We find that dialogue can be one of the trickiest things to get right, and whilst it can cause problems for a writer, bad dialogue can also trip up a director and the actors who have to say those lines so it’s worth getting it right!
Here, we’ve put together a few tips to help you write your best dialogue. Not every approach is right for each script, but it’s worth thinking carefully through, so you can find some methods that work for you.
- Know your style. Are you writing a witty comedy with back-t0-back jokes, or are you writing a tense, atmospheric action piece? Vary the amount of dialogue so that it compliments with the overall aim of your film… Sometimes, silence is golden.
- Know your characters. In real life, everybody speaks differently: they have different intonations, inflections, speeds and patterns of speech. Some people talk non-stop to answer a question, and some people only use one word. Who are your characters and how do they speak? Try using real life people as inspiration, think about their vocabularies, their tone etc. If you can identify a character from just their lines, then you’re on the right track to creating believable dialogue.
- Try replacing your dialogue with something else… can you communicate the same thing without words? For example, rather than a character saying “I’m off to school.” you could show them leaving the house in their school uniform. Go through your script and with each line, see if there is a way you can share that detail through an image instead. This will help you avoid exposition and it will help create pace to your work.
- Try condensing your dialogue. Write it out in full as it appears in your imagination, and then go through it again. What is it the character really means? What is it they really want to achieve from each specific line? “De-clutter” by removing anything else.
- Try moving dialogue around. If you don’t like the thought of cutting the dialogue, then try moving it into another point in the scene, or another scene altogether. Sometimes extra details can give us an insight into the character and are worth holding onto, but you might find that they can be more effective in other places.
- Make sure your dialogue is working. By that, we mean, it achieves something and earns its place on the page. Go through your script and work out what purpose each line serves: does it further the story? Does it reveal character detail? Does it create conflict? If it doesn’t, then it probably doesn’t need to be there.
- Translate direct and in-direct lines, or experiment with subtext. What happens if you say something outright? What happens if you say something more subtly? There is a time and a place for both. Try translating your dialogue into a direct or an indirect statement and see which has more impact.
- Try an unexpected response. See what happens if your characters ‘rebel’ against your first idea; sometimes it can help you create conflict, sometimes it can give you an opportunity to refine exactly what your character says in order to progress the story, sometimes it can open the door to a new idea.
- Try writing in some understatements. This can help naturally draw out detail through conflict, or through action. Not only does it tell us about one character, it gives other characters a platform to react.
- Read it out loud, and if you can, ask friends (or potential actors) to read it out loud for you too. This often throws up lots of surprises as well as opens up new opportunities. You’ll hear where it sounds a bit clumsy, or a bit too long, or completely unnatural. Try changing it to something more simple, or something more subtle, and take on board the advice of others here too. A friend reading a part aloud will find a new route and insight into that character and may have good suggestions about how they might speak.