Submissions Insanity: Cliché Clanger Dialogue

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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. MORE5 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:

These 10 cliché clangers not enough for you? Here’s 50 more, courtesy of screenwriter @KevinLehane (GRABBERS) and Scott Myers at @GoIntoTheStory: check it out HERE.

‘Til next time!

talk-the-talk_mediumNeed more dialogue help? Check out
Talk the Talk: A Dialogue Workshop for Scriptwriters

One thought on “Submissions Insanity: Cliché Clanger Dialogue

  1. Leona Heraty

    Thanks for the excellent article, Lucy. I also really enjoyed your Guide to Getting It Done, which I read recently. #8 on your list really applies to me, I feel like I’m rushing to finish my screenplay, and I realize, after reading your thoughtful advice, I really don’t need to do this. Like you said, it’s better to take our time and make our screenplay absolutely the very best it can be the first time, so in the end, it saves us a lot of time in rewrites, and also, we make a great impression with the reader/agent/producer the first time! I’m really looking forward to following your blog too! Cheers! 🙂

    Leona Heraty

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