Writing Effective Dialogue

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Writing dialogue is hard. Writing a story or narration is actually easier than creating a draft of people actually talking to each other. A lot of filmmakers, especially those with a ton of cash, often overlook this aspect and make up for it with spectacle. Think of the number of movies that have such lousy dialogue and yet manage to be quite entertaining.

On the other end of the balance, you have writers who are known exclusively for their dialogue writing skills. Think Tarantino, Whedon, Sorkin or Elmore Leonard, all have entire scenes with just people talking to each other for minutes on end.

Great dialogue makes for great scenes, but writing good dialogue is not something that everyone can do. Here are a few rules to good dialogue writing that you might want to keep handy.

Do not waste words

Every single word that comes out of your characters’ mouth has to be there for a reason. Even filler dialogue should have an exposition. Think about the opening scene in Reservoir Dogs. Is it just a long conversation between bandits about Madonna songs and the virtues of tipping? It is far more than that. You learn about your characters, their motivations, their philosophy in life, and who they are as people. The scene is a perfect example of dialogue doing more than just taking film reels and elongating the length of the movie.

Distinct characters

Each person has a way of talking and their dialogue should reflect personality. It cannot sound canned. Give each person a voice, actions, movement, and language nuances. Make sure they sound human. The dialogues should sound like they are actually being spoken in real life and not in a movie. Too often, people speak perfectly in a film, using the right words, having perfect comebacks and scripted reactions. While that is necessary, real life banter is a lot more awkward and interesting.

Information

Dialogue must move the story forward. No one is going to look into the camera and tell the audience what is going to happen next, the dialogue between actors has to do that. There are going to be no cues for laughter or crying, all that has to happen by itself, and the dialogue must move the story forward. If your dialogue does not do that, rewrite.

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No one gets it right the first time, so keep on writing till you get exactly what you need.

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