “That was unforgivable. My trust is shattered.”


Laban efforts offer a valuable tool for authors seeking to create engaging and authentic dialogue for their characters. By exploring various combinations of Time, Space, Weight, and Flow, authors can develop memorable voices that capture the essence of each character and enrich the overall narrative.

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