Things to remember when writing dialogue For both adaptations and original screenplays
Do… • Economize—Two Goals: Expand characters and advance the plot • from Escape from Alcatraz: • Prison psychologist: “What was your childhood • like?” • Eastwood: “Short” • Ask yourself: Does this line move the story? Does it tell us something new about the characters? IF it does, is there a faster, fresher, more efficient way to do it?
Text and Subtext and Context • Text is what is said • Subtext is what is meant • Context is the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc. • Films: Vantage Point, Citizen Kane, The Sixth Sense
Do… • Get to the point—real life conversations overflow with things like “I think…”, “Well…”, “you know…” • There’s no need for them in movie scripts. Created conversations require CHOICE, SELECTION, and SORTING. • What you exclude is JUST AS IMPORTANT as what you include!
Do… • Allow arguments to happen between the characters. • Let each line challenge the next. Don’t let anybody agree with anybody else. As soon as there is agreement, there is boredom. • There is a difference between toe-to-toe arguing and mere bickering. (ex: Now You See Me) • Writers are well advised to view their entire screenplay as one extensive argument.
Don’t… • Insert interjections, pauses, or other “natural speech habits”—Leave that up to the actor to insert into his/her performance where appropriate with intonation and inflection (Ex: Taxi Driver “You talking to me?”) • Repeat—unless it is for emphasis or irony, or an attempt at rhythm, don’t have characters tell us what they already told us • Nothing in any film should be merely repetitive without advancing the tale and expanding character
Don’t… • Chitchat—boring, filler, not needed…ask yourself, “How can I introduce these characters in a better way, revealing more info to the audience?” • Underscore—leave that to the directors and actors • Long, blocky speeches—dialogue possesses a sense of give and take that intertwines and bounces between characters
Remember • Sometimes the best dialogue is NO DIALOGUE at all