“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Who else but Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind could have said this memorable line?
Characters’ voices must be distinctive and not interchangeable with other characters. Readers must be able to identify who is speaking without needing to look at character headings. Always make every word count; sometimes less is more and the less said can prove more poignant.
Ten Top Tips to Writing Good Dialogue
1. Dialogue must clearly convey emotions, attitudes, strengths, vulnerabilities, goals, and so on, while revealing the details of your plot and advancing your narrative.
2. Every word of dialogue must be true to your character. Always consider your characters’ behaviors and motivations when they speak.
3. Consider silences and pauses your characters might use, or another character’s interruptions, to further convey tensions, actions, moods, and emotions.
4. In real life, most people do not always speak with flawless grammar in complete, formal sentences. Dialogue must not sound wooden or stilted.
5. To make your characters’ dialogue more identifiable consider using contractions, colloquialisms, slang, and so on, when true to your characters.
6. Characters can speak in verbal shorthand, such as family members and best friends.
7. Keep in mind how your characters listen or don’t listen to each other and respond or don’t respond to each other.
8. Always research your topics thoroughly so if your character is speaking about the legal issues for example, make sure you are accurate. The same is true when writing a period film; do your research so your characters’ dialogue is historically accurate.
9. Watch out for on-the-nose dialogue. People don’t always say exactly what’s on their mind or say what they mean and neither should your characters.
10. Writing character biographies for all of your characters will help to hone in on their specific word choices and language usages, such as slang, speech patterns, and rhythms.
To learn more about writing good dialogue (and more), read my book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! Analyzing and referencing over 220 films, offering 34 screenwriting exercises, and providing six templates from fictional scripts, to inspire screenwriters to unleash their ideas, break through stumbling blocks, and strengthen their characters. (Save $1.00 off the $14.95 price by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and use DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. On Kindle:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SB8Z7M (discount code does not apply). www.su-city-pictures.com; http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/
About the Author
Susan Kouguell, award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, is the author of THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises(available at $1.00 with DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD: https://www.createspace.com/3558862 ). Susan is a regular contributor to Indiewire/SydneysBuzz, Script Magazineand The Script Lab.
Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College, SUNY and presents international seminars. As chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990, Kouguell works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, executives and studios worldwide. Recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the MacDowell Colony, Jerome Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Edward Albee Foundation, Kouguell’s short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial. Kouguell worked with director Louis Malle on his film And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, (Paramount, Viacom, Dustin Hoffman’s Punch Productions), wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. www.su-city-pictures.com. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguellon Twitter, and read more articles on her blog: http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/.