Dialogue writing tips

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Dialogue is, obviously, one of the most important parts of a script. It tells the viewer who characters are, what they want, what their relationships are, and how far they’re willing to go to accomplish their goals. That being said, writing good dialogue is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to most people. Even if you’re one of those lucky people who do naturally write well-timed, pithy, authentic-sounding dialogue, learning to be more intentional about it will only push your craft farther. Today we have six dialogue writing tips for people who are just getting started or who want to deepen their skills.

Tighten it up… in the rewrites.

In the first draft, give yourself permission to indulge your characters. Let them really talk to each other; the conversion can meander as much as you want it to. Don’t worry about run time here. Even if you edit these conversations out in the next draft, these conversations still happened, and will still give you as the writer insight into your character’s lives and dynamics.

Give them a goal.

Characters–like real people–always want something for each other. Know what they want and keep that goal in the forefront of your mind with every line of dialogue you write. This tip for writing dialogue is short and sweet, but oh-so important!

Have your characters speak for themselves.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of having the characters speak for the author. Maybe one character says something that’s wrong, either morally or factually. It’s tempting to write in a voice of reason, speaking to let the audience know that the screenwriter knows that character A was incorrect. Avoid that temptation, and trust your audience to know the difference between a character’s ideas and the author’s. Similarly, don’t use characters to info-dump. Find creative ways to let the audience know what’s going on without having your characters say things that sound unnatural or stilted.

Let your characters flounder.

Sometimes it’s more interesting when characters struggle to articulate themselves, much like people do in real life. Letting them struggle for a moment, on-page, will allow you to come up with more creative, telling ways of expressing your character’s thoughts. Similarly, characters don’t always know why they feel a certain way, even if it seems obvious to you. For an example, a man picking a fight with his wife about vacuuming probably isn’t really about the actual chore. It might be about his own feelings of inadequacy as a husband, or his fear that their marriage is crumbling and he can’t make it stop, or the weight of her expectations for their home… or all three. In the moment, he probably thinks they’re just fighting about vacuuming, and that’s okay. Characters don’t always have to express themselves perfectly. In fact, it’s more interesting if they don’t.

Make sure each character has their own voice.

It’s just a fact that people, even within the same family or friend group, don’t speak exactly alike. A good place to start, if you’re feeling stuck with this, is making one character speak exactly like you. Think about your little quirks, your vocabulary, your inflections, and give them all to this character. Then, introduce a character who speaks really differently from you, using words and intonation that just aren’t part of your vocabulary. Right away, you will have two really different-sounding characters!

Read your work out loud

The last of our tips for writing dialogue is probably the simplest. You should read your entire script out loud at least once. This will make sure you are really hearing the dialogue, making sure it flows naturally, and that it actually sounds like real people talking.

Those are our six dialogue writing tips! Get in touch and let us know what you think. What tips would you add to this list?

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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