Bad Dialogue: 5 Things NOT to Do

Newbie screenwriters almost always struggle with the exact same thing: Dialogue.

Understandably. You want to lovingly breath life into the characters, but there’s that pesky rule that you should show up late and leave early. You want motives to be clear, but you don’t want anything stated outright. And you want your heroes to be fleshed out, but you don’t want to pause the story to do so.

A common misconception is that movie dialogue should mirror the real world. NOT THE CASE. Nobody’s unfiltered daily life is worthy of a screenplay. Unless you wake up with a bomb for a heart a la Jason Statham in Crank. Not even kidding, best movie premise ever.

So let’s review some Not-To-Do’s. Complete with samples extracted from the thrill-ride that is Spencer and AJ’s romantic relationship. I’ve got 5 big no’s-no’s for y’all:

1. DO NOT have characters repeat the same tactic over and over again to get what they want. This one really irks me. Let’s take a look:

SPENCER

AJ, I tire of walking! Can you carry me?

AJ

No.

SPENCER

Please.

AJ

No.

SPENCER

Please!

AJ

No.

2. AVOID characters that are noncommittal and talk without intention.

SPENCER

AJ I wanna go out.

AJ

Ok. Where would you like to go?

SPENCER

I don’t know.

AJ

What are you in the mood for?

SPENCER

Uuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmm… You pick. I can’t decide.

AJ

We could go to O’Connors for pub food?

SPENCER

Pub food? More like pube food.

AJ

Ok. Want something healthier? We could do vegan at Evo or sushi at The Sole?

SPENCER

I’m sick of those places. I wanna try something new!

AJ

There’s that new italian place that opened down the street? Let’s check it out!

SPENCER

But I’m broke!

3. USE subtext. It’s boring when characters say exactly what they mean.

SPENCER

Wanna have sex?

AJ

Sure.

4. The plot should feel “naturally” motivated. People shouldn’t talk just to move things forward.

AJ

Spencer, we’ve got to get up.

SPENCER

5 more minutes.

AJ

You said that 45 minutes ago.

SPENCER

Times have changed, AJ. Everything’s different now.

AJ

Cute. You still have to get up though.

SPENCER

I don’t need a shower. I already smell like a flowery spring meadow!

AJ

Yes Cleopatra. But your hair’s a mess. Think about your reputation. What if the public sees you this way, sans pomade? The press would have a field day.

SPENCER

AJ, there’s no time for trivial conversation! I’ve got a date with the showerhead!

5. AVOID monologues. No one wants to hear characters talk in big blocky sentences without interruption.

AJ

So, anyway. Tipping Point. Phenomenal. Goldwell breaks down the different types of Participants in the 80/20 Principal. Which is, you know, the idea that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the participants. The way he explains it is by identifying the Connectors, the Mavens, and the Salesmen. The connectors are the ones who know people. The mavens are the information oracles. And the salesmen are the persuaders. I see myself as a Connector and a little bit of a Maven. But my friend Margie’s been reading it too and she thinks I’m more of a Salesman. Thoughts?

SPENCER

Wha?

So there you have it! 5 Points that, if avoided, could solidify your status as the next Aaron Sorkin. Well, the NEXT next Aaron Sorkin. After me.

–Toodles!

Oh, and as an end note: I know its Malcolm GLADWELL that wrote the Tipping Point.  But let’s just let AJ have this one thing.

gladwelltippingpoint

Featured Photo borrowed from London’s Lost Rivers

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