The Kermit test for good dialogue

Hi-ho! Fisher the Agent here!

Richard Danksy is a well known writer and designer specialized in role-playing games, currently serving as Central Clancy Writer at Ubisoft. He has a somewhat regular column at Ubiblog (Ubisoft’s official blog), where he offers practical tips and insights about writing for games.

In his last entry he covers dialogue, more specifically broken dialogue. To help detecting it, he proposes the “Kermit test”.

The way to use it is simple. Find a quiet room. Start reading any dialogue you’ve written out loud. This will do all sorts of good things for you, like let you know when you’ve written a line that’s too long and needs a space for the actor to breathe. (…) Or, and this is where the name of the thing comes from, a line that you feel compelled to read in a silly voice because you can’t say it straight. For me, that voice is Kermit the Frog’s, but hey, it can be anything. The point is, if you, the writer, can’t say a line with a straight face, then there is no chance that an actor is going to be able to read or perform it with a straight face, and then there’s no chance a player is going to be able to take it seriously. When I feel the tell-tale Hi-Ho creeping in, it’s time to mark that line for some revision.

I think this homemade technique is not only funny, but also widely applicable to other media, like theater. I’ve been acting for over 15 years now, also adapting scripts from time to time. Sometimes I have to portray a character that really deserves having a peculiar voice, but it’s hard to go through the first rehearsals without laughing (or making somebody else laugh). However, as soon as I’m able to deliver my lines (or even improvise) without that involuntary comic effect, I know I am on the right track. It’s like a theater-oriented Kermit test.

You can read Richard Dansky’s full column here, and you can learn more about him in this interesting Polygon interview.