A Simple Exercise to Writing Natural Staccato Dialogue for Screenwriters
October 10th, 2020
The well known saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" applies to screenwriters as we have to visually tell a story without using a thousand words to describe one visual; we have to use attrition and well constructed exposition to set the atmosphere and tone of the scene and movie.
Dialogue is just as great of a challenge. Elmore Leonard once said if it sounds like dialogue rewrite it. Indeed, too many screenplays I have read by newer writers their character speak sounds like dialogue. It's unnatural, Yes, grammatically correct is in general incorrect for most characters when they talk. Natural sounding "Staccato" dialogue is where you speak in fragments of short sentences and is how people truly talk and communicate.
Here is an easy exercise to help you pick up on that natural staccato dialogue that screenplays must have.
- Go to various public places like restaurant, bars, coffee houses, etc. and simply listen to people talk.
- Take a notebook with you and when you get situated near people talking try to write out the interaction, the dialogue between them.
- Do this for as long as you can, then put it away, get up and leave or let the notebook sit for a while then go back to it and reread the interaction.
- The final phase, try to write a follow-up scene and keep the tone or voice of each character in sync with what you recorded.
This exercise can really help you develop a "natural" approach to writing good and honest dialogue.
Good luck screenwriters, and until next time ...
About the Author
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(Follow on Twitter) Christopher Wehner is a published author and produced screenwriter, EL CAMINO CHRISTMAS @Netflix and AMERICAN DREAMER (later this year); visit his IMDB page for future projects. Christopher has been a leading member of the online screenwriter's community going back to the 1990s. In 2001 he published the groundbreaking book Screenwriting on the Internet: Researching, Writing and Selling Your Script on the Web,.
To contact Chris visit his website: Warm Beer Productions.