So, the average spec screenplay has waaaaay TOO MUCH dialogue in and are often highly theatrical: screenPLAYS, if you will. We all know this. But worse than that, within that script will be cliché clanger dialogue lines script readers read SO often, it can amount to a one way ticket to PASSville. True story.
So here’s a list of cliche clanger dialogue I see practically DAILY at Bang2write … Brace yourself, this is gonna get ugly (arf, there’s the first one):
1) “Who else knows about this?” / “No one.” / “Let’s keep it that way.” KA-BLAM YOU’RE DEAD!
This clanger usually precedes the person who came with the information getting killed, putting a spin on the whole “shoot the messenger” idea. And you know what? When it comes to PRODUCED projects, it still more or less works, even if it is a little cheesy. However, it crops up SO often in spec screenplays, you’re best off proceeding with caution. MORE: 6 Reasons Dialogue Is Your Enemy
2) “Congratulations and I mean that most sincerely.” (I totally don’t)
If you’re writing a comic book villain and/or a comedy in which one of the characters is heinously bitter *for some reason*, then sure: this line can work. The problem arises when the spec screenplay includes neither of these and it’s supposed to be delivered “straight”. MORE: 3 Reasons “Show It, Don’t Tell It” Is Bad Writing Advice
3) “Who are you?” / “A friend.” (Yeah, I guessed that)
This clanger crops up most often when a character needs rescuing and another one helpfully obliges. One of the reasons I personally hate this line – in produced works OR specs, FYI – is it’s totally redundant. If a character’s just rescued another character, *obviously* they’re friendly. Le duh. MORE: 5 Reasons Dialogue Is Overrated
4) “Vengeance is mine!” (Yeah okay, calm down)
If you’re writing a Biblical epic and raining plagues down on other characters, then great. If you’re not, it just seems a bit OTT. Also, I’ve never heard of anyone actually saying this line and meaning it; it’s nearly always a joke. Just sayin’. MORE: How To Write The Most Cliché Script Opener EVER
5) “Hold me, my love!” (And swoooooon … Um, no)
Another cliché clanger piece of dialogue scoring red on the B2W OTT-o-meter. again, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say this seriously, yet female characters in spec screenplays seem to say it all the time. WTF? MORE: 5 Ways To Write A COMPLEX Female Character
6) “I must be (going) mad” (yeah, you’re talking to yourself again)
Too often, characters talk to themselves in spec screenplays. Yes, yes, I *know* lots of characters do in produced projects – for example, P.L Travers does in SAVING MR BANKS – but there’s a key and subtle difference: apart from the fact a produced projects can “get away” with more than a spec, produced projects usually use this device as an expression of CHARACTER, not plot. Guess what most specs do? MORE: 11 Expositional Clichés That Will Kill Your Story
7) “What is the meaning of this?” (I actually know, I’m signposting my outrage)
If this dialogue was *ever* authentic, it was probably the times of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, so perhaps your period drama spec *might* get away it. After this? Nope, it sounds redundant to me. MORE: Are you making any of these killer scene errors in YOUR spec screenplay?
8) “How COULD you?” (Really??)
Again, a redundant phrase that turns up waaaaay too much in FICTION. It just doesn’t feel real or authentic. It’s far more LIKELY someone would say:
“What the hell are you playing at??”
“I can’t believe you did that!”
“Why would you do that??”
So stop writing number 8 in your screenplays. How COULD you?? (Arf). MORE: 9 Ways To Write Great Characters
9) “Well, well, well … Look who it is!” (I’m so unsurprised)
Usually delivered by an antagonist, or someone with a real beef with your protagonist … Accompany with SLOW CLAPPING for ultimate cliché clanger bonus points. PLEASE DON’T. MORE: Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters
And my PERSONAL fave (not):
10) “But … that doesn’t make ANY SENSE!”
9/10 I find characters in spec screenplays say this line when actually, the plot REALLY DOESN’T make any sense. This is called a SIGNAL FROM FRED – or rather, it’s a call from a writer’s subconscious. So make sure you pay particular attention to your characters saying this, because chances are, you could be giving your story/structure problems away! MORE: Here’s how to make your screenplay VISUAL, so you can avoid cliché altogether.
One last thing, lieutenant:
‘Til next time!
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