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How to Write Great Dialogue - Copia

How to Write Great Dialogue - Copia

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Published by Ariel Guido

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Published by: Ariel Guido on Feb 14, 2012
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 Writing Effective Dialogue
by Staton Rabin - screenplay marketing consultant, script analyst, and “pitch coach”.
 
Whenever we think of great films, what we remember most is not the scenery nor thestructure, but the dialogue. Dialogue is the “music” of movies. From, “Frankly, my dear, Idon
ʼ
t give a damn,” to “Go ahead, make my day.” From “Fasten your seat belts. It
ʼ
s go-ing to be a bumpy night,” to “At my signal, unleash hell.” Great dialogue will make yourscript sing. And while story structure is more important to writing a successful screen-play, juicy dialogue can help attract an A-list star to your script. Powerful dialogue willalso give your script that extra bit of “zing” that can make the sale. Writing movie dialogue is like dancing: some people are born with a knack for it, andothers do it as awkwardly as your physics teacher attempting the funky chicken at thehigh school dance. But just like dancing, writing dialogue is a skill that can be learned.Here are my 10 best tips for creating memorable dialogue:
CONTEXT AND CHARACTER ARE EVERYTHING:
As you
ʼ
ll notice from the famousexamples given above, the best dialogue won
ʼ
t make any sense to anyone who hasn
ʼ
tseen the movie. Make sure your dialogue fits the character who is speaking it, and thatit springs directly from story context instead of feeling “grafted on.” Even in comedies, ifa line isn
ʼ
t true to the character and situation, it won
ʼ
t work.
NO ONE SHOULD TALK LIKE ANYONE ELSE:
As in life, each character in your scriptshould have his own distinctive speaking style. To test this out in your script, cover upthe character names and see if you can still guess which character is speaking at anygiven moment. If your characters talk too much alike, fix this.
NO “SMALL” ROLES:
Actors like to say, “There are no small roles. Only small actors.”When I read and evaluate a script, I worry when I see characters with generic nameslike “Thug #1” or “Waitress #2.” Too often, that naming convention results in equally ge-neric dialogue. Each character in your script should have a name (or at least a persona,such as, “Nervous Bank Teller”), and a distinctive personality—reflected in his dialogue.
Writing Effective Dialogue
is brought to you by
Final Draft, Inc.
2
 
ARGUING IS GOOD:
Arguing probably isn
ʼ
t a good approach to life. But conflict is greatfor your story. Make sure that every character in your script gives your hero a hard time.I don
ʼ
t care if all your hero wants is directions to the nearest gas station. Nobody shouldcooperate with him -- at least not without a lot of persuasion.
EVIL IS AS EVIL DOES:
Amateur writers create heroes whose dialogue drips with themilk of human kindness, and villains whose every syllable drips venom and evil inten-tions. But what do the pros do? They write heroes who may talk cynically, but behave inthe opposite way and demonstrate compassion or idealism. Their villains are oftenelaborately polite, but evil in their behavior. It adds depth to your script when dialoguedoesn
ʼ
t always directly reflect a character
ʼ
s true inner being. Always remember that it isyour character
ʼ
s actions—not necessarily what he says—that determines whether he isgood or evil. For reference, see the quintessential cynical hero, Humphrey Bogart
ʼ
s Rickin
Casablanca 
; and for a classic, polite villain, see Calvera (played by the great Eli Wal-lach) in
The Magnificent Seven 
.
DON
ʼ
T TELL US THINGS WE ALREADY KNOW:
In some of the scripts I analyze forwriters, we get story information in one scene, and then in the very next scene onecharacter tells another the same “news.” Never tell us things we (the film audience) al-ready know. How to avoid this? Start the next scene later, after the “news” has alreadybeen transmitted -- or cut it off earlier. For example, if a character dies in one scene andthe hero must transmit the sad news to the deceased
ʼ
s next of kin, all we need to see inthe follow-up scene is what happens right before the relative is told -- or what happensright after. In fact, that “aftermath” scene probably won
ʼ
t need any dialogue at all. All thehero needs to do is walk in the door and make eye contact with the person he must tell.Cut!Also, never write a line of dialogue that begins with: “As you already know…. ” If infor-mation is being transmitted solely for the audience
ʼ
s benefit, it doesn
ʼ
t belong in yourscript.
Writing Effective Dialogue
is brought to you by
Final Draft, Inc.
3

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