In this guide, we’re going to take a look at one of the most powerful tools any writer can wield: dialogue.
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, the words your characters say (and don’t say) can be some of the most compelling and effective ways to convey information, emotion, and action to your readers.
Sometimes, though, writing dialogue can be tough. You know it when you see it—it just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t sound like how people actually talk.
It sounds stilted and unnatural, like an old-timey movie where everyone is wearing top hats and corsets (which was a pretty big part of my childhood).
So, how do you avoid that? How do you make sure your characters sound real?
Well, I’m glad you asked — let’s get started!
Write Great Movie Dialogue
What Is movie dialogue?
Movie dialogue refers to the spoken lines of a film. Dialogue differs from narration in that dialogue is used to describe action happening on the screen and is typically performed by actors.
Although there are several different categories of speech, most commonly the type called direct dialogue occurs when a character speaks directly to another character.
Movie dialogue is simply the words spoken by the actors in a film. These words are typically written by a screenwriter and then read from a script by the actors.
Movie dialogue can be the most memorable, quotable part of a film, and often it’s what we think of when we remember our favorite movies. In fact, many movie fans can quote some of their favorite lines verbatim!
How To Write Dialogue?
Dialogue is one of the most important parts of a story. Dialogue can reveal character, set the mood, advance the plot, and even reveal crucial information.
Good dialogue can bring characters to life and make your readers or viewers care about them; bad dialogue can make your story unbearable to read.
“Show; don’t tell.” This is probably the most important tip I can give you. The best way to learn how to write dialogue is to read it.
Study authors who are masters of the craft — like William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, and Alice Munro.Become familiar with their unique voices and word choices.
Read classic plays by writers like Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams. Watch movies with good dialogue or listen to audiobooks (I find that listening to audiobooks while I’m driving forces me to focus on what I’m hearing).
When you find something you like, ask yourself why it works. What makes it so compelling? Why did you stop what you were doing just to listen?
This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s not as time-consuming as it sounds. It doesn’t mean you have to spend all your free time in front of your screen trying to bang out great sounding dialogue.
Writing Dialogue For Film
Dialogue is the most important element of storytelling. If done well, it can help your audience become more engaged in the plot. Understanding how to write dialogue is crucial to creating a successful script.
This article will focus on how to write dialogue for films and television. The same rules do not apply when writing dialogue for stage plays.
The basics of good dialogue are always the same: be clear, be quick, and be concise.
Be clear. This means that you should focus on what your characters are thinking and feeling, but avoid saying everything they’re thinking out loud. This makes your script feel unnatural and choppy, so avoid over-explaining everything.
Be quick. Dialogue should move the plot along quickly, which is why it helps to throw in a lot of action or descriptions within a single line of dialogue. You want to keep the pace moving so that you don’t lose your audience’s attention.
Be concise. Try not to use long, drawn out sentences in your scripts because it slows down the pacing of your story.
Be as concise as possible when writing dialogue. Describe what’s happening in each scene and make sure that things are happening quickly enough for your audience not to lose interest.
How To Write Dialogue
Have you ever read a novel where you really liked the author’s writing style, but the characters seemed wooden and lifeless?
It’s probably because the author didn’t put enough work into creating believable dialogue.
Like most aspects of fiction writing, dialogue is an art. But there are tricks of the trade that can make it easier. Today we’ll cover those tricks, so you can create dialogue that sounds natural and that keeps your readers engaged.
How do you know if your dialogue is working?
The best way is to ask someone else to read it over for you. As long as you’re not giving away too much of the plot, there’s no better way to find out if your dialogue reads well.
So let’s get started with our first trick: Use “he said” and “she said” sparingly.
One big mistake people make when they’re writing dialogue is they use quotation marks to tell readers who is speaking. They write:
“Did you bring the goods?” asked a rough-looking man with a thick Russian accent. “Yes,” replied his friend, whose face was covered in tattoos. “Good.”
“Yes,” replied his friend, whose face was covered in tattoos.”
You can do this as much as you want
Dialogue Writing Tips
The following are some excerpts from an essay titled, Dialogue Writing Tips written by William S. Walsh and published in the Spring 2012 edition of The Writer.
One of the most important elements in all forms of writing, is the most difficult to define, because it encompasses so many different elements. The tone of a piece can often be determined by its style.
Is the style formal or informal? Formal writing is usually more objective and factual. Informal writing is more subjective. A writer’s tone can also be determined by sentence structure.
Does the writer use short choppy sentences or long complicated ones?
Pauses are also a key element of tone. A pause before revealing a shocking fact can add drama to your writing.
A pause can also be used to give another character time to respond. A one-word sentence followed by a period creates a dramatic effect, as does an exclamation point.
Tone can also be determined by punctuation alone. In dialogue, if you use question marks or exclamation points (without quotation marks), you indicate that your characters are speaking rather than narrating.
What Is Great Dialogue?
In order to write cinematic dialogue, you have to understand how it differs from normal dialogue.
Here are some tips for how to write cinematic dialogue:
Treat each line as an entire sentence instead of breaking it up into smaller parts. When you break up a sentence, it doesn’t sound like natural speech.
Avoid using contractions such as “don’t” or “can’t” in your screenplay. If your character is speaking normally, they will not be using these contractions.
Use “said” more often than other dialogue tags. If you use other dialogue tags too much, it will disrupt the flow of your screenplay because it breaks up the lines of dialogue and separates them from the character speaking them.
Pay attention to punctuation when writing cinematic dialogue.
It may be necessary to use ellipses after certain lines of dialogue so that it flows better in your screenplay. You can also use dashes instead of commas to separate two lines of dialogue if the comma comes in the middle of the line and seems unnatural for your screenplay’s speech pattern.
Lastly, use lots of white space when writing cinematic dialogue.