One way to get me interested in your script: Have really compelling, interesting, and/or funny dialogue.
Writing dialogue is hard. Heck, writing at all is hard. It takes years of study — reading everything you can get your hands on, practicing at your craft, sucking at the first few scripts you try, doing better with each draft and receiving constructive criticism that leads you down the right path.
First, let’s understand what counts as bad dialogue.
Is anyone else bored yet? I know I am. Dialogue like this, although similar to how we talk in real life, does nothing to advance a plot and frankly bores the reader into a stupor. Authentic dialogue does not mean word-for-word small talk. Authentic dialogue is more simulated reality.
If some kid scares off some robbers with his, um, karate skills? Wouldn’t you want to see that happen?
Here’s where we remember the cardinal writing rule of Show, Don’t Tell. It’s much more interesting to see action scripted out, happening before us, than to have some character explaining it. Johnny’s dialogue here becomes an info dump — blurting out a series of events in an unnecessarily long rant. It is so dull to hear a character explain things that should have just unfolded on screen.
Another fun, yet difficult one to learn. On-the-nose dialogue.
On-the-nose dialogue is when characters say what they actually feel in the moment or describe things that are obvious. It’s the opposite of subtlety. This is where subtext comes in, and that’s a tricky subject.
A character’s feelings, or even the situation at hand, can be described using visuals, settings, character body language and more to be conveyed. Sometimes, a character will say the opposite of what they mean, but we as the audience can see the truth behind it. Humans lie a lot. Your characters could too.
Yeah. Johnny isn’t happy.
Your characters can say a lot without really saying much. Trust the actors to do the acting. Body language coupled with dialogue can change an entire meaning of a line.
Great dialogue is, of course, subjective. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. But there are a number of films out there that many folks agree has good dialogue. Check out this scene from The Shawshank Redemption. Spoilers if you haven’t seen this famous film from 1994.
This scene comes at the end of the movie. Andy Dufresne has already escaped, and Morgan Freeman’s character Red laments his loss. It’s expositional. It’s telling, not showing. It shouldn’t work but it does. It wraps things up beautifully, told in the unique voice of Red.
This scene from Network is a great one to study. A news anchor losing his cool on national television! But the story behind the scene is not that he’s mad about current events… it’s truly about his anger over the fact that he’s losing his job. Subtext!
I really like Juno. The characters all have very strong, individual voices. Even the bit parts, like the clerk at the convenience store, are interesting characters for an actor to play.
You want to be the type of writer who could attract someone to any part in your film, and screenwriter Diablo Cody became quite the Hollywood darling after this film premiered.