Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Getting To Grips With Dialogue In 5 Easy Steps

I want to talk about writing dialogue today. It’s important for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly, it is often the reason aspiring or beginner writers decide to bail on the idea of actually writing the story they have always wanted to write, and ultimately put their dreams on the shelf...again. 

It can be one of the most intimidating and self-doubt inducing aspects of writing...if you let it. It really doesn’t have to be though!  Lets strip it down to the basics and get over this conquerable fear of writing dialogue, shall we?  

  1. Stay True To Your Characters

Before you get to the stage of actually writing a single line of dialogue, you should already know your main characters inside and out.

They should have their own specific quirks and nuances, fears and aspirations. It is imperative to keep this in mind when writing dialogue for each character.  

Your characters likely have different backgrounds, education levels, social status, attitudes, and personalities that would cause them to talk differently, so do not write every character’s dialogue in the same style.

A 22 year old surfer from California isn’t going to talk the same way as a 45 year old stockbroker from New York, so don’t make them talk the same when you write their dialogue.

2.   Be Vocal

Sometimes dialogue can look good on your screen, or even sound perfect in your head when it really isn’t. Try reading your dialogue aloud as you’re writing!

Okay, maybe not if you are working on your script in a public place...unless you don’t mind looking like a weirdo, which is fine too!

If you cannot, for whatever reason, read aloud while you write, just keep writing and go back to it later. If you have friends or family who are willing to read the lines aloud while you listen, and you’re brave enough to let them do so, that is even better!

You may find that witty one-liner your main character blurted out was more cringey than witty. But that’s a good thing!

You would much rather discover that kind of mishap now than send it off to a competition, a festival, or even a producer and let them discover it.

3.  Listen!
It’s safe to say that many of our characters are at least loosely based on someone we         know, or once knew. If not, you probably have a good idea of their “type.”

Maybe you work with this person, perhaps they’re a friend of a friend, or a family member.  No matter the case, make it a point to listen to them talk.

What phrases do they use? What sort of little nuances make the way they talk unique?

Everyone has something; no two people speak exactly the same.

For example, I work with a guy that ends roughly every other sentence by saying “ya know...so.”

I have no idea why, but I’ve never heard anyone else do that (thankfully).

But it’s little nuances like that that can make a character’s dialogue unique to them.

Take for example Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he’s a burnout surfer, and uses the word “mon” frequently throughout his dialogue, which is one of the little things that makes the his specific dialogue different from the other characters. 

Here’s a couple of examples from the film:

First he's gonna shit. And then
he's gonna kill us..

Will you just relax, mon? He's not
gonna kill us. My father is a
television repairman. He's got all
kinds of tools. I can fix-this car.

You can't fix this car, Spicoli.

                              MR. HAND
(in top form)
You mean, you couldn't? Or you

I don't know, mon. The food lines
took forever.

      MR. HAND
Food will be eaten on your time!
Why are you continuously late for
this class, Mr. Spicoli? Why do you
shamelessly waste my time like this?

4. Consider Your Location and Time Period

If you are writing your story in a place you have never been or a time period you weren’t alive in, you better do your research, because people will be able to easily tell if you didn’t. Lucky for you, there’s the internet! 

It is easier now than it ever has been to pull up videos, movies, commercials, or literature from nearly any time period and from anywhere on the planet.

Don’t just assume stereotypes are accurate and take the easy way out, not only do you risk assuming wrong, even if it is fairly accurate...it’s boring. 

For example, not everyone in the southern United States says “y’all” all the time….I mean, a good majority do, and it’s okay to throw that in there, but give your character something more unique and interesting than just that. 

So take the time to actually dig in and do some solid research on the time period and location of the characters in your story, which will lead to more authentic and interesting dialogue.

5. Move Your Story Forward

If you’re like me, you are not a fan of pointless small talk. Well, neither are script readers and filmmakers. 

Keep pointless dialogue to a bare minimum. 

When your characters are talking, a majority of their conversation should be moving the story forward in some way.

This doesn’t mean they must constantly be discussing their goals, or how they’re going to reach them, or stop them from happening. 

It can also mean developing your characters, particularly in Act One. It can mean establishing relationships, or creating a conflict. 

But most of your dialogue should always be relevant to the story in some way, and pushing the story forward, rather than just being a filler.

In the example below from Prisoners we find out a lot of pertinent information in a short amount of dialogue...we find out that Hugh Jackman’s character - Keller, used to have a drinking problem and is relapsing. 

We get some insight as to why he has been so adamant about torturing the person he suspects of kidnapping his daughter, and we get reassurance that Jake Gyllenhall’s character, Detective Loki, truly cares about Keller and his family.

Where were you going just now?

(raises the bottle) 
To get this.

No, before that. You were walking
                                                    in the other direction, across the 
                                                    parking lot towards Campello 

                                     Keller drinks some more, stalling, until:

I haven’t had a drink in a long 
                                                      time. I figured if I walked 
                                                      around the parking lot for a 
     while, by the time they opened I’d 
stop wanting it so bad. Then I 
    saw you, and that sort of helped 
                                                      make up my mind. 

                          Loki stares into Keller’s eyes, finding no apparent trace 
                          of falsity, just undeniable sadness. Keller offers the 
                          bottle to Loki. Loki shakes his head.

                                                     Your little girl will need you 
        when she comes home, Mr. Dover. 
                                                      You and your wife need to take 
care of yourselves, that’s the 
best thing you can do for her 
right now.

Thanks for the tip. 
                                               (guzzles some whiskey) 
     I heard kids gone for more than a 
         week have half as good a chance of 
being found. And after a month 
                                                     almost none are. Not alive.

Follow these tips, and most of all, have fun while writing your script’s dialogue!! 

And in the meantime, check out the full scripts for Fast Times At Ridgemont High 
and Prisoners via the links below for more examples of great dialogue!

Read the FULL screenplay for Fast Times At Ridgemont High HERE!

Read the FULL screenplay for Prisoners HERE!

Kevin Wilde is an up and coming screenwriter, as well as a feature writer for Into The Script.

Everyday is Halloween for Kevin, as he has an unrelenting passion for all things horror. Influenced by the likes of masterminds such as John Carpenter, Stephen King, Kevin Williamson, Eli Roth, and Rob Zombie, you can certainly look forward to many horrifying tales that will have you sleeping with the lights on.

You can find Kevin on Instagram and Facebook.

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