Dialogue: Lesson One
March 3rd, 2014
A good line transcends time. A good line becomes memorable, it carries weight, and it becomes iconic. Look at the many lines that continue to carry weight, though the films are many years old: “Here’s looking at you kid,” “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” I could go on, there are so many of them. Regardless, good dialogue will transform your script, it will give it life, and it will make it stand out, particularly to the reader.
Writing for the screen is so different than writing a novel. Lines change, tone is different and as a writer you NEED to be aware of this. With a novel you have 200+ pages to get it right, if each line doesn’t drive plot, then it’s kind of okay because maybe one three pages forward does. You can’t do that with a spec, DIALOUGE HAS TO DO SOMETHING! And when lines do something, they are memorable, they stand out, and they transform a mediocre script into something so much more.
What I feel that most people forget however, is that just because a line LOOKS good on the screen when you are writing, it doesn’t mean that it sounds good when it’s read aloud. So I urge you, READ your script or have some friends do a mock table read. You need to hear the lines read aloud because in your head, things are always completely different. As a reader, I do both, particularly if I’m unsure if I like the line. It can make it or break it. But it also provides perspective. As a writer, you are looking and revising and rereading all in your head most of the time and it’s easy to forget that words on paper are so different.
So I urge you, take the time as you get through your third or fourth draft and READ your dialogue aloud or have friends read it aloud for you—my personal favorite as it lends a true character voice. I promise, you will see what works and what doesn’t and your script will be so much better because of it.
About the Author
I read scripts and provide coverage and notes. This is my chance to hopefully offer some helpful advice, and relay some war stories as we go as well.