Friday, 31 July 2009

The Dialogue in My Screenplay is Stilted

The screenwriter inspired with a great plot idea could be stumped when putting words into characters’ mouths. The page remains stubbornly blank after the character cue, forcing the writer to resort to clichĂ©d dialogue that lacks distinction. How can the screenwriter make the words flow from characters’ mouths naturally?

How to Write Dialogue for Screenplays

Talk the Talk: A Dialogue Workshop for Scriptwriters
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Dialogue in films forms an essential part of building tension and revealing characters. Without effective use of dialogue, the screenplay will fall flat, regardless of how engaging the plot is. This is why writing dialogue is so important.

So when submitting a screenplay to a film agent or entering a scriptwriting competition, the screenwriter must ensure that the dialogue sparkles with tension and defines every character. The following tips will help:
  • Knowing when not to include dialogue is as important as knowing when to use it. Unspoken action will often create more tension within a screenplay than expressing what might be going on in the characters’ minds
  • Ensure that each character has different agendas and personalities will create conflict during discourse. Characters too similar or lacking in distinction will result in a flat screenplay
  • Conducting some research into the characters’ backgrounds will help the screenwriter think about how each might sound when speaking, for instance, by considering dialect, family background, education or temperament. This will help create dialogue that is so distinctive, the reader need not see the character cue to know who is speaking.
  • A little description on the character cue will inform how the words should be spoken if this is not already clear. How something is said has equal weight as what is actually being said
Writing Dialogue in Screenplays

Writing characters’ dialogue should always be distilled to the core. A screenplay that has too much speech can be a slog to read and feel spouty (with the exception of illustrating the spouty nature of one of the characters). Dialogue must sound authentic, yet cut to the minimum. A good mix of action and dialogue is likely to create a more balanced screenplay than one that contains too much of one or the other.
The screenwriter must also bear in mind that one page of a screenplay equals one minute of screen-time. Speech can easily use up lots of pages of screenplay, for the screenplay format allows but six to eight words of dialogue per line, which is perhaps a good thing.

Mistakes to Avoid when Writing Dialogue for Screenplays

The essence of dialogue can be achieved by avoiding the following fatal mistakes when writing dialogue:
  • Every word spoken must serve a purpose, even if this is not obvious to the audience. This might be to define the character, create tension, reveal a discretion by a lie or the imparting of a secret.
  • Repetition must be avoided.
  • Dialogue that sounds contrived or merely to serve the plot twist will sound amateurish.
  • Listening to real life discourse will help the screenwriter gain an ear for authentic sounding speech and to cut dialogue that sounds wrong
  • Dialogue that serves no purpose other than chit chatty discourse about the weather must be cut. Each scene must begin at the core of the action.
More About Writing Screenplays

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