Cinema Perfecto Magazine - Issue 1

10/10's - Ten Lists of Ten Tips for Digital Filmakers & Professional Videographers


Ten Tips for Writing Better Dialog
for Screenwriters and Filmmakers

By Pema Teeter

The curious thing about writing dialogue is that people rarely say what they mean. Spoken words are slim approximations of what's going on inside. At the same time, the duty of dialogue is to bridge gaps the film-story isn't telling another way. Dialogue is extraneous if it doesn't further the story.

So how do you write words that people don't mean when you're trying to further a story that could be told without them? No pressure.

1. State objective. Every line. Want moves a story to its end. Every move leads a character to (or away from) what he wants. As such, dialogue has little to do with listening. Instead, we forward our objective. We don't necessarily answer each other as much as we forward our objective.

2. Indicate status. If you read a page of dialogue, would you be able to tell who has the upper hand? There is always and ever a power dynamic between two or more people in a relationship. Reveal the status and your work is half complete.

3. Give it muscle. If your line is telling of the character and furthers the story, you win that round. If it does only one of those, give it the muscle of the other or cut it.

4. Get possessed. Stuck? Step away from the story and get deep into your character's head. Sometimes the queerest of things will be motivating him in that moment. What's near him? An orange? What does the scent of oranges remind him of? How old was he then? What was he wearing? Whatever happened to those shoes he wore till they were hole-y? Let your imagination take you through his maze. What does he want, that kid with the lost shoes? What did he want then? Does it inform what he wants now? Do we ever want anything different from that core want? Write it in his line. See if it fits. Edit.

5. Write the emotional exchange. Go to a cafe. Or to a park. Watch a pair or a family from a distance, and I'll bet you can make up what they're talking about. Or at the least, the emotional exchange that is taking place there. That's what we want to capture.

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