By Ashleigh Ferguson
Few people think about how the mechanics of good writing can affect a film. After all, film is a visual medium: your audience watches events unfold, rather than reading them as they would in a book. A screenplay, however, is the backbone of every film. Without a clear, effective script, the final visual product will fall short.
A script is the foundation of the filmmaking process: a guide for how the film should play out. Since the purpose of your screenplay is to be read and understood, it’s good practice to ensure that it is as clear as possible.
There are a few components that come together to make an effective screenplay: character, scenes, themes, and dialogue. In this post, we’ll focus on dialogue: what it is, why it matters, and how to improve it in your script.
Why Does Good Dialogue Matter?
Dialogue is an important component in screenplays and story-telling. As a literary device, it helps to bring your readers along with your story in several ways.
Dialogue gives insight to your characters by peeling back their layers: their personality, their motives, and their plights. Dialogue is also an effective tool for exploring conflict and tension between characters.
Good dialogue doesn’t just bring characters to life, it ultimately drives your plot as well. Through dialogue, characters exchange crucial information that’s important to the narrative. Dialogue can help to establish backstory and give the audience a better understanding of the plot.
Finally, dialogue casts light on the themes of the screenplay, creating a deeper engagement with your audience, and drawing them further into the story.
Why Clarity Is Important for Dialogue
Dialogue can make or break your screenplay. So how do you write good dialogue?
Your primary goal with dialogue is clarity. Clear dialogue lets your audience follow your ideas with ease. Your audience will understand what your characters are saying and feel a deeper connection to them.
As a writer, your goal is to keep your audience interested in your story. Clear dialogue brings your audience along with you and helps them understand the story you’re trying to convey.
Clear and concise writing also helps with character development. Your audience will appreciate and understand your characters more because of how they communicate.
If the dialogue is incoherent and lacks clarity, then you miss the chance of connecting with the audience. Your dialogue will fall flat and become ineffective. Boring or unclear dialogue makes it difficult for the audience to connect with your characters. While action brings your characters to life, clear dialogue adds indispensable sub-context.
While positive audience perception of your dialogue in your film is your goal, there are people who will read your screenplay by itself: readers, agents, producers, actors, and other executives. Your dialogue needs to not only translate well on film but also read well. Thus, clarity is important at every stage of the process.
How to Ensure Your Dialogue is Clear
The best way to ensure clarity in your dialogue is to revisit and revise. Here are a few things to look for when editing to ensure your dialogue is clear.
#1: Keep Your Dialogue Realistic
Have you ever heard characters in a film and immediately thought “No one talks like this in real life”? Robotic and unrealistic dialogue can take your audience out of your story.
You don’t have to add filler speech like “huh” and “uhm” to be realistic, of course. There’s a very delicate balance in making dialogue feel human without being monotonous.
Stick to the important points, but make it as natural as possible. When in doubt, try speaking the lines out loud. If they feel strange, you might need to edit.
#2: Remove Distracting Elements
Once you’ve finished writing the dialogue you should analyze it to see if it’s doing what you intended. Ask yourself:
- Is this conversation moving the story along?
- Does it offer insight into my characters’ personality, past, or pursuits?
- Does this conversation sound forced?
- Does it help to set the scene and highlight any relevant themes?
Essentially, if the dialogue isn’t helping to move the story along in a purposeful way, then it’s just clutter and it should be removed.