Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dialogue Tip from Some Other More Experienced Writer

Beginning playwrights and screenwriters always struggle with dialogue.

In short, they try to tell us too much, instead of show us through behavior.

Actually, I take that back as this is not just an issue with beginners.

Most first drafts of even professional writers have too much clutter. The difference between the professional and the amateur, though, is the amount of rewriting that goes into cutting it down and polishing the material.

As everyone knows, I'm a big fan of John August and think his stuff is pretty lean, pretty intelligent and frankly, he's one of the best screenwriters out there (and the dialogue in GO is pretty darn good--go watch that movie now and see).

In one of his posts he says:

However you spell it, dialogue is what most people think of when you say screenwriting. It’s certainly the most apparent of all screenwriting attributes; bad dialogue is always noticed.

To me, movie dialogue is what real people would say if they could take a few seconds to think between lines. It’s faster, more direct, with much less filler than normal speech.

I like to think of dramatic dialogue (and even the stage descriptions) as poetry. Poetry is spare. It behaves by the philosophy of Occam's Razor (nothing unnecessary).

Or as I like to say:

Cut 90%

A really interesting exercise I like to do sometimes, especially if I'm having trouble with a talky scene, is to rewrite it with no dialogue whatsoever. The silent actions help me figure out what really needs to be there and what can be cut. Then I can go back and add dialogue. I usually find I don't need as much dialogue as I think.

By the way, John has now put a new sidebar on his nifty site with Screenwriting 101 tips--very handy.

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