When writing a book, the novelist can describe action to the reader through prose. Screenwriters must convey these actions silently and use dialogue as a primary force to drive their plots. The novelist would be wise to learn from screenwriters how to incorporate effective dialogue when writing a book. The following are some tips, thoughts and inspirations to improve the dialogue in your book.
1. “Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms” – Alfred Hitchcock
2. “The most ordinary word, when put into place, suddenly acquires brilliance. That is the brilliance with which your images must shine” – Robert Bresson
3. “A good film script should be able to do completely without dialogue.” – David Mamet
Almost counterintuitive, but Mamet is saying that dialogue can’t stand alone. Without action, you have nothing.
4. “Dialogue is a necessary evil.” – Fred Zinnemann
5. “Screenwriting is like ironing. You move forward a little bit and go back and smooth things out.” – Paul Thomas Anderson
6. “The challenge of screenwriting is to say much in little and then take half of that little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement.”
7. “I think the first thing you should do before writing a script is to sit down and write a biography of that person” – Lawrence Konner
Get to know your character before they speak. Their stories should come more naturally that way.
8. “If the story you’re telling is the story you’re telling, you’re in deep s**t”. – Robert McKee
Dialogue is often more about what is not being said.
9. “Any time I find myself writing something that I don’t really respond to, but I’m telling myself, ‘Oh yes, but the audience is going to like this’, then I know I’m on the wrong track and I just throw it out.” – Christopher Nolan
10. “Normally you read a screenplay – and I read a lot of them – and the characters don’t feel like people. They feel like plot devices or clichés or stereotypes.” – Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Your characters are people, not plot devices. Give them a voice that is real and personal.
What is the most difficult part of dialogue for you to write?