Writing dialogue convincingly in a screenplay can feel like a challenge, but if you can master writing dialogue, it can help take your script from mediocre to masterpiece.
So, if you’re wondering how to write dialogue effectively in your screenplays, read on for our 5 foolproof strategies for writing dialogue for screen…
1. Write Dialogue Naturalistically
The most effective dialogue to include in a screenplay is natural speech that is likely to occur in real life: characters talking to one another in a real conversation, characters making announcements or recording themselves speaking aloud.
Think about how people speak in real life. In real life, people rarely talk to themselves or narrate their lives. It’s rarely rehearsed and it tends to be conversational, it’s very rare that you’ll ever have a person in real life talk uninterrupted for even one minute, but certainly not two or three.
Try to reflect this natural speech when you write dialogue. Cutting back on the word count is always a good approach. Draft up what you think your character should say, and then revisit it. Cut out any duplication, or ‘waffle’. Cut out any unnecessary adjectives. Consider how you can make every single word work harder to bring out your character?
There are exceptions to this rule. If your character is giving a speech, then they probably will speak uninterrupted. If your screenplay is set in another world, then quirky use of dialogue can help to set the scene and convey to the audience that this is not the same world that they know. Science fiction dialogue uses this to good effect.
2. Give Each Character Their Own Distinct Voice
Just like in real life, every individual person will have their own vocabulary and have their own syntax. Your characters should have their own ‘voice’ too.
Ideally, somebody reading your script, or hearing it aloud, should be able to recognise a character simply by their dialogue and choice of expression.
When you write dialogue, consider your characters and their individual character traits. How can you show their traits through their dialogue and they way they speak?
Having a clear idea of your character’s personality will help you to write dialogue so that each character has its own expression. Try to make each character’s voice unique.
Working with actors to workshop your screenplay can be a great way to develop this. It helps to have it read aloud in a different voice.
3. Identify and Remove Exposition
Expositional dialogue is when a character explains something, solely for the point of the audience. It isn’t something they would really say, perhaps because the other characters already know, or because it’s common knowledge in the world.
Expositional dialogue frustrating for the audience, because they sense it isn’t authentic to the character. Including expositional dialogue can easily weaken the quality of your screenplay.
Don’t rely on your characters to ‘catch up’ the audience, if there is relevant backstory, then we need to see it, or have the information shared in a better way than having a character explain knowledge of the world or their events.
Make sure to revisit and redraft your screenplay. Re-write dialogue that seems expositional and replace it with authentic dialogue instead.
4. Write Dialogue with Purpose
To earn its place on the page, every single line of dialogue that you write should be purposeful and move the story forward.
Don’t write dialogue because you like the sound of it, or you think it’s clever. Write dialogue that drives the story and serves a purpose to the plot or to the character.
You can also use this strategy to help eliminate boring dialogue, or small talk dialogue that doesn’t need to be there. Only include lines that need to be there or contribute towards a greater purpose than the line itself.
5. Show, Don’t Tell
This one is a bit of classic, but never more relevant that when it comes to writing dialogue.
Avoid your characters talking at length about their feelings, or their experiences. Try as much as possible to show this through dramatic action, through their actions or reactions.
When you write dialogue, find ways to express your characters emotions without describing them or having them spoken aloud. For instance, a character wiping away a tear is much more powerful than a character stating “I’m very sad right now.”
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