Dialogue for movie and TV screenplays. Writers obsess over it, laypeople quote it on their social media profiles. It’s important. But it’s also one of things holding spec screenplays back! Supersadface.
But you’re here to learn how to deal with dialogue problems in your script. Are you dropping any of these clangers?? Better check and see:
1) Expositional Dialogue
Lots of writers get confused about expositional dialogue. After all, exposition is just the background information needed to understand the story … So it is a good thing, right? Nope. If you get the note, ‘too much expositional dialogue’, this is a BIG problem. Sometimes these lines are referred to as being ‘on the nose’.
So, here’s the thing: exposition is good, it’s expositional dialogue that’s bad. At foundation level, expositional dialogue means you are having characters *say too much* about stuff to do with the story. This may be about how the story world works; themselves and their place in the story; or what is happening in the story. Whatever the case, you don’t want to write expositional dialogue. Think of it instead as ‘obvious dialogue’. MORE: How Does Exposition Really Work?
2) Chains of Dialogue
This is a classic B2W note. I’ve written copious times on this blog the average screenplay has ‘too much’. If you have come to any of my talks or courses, you will hear me say similar.
Thing is, dialogue is the EASIEST craft element of your script to write. Not in the sense of the literal craft – being great at dialogue is difficult! – but in terms of getting carried away. Every writer (yes, even me!) will find they can cut chunks of dialogue in the drafting process. This will happen even when we are not looking at dialogue (especially when re-structuring).
This note is something I come under fire for all the time … But it’s also the one craft element the most Bang2writers change their mind on. So take a look at your script: do you REALLY need all your dialogue? Are you sure??? MORE: Don’t Let Dialogue Kill Your Screenplay
3) Characters name their pain, constantly
Some genres, styles of writing and types of characters are more emotionally literate than others, it’s true. But overall great characterisation is about BEHAVIOUR, not talk. Don’t cheat with a priest or therapist character to ‘break open’ your characters, please! 9/10 this is just cheesy as hell. What do your characters DO that tell us they are in spiritual pain? Or a guilty secret? Or a terrible past? MORE: What Does ‘Characters Are What They Do’ Really Mean?
4) Static Scenes
Theatre has a limited space in which to work – the stage. In comparison, movies and TV have the camera, which can move more freely. When scenes are static, it usually means there’s there’s far too much dialogue going on. This impacts on the movement and visuals of your scene, which is the last thing you want. The reader wants a SCREENplay, not a screenPLAY after all. MORE: What Is A Static Scene? (Plus What To Do About Them)
5) Endless Arguing or Swearing
Writers might get the note ‘more conflict in scenes’. So they will return to their dialogue and insert lots of arguing and/or swearing. But this is not what is meant by ‘more conflict’. Conflict is about the situation and the ways characters react to it … with, you guessed it, their BEHAVIOUR. So, you can have a scene full to the brim with conflict that has absolutely NO arguing or swearing. We can see this most obviously in kids’ movies. One of my favourite moments is in Horton Hears A Who (2008), when the evil Kangaroo threatens to throw the clover in the pot of oil. Omg! I really thought that clover – with the entire Whoniverse – was going to get fried!!!! Same with the Toys in the furnace in Toy Story 3 (2010) – waaaaah! MORE: The Secret Of Writing Great Conflict In Scenes – 3 Examples