Dialogue Writing for Film

Knowing how to write great dialogue for screenplays is arguably the most critical part of creating drama. Every spoken word must serve a purpose in a captivating way or the resultant screenplay would never get past the preliminary submission stage.
How to Write Dialogue for Film
Dialogue serves many purposes for for the sceenplay and is used in different ways. The main ones are:
  • It moves the story forward
  • It imparts information
  • It breaks action
  • It controls pace
  • It defines the character
  • It creates tension
Guide to Writing Dialogue for Dummies
If one were to insert into a screenplay a piece of dialogue that had been faithfully transcribed from real conversation, more often than not it would result in a dull read.
In real life, discourse between people contains interruptions, repetitions, false starts and digressions. The key to formulating interesting and authentic-sounding dialogue is to distil its essence by paring it down to the barest minimum. The screenwriter can then inject the essential aspects listed above that will make the conversation irresistible eavesdropping for audiences.
When Not to Use Dialogue in a Screenplay
When not to use dialogue is an important as knowing when to use it. Sometimes, a piece of dialogue that adds nothing to the screenplay sneaks in. If any of the following applies, get the red pen out.
  • If it does not fulfil any of the purposes listed above
  • If the purpose of the dialogue could be better illustrated by action. Body language often creates more tension than overt expression
  • If it appears to try too hard by being spouting and wordy.
  • Cut down if it is more than ten lines long, unless the lengthy monologue is serving to illustrate a character trait or unusual situation.
  • Chit-chatty discourses.
  • If it repeats information
  • If it is obviously a gadget for the plot.
Sometimes, too much dialogue can make the viewer feel beaten over the head with a baton or even withdraw into a daydream. An ideal screenplay should contain a mixture of dialogue and action sequence.
Writing Dialogue with Realism
The most subtle touch can be effective in writing dialogue. The following pointers might be worth considering in order to improve a screenplay.
Painting something red in an attempt to make it more interesting or eye-catching can apply to dialogue in screenplays. More often than not, subtly and understatement is far more effective. An expression in as few words as possible will serve to provide the screenplay with a little breathing space.
Not every question requires an answer. Consider evasiveness, obliqueness and non-replies. Action that contradicts what is being said can say a lot. This is known as "subtext" and is covered on a separate page.
How to Create a Dramatic Scene with Dialogue

Conflict stems from contrast. If a piece of dialogue has no distinction, or could be spoken by any of the other characters in the screenplay, it doesn’t have enough distinction. In order to put this right, the following pointers might help:

  • Allow the characters’ differing hidden agendas, desires and motives to leak somehow into what they say
  • Consider their diverse classes, backgrounds and places of origin. (Incidentally, dialect should never be spelt phonetically, but indicated on the cue.)
  • What forces might be at work as they speak
  • Ensure at least two of the characters within a scene contrast starkly in these respects.
Pay attention not only to the words spoken, but to how they are spoken. Many phrases have contradictory meaning depending upon how it is said. An apparent flattery could in fact be irony. Indicate on the cue the mannerism, if the mannerism is significant.
How to Write Dialogue for a Script
Dialogue must serve a purpose in a compelling way. Paying attention to real-life discourse will enhance the writer’s skills in distilling the essential components of speech and enhancing it for the purposes of their screenplay. This will give the resultant dialogue an authentic feel whilst being interesting.
Every word spoken must hold importance without seeming to. Ultimately, the recipe for captivating dialogue includes contrast, conflict and culminating tension.