Saturday, September 15, 2012

Writing Screenplay Dialogue

The paradox of great dialogue is that it sounds so real, yet it is clearly not ordinary language. Here are some essential elements of great screenplay dialogue.
How do writers create sharp, witty speech for their characters? There are some fundamentals which need to be grasped in order to boost one's dialogue-writing powers.

The most important thing to keep in mind about screen dialogue is that less is more. Cinema is a language spoken in images. Dialogue should be used sparingly and as a last resort, after a visual, active picture has been painted on the page which tells the story. Characters should only speak when absolutely necessary and even then it should be sparse, leaving much to the imagination.
Say the right words for your role.
When we do let the characters talk, every word must work hard. Dialogue has four essential functions in a screenplay: conveying character, moving the story forward, expressing subtext, and entertaining the audience.

Conveying Character

Dialogue must reveal character. This means that every line has to resonate with the person who says it. The flavor of their background should be captured in their word choices, and the syntax (arrangement of words) should be uniquely theirs.

For example, Harry Callahan's “Go ahead, make my day,” would never be uttered by Scarlett O'Hara’s maid , Prissy, nor would Callahan be likely to say, “I don’t know nothing bout birthin' no babies." Every person has their own unique world view, background, attitudes and personality quirks, and these should inform the things they say as well as the way they say it.

It helps to think about where the character is from – East or West Coast? The South? Europe? How do people talk from that region? Listening to examples can help with hearing the cadence of that particular type of speech. Next, think about the character as an individual. What is his or her educational background? What economic class are they in? Are they creative? Logical? Even-tempered? Or emotional?

Once you have a very clear definition for this character, their dialogue will naturally come out sounding like them and only them. Keep a clear vision of your character’s unique traits in mind when you draft their dialogue, and again when you revise and polish it. In the later stages of revision, a writer can feel where the dialogue is smooth and where it is still awkward and doesn’t quite do its job.

Moving the Story Forward

Well-written dialogue also imperceptibly serves the purpose of moving the story forward, by having the characters say something which leads to something happening. Either a decision is made, a question is asked, information is revealed, but in one way or another, a cause effect relationship between the dialogue spoken and the next actions taken is felt. This is one way the plot advances smoothly, with a logical flow and an engaging dose of momentum.

Expressing Subtext

Hell Girl: Two Mirrors Episode 18
Let's talk.
Third, dialogue should always contain subtext. Another way to think about this is that characters should never say exactly what they mean. This leads to dialogue that is too “on the nose,” to use the jargon of the industry. Irony and subtext are essential. Think of Thelma and Louise at the end of that movie. Thelma simply says, “Let’s keep goin’” and Louise says, “Are you sure?” and Thelma says “Yeah.” What we see is that they’re at the edge of a huge cliff with the cops behind them. What we hear would mean nothing without the image. But within that image, it speaks volumes. The text is the words on the surface, but the subtext is the meaning beneath those words, in the context of the images we see and the storyline up to that point.

Entertaining the Audience

Finally, dialogue needs to evoke a visceral response and engage the audience. With only two hours of screen time, every second counts, and the writer cannot afford to leave one dull line in. Whether it’s a funny line, a mysterious line, a poignant line, or a frightening one, make sure the line has some entertainment value. It needs to move the audience emotionally, evoking intrigue, humor, sadness, fear, or some other strong feeling, or it will fail to engage the audience.

The secret to successful dialogue might seem mysterious, but there are actually some basic guidelines a writer can follow to help create unforgettable screenplay lines.

Selected Script: Glengarry Glen Ross
David Mamet Shows How It's Done

There are movies with great dialogue, and then there are movies written by David Mamet, which exist in a class all their own. Mamet got his start writing plays, where snappy dialogue, not special effects, is what keeps butts in seats. Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, which he adapted form his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is wall-to-wall great dialogue. The characters in this script grab your attention with their rapid fire speech patterns and don't let go until the last scene. Please click on the title of the script and read it. It is an excellent example of writing great dialog. Remember that the best way of learning is from seeing the real thing.


Go forward and win!

Logline Service
I have been getting a lot of request for loglines. I give different prices . Since I have so many requests for this service, I decided to set a single fix price.

Logline: $5.00 Flat Fee

A synopsis or summery is required. It well be used to form the logline. The logline is just one line.


Critique: $50.00 Flat Fee, Discount fee $42.50

 Includes evaluating the basis elements of a script

  •  Introduction
  •  Development
  •  Climax
  •  Conclusion
  • Character development 
  •  Mid point development
Critiques also provide suggestions for improvements and enhancement. 

Payments are made by Paypal or cashier check by mail.

Other services are at regular price.

Query Letters: $25.00 Flat Fee  

Editing: $45.00 Flat Fee
  •  Evaluating formatting to industry standards
  •  Spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.
Turnaround time:
Editing: 2 weeks
Critique: 2 weeks
Query Letters: 2 weeks

Feel free to contact me at or
Feel to call me at (360) 696-4298. Ask for Frances.

Film script format, writing film scripts, screenwriting services, coverage service, screenplay formatting margins, screenplay writing, screenplay format example, Search terms: screenplays, screenwriting service, edit and critique service, writing screenplays, screenplay format, loglines, query letter, film scripts, movie scripts, screenplay format, screenplay synopsis, script synopsis, treatment, proofreading service for writers, novels, writing services, fiction writing, film script format, writing flim scripts, screenwriting service, coverage service, screenplay critique service, screenplay format margins, screenplay writing, screenplay format example, free writing tutorials,   script consultant, screenwriting jobs, film production companies