Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dialogue

Thanks for the comments, dudes. I will try to incorporate your suggestions into future posts.

For writing tips - I don't really go there that often because I do believe that there are plenty of other resources out there, from professional blogs to books to podcasts to live panel discussions. I don't know if I'm really qualified to be sounding off about writing when none of my work has been bought or produced. But I can tell you what I hear, what I like, what I've learned, and what I struggle with myself.

I do love dialogue...so here's my take on that:

Make it short. Cut out as many words as you can. You probably don't need to start any of your characters' lines with words like "well," "so" or "anyway." Don't have your characters speak in perfect complete sentences. Let them interrupt each other. Remember WEST WING? God, that snappy Aaron Sorkin dialogue was so great. People hardly ever got sentences out. They also used to repeat words a lot, which was fun. Also remember that people rarely say what they're thinking or feeling. There might be a big confrontational moment in a later act where it finally comes out, but for the most part, people are not good communicators.

Listen to people speaking in real life. Sure, dialogue on TV and in film is cleaner and prettier (in real life, people say "like," "um," and "you know" a disturbing amount of times), but being a good listener will still help you be a better writer.

Think about what people DON'T say. MAD MEN is great for this - there is so much conflict created in those tense silences.

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8 comments:

Little Miss Nomad said...

I've noticed Grace would start with "Anyway" a lot in Will & Grace to get a conversation back on topic after some comic riff. I wonder if the actress put it in or if it was in the original script...

Dave Shepherd said...

Friday Night Lights is also good for what characters don't say.

LazyWriterOnTheTV said...

And don't just watch stuff. Read actual scripts to see how it's all put together.

Dan Williams said...

Another point about dialogue is, which character knows more? And is this character trying to help the other one or not? The one who knows more usually asks the questions, which makes the other realize he or she is, maybe, making a mistake. In any show, one character is always the moral center, always the hero/heroine. One reason that PROVIDENCE got cancelled was that the showrunner tried to shift the moral center from Sid to Joannie and it doesn't work.

(Amanda, you don't always have to give writing tips, you can come to the blog with questions, too, and scenes to workshop. But Dave also needs to hear about the career side, which is fascinating, too :)

Jen Kucsak said...

Hi Amanda, LOVE your blog! What a great idea to have a blog just about writing/ TV life in LA. I'm an aspiring writer and actually just got home from visiting friends in LA and thinking about moving there. But it seems so hard to get into the biz :(

Ian said...

The thing about dialog is that there must be a purpose behind each line, but the words themselves can't come out sounding too expositional. It's a delicate dance.

Jim Cartwright said...

having problems with dialogue? Go to http://www.overheardinnewyork.com/ to see how the best and brightest communicate. If you can write gems like these in your script you'll get a readers attention.

Sasha said...

@Dan

They've shifted the moral center on Heroes (I think)- and the ratings are plummeting. In the beginning, Peter and Hiro were moral forces... but now they're both nearly powerless (literally, and in terms of airtime). Meanwhile, formerly minor/villainous characters like Angela and Mr. Bennett have moved to center. Which I thought was a good thing, because I like Angela and Mr. Bennett better but.... maybe it's just a shift people (including me- the show has been "off" for a while) don't want to follow. Thanks for the different perspective :)

Also, on Heroes I noticed that the characters all speak in a way that defines their role or super-power. ie, Claire can heal, and she ONLY talks about feelings, Sylar can figure things out, so he asks LOTS of questions, etc.