Great dialogue is about one-fifth of a powerful screenplay, but it will probably be one of the most influential parts in catching the attention of the reader (and thus your potential audience!). So whilst you don’t want your dialogue to take over, it’s still VERY important to your script’s success … So check out these tips for ensuring you make the most of yours!
Do this subtly, of course. But listen in on conversations that people are having in a variety of environments and on a variety of topics. You’ll get a much better “feel” for what natural communication really is in all of these environments. How do people really argue? Or tell stories to each other? How do lovers, parents and children, colleagues, and friends naturally talk to one another? The more you do this, the better your own dialogue writing will become.
2) Watch a Favourite Movie Differently
Pull up a movie you know well – one you have watched a dozen or so times, because you love it. As you watch the movie, type out just the dialogue. You can even just type the dialogue of your favourite scenes.
It’s best to use movies that are of the same genre as what you are currently writing. Do this often over a 30-day period, and you will be amazed how much better your own dialogue becomes.
If you read transcriptions of conversations, you will probably realise that they are rather dull. This is because there are a lot of irrelevant, filler words, as people think through what they want to say. They will add “fluff” words too. Take that transcription and remove all of the filler and non-essential words. It will get better. Dialogue for a screenplay should be like this – it should all support the plot, and any words/phrases that do not should be eliminated.
4) Minimise Extraneous Information in Dialogue
The plot is not in the dialogue – it is in the actions of the characters more than anything else. Dialogue should support but does not have to provide lots of information all the time. Use dialogue to provide information in small chunks.
5) Action, Please!
Short spurts of dialogue should be broken up with action – remember a screenplay is 80% visual. A very short outburst will be followed by a character stomping out of a room. The verbiage should be minimal – the audience “gets” the anger from the action, not long diatribes.
6) Slang and Profanity – A Warning
You do want to establish tone and characterisation through dialogue, but don’t overdo it. A small amount of profanity and slang go a long way. If, however, you have a character that must curse and use slang, then read how that characterisation is achieved by other successful playwrights.
7) Read Like a Writer
Read plays and novels that have a lot of dialogue. What dialogue is making the characters authentic? Where is dialogue really not working and where is it allowing a character to really jump out at you? Let the writer in you evaluate the dialogue in terms of its contribution to the plot. You’ll quickly learn what to avoid and what to utilise.
When readers are reviewing your screenplay, a big distractor is dialogue that is not punctuated correctly. Use commas and end marks correctly; otherwise you can irritate/annoy a reader. Don’t take that chance.
You will no doubt find other tricks that will help you improve dialogue writing. As stated before, practice is the key. And once you have written your dialogue for a scene, go back over it and “test” it according to some of the suggestions here.
TL;DR – Too Long, Didn’t Read?
Make your characters lively with the speech figures; keep the speeches clear and expressive; and always write unique and active dialogue that will ignite the attention of the reader. Take lessons from life and the works of other professionals, and concentrate on the dialogue itself. Finally, be precise to the details, as they do the majority of work when forming a connection with the reader!
BIO: Amanda Sparks, pro writer and editor at Essay Supply, lifestyle writer at Huffington Post. I am fancy doing perfect things for this perfect world, and help people make their life easier with my lifestyle tips. Connect me via LinkedIn!