- Ten Lists of Ten Tips for Digital Filmakers &
Tips for Writing Better Dialog
for Screenwriters and Filmmakers
By Pema Teeter
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.