How To: Dialogue

Nuanced Dialogue. Try to scale back on the amount of times characters scream at each other. It’s always more interesting to see the opposite approach to arguments. Instead of SAMANTHA: I hate you! The same emotion can also be shown as SAMANTHA: That’s a very … interesting dress. Because the performance is more nuanced, we are more drawn to the character. Even if a character is depressed, try to scale back on the amount of times she cries, weeps, bawls. Slap a smile on the character’s face, even if it’s forced, and have her bottle up more. SAMANTHA: Everything is fine! Why do people keep asking me that? We will know that everything is NOT fine and this will make the dialogue even more engaging. This will also make the moment where the character finally does break down exponentially more powerful.

Boring Greetings. Often, writers don’t take advantage of greetings. The normal “Hey. How are you? Good, you? Fine.” is a prime way to get to know our characters. These greetings can easily be cut out so you can just get to the crux of the conversation. If characters are in a fight, the second the door opens, have the argument begin! Blind date? Have them start talking at the same time! Family event? The door opens. MOM: Hey! Not that exciting … what if we spruce it up? The door opens. MOM: You look so thin. Are you eating? Go through your greetings and make sure they help us get to know our characters more!

Pacing. Pacing is vital to a script. Longer passages of dialogue can really drag the pace down. One way to trim dialogue is to get rid of “filler” words. Fillers words are Well, Hey, Listen, Look. These are the most common ways to drag your dialogue down. Go through your script. Make sure that you limit these filler words to just a few (two or three) times throughout the entire script. If an actor wants to organically throw in a Hey or Look, then let him. Another way to help the pacing is to bar repetition from your script. If we have a genius plan, in real life it would be believable that we would tell all our  friends three or four times, but in a script, the character will only say his genius plan once. If you have longer passages of dialogue (anything that exceeds five lines), figure out if you can turn that dialogue into a voiceover, so we can visually see what the character is saying as he says it.

Adding color. Screenwriting is all about painting the picture. If a character is drunk, insert a parenthetical (slurring words). If a character is nervous to talk to the girl of his or her dreams, the line You look great. can instead be You look … . It might seem like a minor fix, but it instantly gives us a clearer picture of what the character is feeling.

Have fun with the dialogue! If you have fun writing it, we will have fun reading it.

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8 thoughts on “How To: Dialogue

  1. FredFred Bluhm

    You make a good point about writing dialogue that is “natural.” Being cute once in a while probably does’n hurt, but I think going the natural route connects better with the audience, in the long run. Think of yourself as being the character you’re writing about; how would the conversation go if the scene you’re writing was actually happening to (you).

  2. FredFred Bluhm

    You make a good point about writing dialogue that is “natural.” Being cute once in a while probably does’n hurt, but I think going the natural route connects better with the audience. in the long run. Think of yourself as your writing; how would the conversation go if the scene you’re writing was actually happening to (you).

  3. Christine Koehler

    GREAT advice as always, Joey! This is an example of how you articulate in your script coverage, which makes us better screenwriters. Thanks for that!

  4. Lane

    Joey makes a good point when he says, “in a [good] script, the character will only say his genius plan once”. In other words, assume that your audience is intelligent.

  5. Dan Delago

    Even though I don’t care for Quentin Tarantino’s use of the F word in almost every sentence, I think he is a genius when it comes to dialogue that sounds natural. I know that for every screenwriter (novice or seasoned), it is an ongoing battle to make the dialogue sound spontaneous.

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