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How To Write Great Dialogue For A Screenplay

Adam Scott

A lot of filmmakers take for granted how dialogue is written in screenplays, and because it’s the very first thing audiences experience when they watch a film, it’s key to do it right.

Written dialogue is the backbone of any scene in a movie, and if you want your scenes to work as well as they can, you’ve got to make sure you write it the right way.

Every filmmaker has their own method of composing dialogue and there are no set rules that will guarantee every screenplay will read great.

In this article, we’ll give you advice on the fundamentals of dialogue, as well as a couple of specific exercises and tips to help you develop better dialogue.

In a movie, dialogue is like another character that exists in a scene or a stage. Dialogue should help support a story, enhancing the dramatic tension, and add life to a scene.

In order to achieve this, you must know how to write effective dialogue.

There is an art and a science to dialogue, and for most screenplays, the script is a collaboration between the writer, the director, the producer and actors. The writer is the storyteller and provides the emotional and visual ideas, the director is the technical director and is the person that oversees the set, the script supervisor is the one that makes sure the scenes match the script and knows what is happening in the script, the producer provides the money and ensures a film gets made, and the actors provide the words and emotions that will fill the screen.

These people may sound like actors, but they are not actors, because screenwriters are not like traditional screenwriters who write screenplays and then go about finding actors that match what they wrote and letting actors create the story. A screenwriter writes the entire screenplay.

While some writers work with actors, others work with both, and in a case of a screenplay that has a very strong director and writer, a screenwriter may be required to work with the director and writer as well as actors in the scene to ensure the dialogue is done correctly and that it will be understood correctly by the audience.

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Have you ever wondered why some dialogue reads well, while others have you thinking about chewing sand? There’s a reason for that and there’s a lot of it.

And the truth is that the right tools, the right knowledge and the right people can take you a long way when it comes to writing great dialogue.

While screenwriting classes, study guides, screenwriting books, audio courses, and video courses will give you a strong foundation, what you’ll ultimately need is to work on a script and get your hands dirty.

If you want to master dialogue, start by reading several different screenplays and studying what makes them good. For me, this step is very important because when I read a script, I pay attention to the pauses, the grammatical errors, the awkward phrasing, the emotion, and the tone.

You have to know what makes a good line in order to improve your own.

If you don’t want to go too much into detail with your script reading, then simply use one or two of these resources to get a good idea of how dialogue is structured in a lot of different films.

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Now that you know what you need to do to write great dialogue, the next step is to actually write it. How do you go about it?

First, think about who is speaking the line. Sometimes it’s the character you’re writing, but for the most part, it’s actually a member of your team.

You’ll write more natural and organic dialogue if you focus on the people who are closest to the script.

Once you’ve decided who the character is, think about what their background is. Maybe they’re a parent, or maybe a close friend, a sibling, or a child.

Now that you have a character you can start to write about what their motivation is and how they’re feeling.

The way I break down a character’s motivation is to think about what they’re trying to get from the character that they’re speaking to.

If they’re a parent speaking to their child, they’ll be trying to encourage their child to keep going in the game or school. If the character is a teacher speaking to their students, then they’re trying to boost their confidence and motivate them to do better.

These are both simple examples, but you can break down any situation to reflect your character’s motivation. This technique is very useful because it can help you determine if your dialogue is both natural and believable.

Lists and timelinesTime goes away

Many screenwriters have a tendency to write what they know. They’re the ones that write in the first person, focus on relationships, and use the structure of a screenplay.

While this is a great starting point, you want to change things up and try and add variety to your screenplay. One way you can do this is by writing lists.

Lists work a lot better than bullet points for writing dialogue because they’re more structured and they give you a better idea of what your characters are trying to say.

You can also incorporate timelines into your screenplay. If you know that a character needs to complete a task in six months, then you can break that down into a timeline and use it as the basis for your dialogue.

Mix in audio, pictures, and video into your dialogue when possible. To really drive home how it sounds when you’re speaking, incorporate audio into your script as well.

If you’re speaking to a doctor, use a heartbeat, and to really make your dialogue feel real, include the smell of a person’s breath or a sweatshirt that smells of the inside of a gym locker.

This combination of lists and timelines allows you to add a much more natural feel to your script.

Next steps

Don’t take my advice and do nothing. You’ll be a better writer if you do something.

So start going through your script and using these methods and techniques. It will not only improve your dialogue, but it will help you write better scripts in the future.


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