Writing Screenplay Dialogue: 3 Crazy Ways To Improve It

Nothing kills a good story like bad dialogue.  If it is predictable, stilted, boring, or trite, or any of the other ills that can befall the dialogue, script readers won’t get past the first few pages before deciding to advise the producer to “pass.”

Writing great dialogue is a challenge, but if you have this talent, it can set your script apart as much as an individual great character or the plot itself.

The challenge with dialogue is how to say just enough to express what you need to in a way that sounds “real and believable” but also defines your character and makes them unique!  Not an easy task.

The is no simple secret to it other than practice and tweak, practice, tweak, study, and rewrite.  As a screenwriter, you should always work at improving your dialogue writing skills.

One of the ways to improve is to get your mind thinking outside your usual patterns. Too often in writing dialogue, your character voices fall into your own personal speaking patterns.

Here are 3 crazy techniques to get you going on breaking up your habitual speaking patterns and improving your dialogue:

1.  Cut out every second or third line or word.

It’s easy to make dialogue too long and this exercise helps to remove extraneous words or lines.  Go through your dialogue and cut out every other line, or take one line and cut out every third word.  This sounds crazy because what you cut is based not on logic but on a random pattern. This practice, though, is a tried-and-true one that screenwriters have been doing for years.

And you won’t be burdened with having to decide what to keep and what not to keep. You’ll be amazed how tight the whole script becomes.

Of course, you’ll end up cutting some words your story needs, so plan to go back and edit.  But  first cut out words this way, then go back and add as little as possible to have it make sense.

2.  Random Word Relationship. 

Get a novel off your shelf.  Open it, close your eyes, and put two fingers down on a page. Take those two random words (obviously not conjunctions) and try to use them in your character’s dialogue.  Do this once for every page.

This exercise will force you to break your dialogue routines (ways you use words without thinking about it), which can make it repetitive and boring.

This exercise can also help make editing be less of a slog and more fun, like a game.

3.  Mix it up with different genres

One dialogue pitfall is having all the characters sound the same, thus making the script flat.  To break out of that habit, pick a character in a movie of a different genre than your script genre. It should be a character you really like and know fairly well.

Then pick one of your characters and write his or her dialogue in that style. Not everyone needs to be serious in a drama and not everyone needs quips in a comedy.

By mixing up the kind of dialogue your characters use, you put a spin on your screenplay that will be unique.

Yep, these things sound crazy, but it is critical to move beyond your usual patterns.  I guarantee that these tips will break up the vibe in your script and start to make you think differently.

In case it wasn’t clear above, you will need to go back and edit a bit to have things make sense.  Don’t just do the exercise and not fix it after that.  But after you go back to edit, you will be shocked at how much better your dialogue will start to develop.

Let me know what happens when you try it or if you have any other crazy dialogue improvement tips.  If you want further help in making your script better or simply want to know how you stack up against other writers, you can also get a professional script analysis with Smart Girls.

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