Writing Realistic Dialogue

Dialogue is usually the last thing you think about before writing your script. By the time you get to this phase, the characters should be more than ready to start talking to you; they will be if you have prepared the rest of your story well.

Keep the audience hungry for dialogue, using it only when you absolutely cannot show something visually. The more dialogue you use in your film, the less impact it will have on the viewer.

The way people talk to themselves and other people defines their own interpretations of reality. Shakespeare has a distinct voice for each character. You should be able to go through your script at the end, strip all the characters' names from the dialogue, and still be able to tell who is talking. To develop a good ear for writing realistic dialogue, listen to the various ways people talk to each other in your own life.

1. Vocabulary. Each character should have a different set of words he or she uses, which are unique and distinct from all other characters in all other movies. Gangsters in Oakland talk differently than the ones in New York or Vegas. If you don't know how a gangster in your hometown talks, make it up. When slang makes it hard to understand what is going on, you need to cut back on it or use subtitles. "You lie like a Persian rug" sounds more interesting in a script than "That's a lie." Let the full glory of your character's own individual color come through in his or her vocabulary and word choices.

2. Grammar. How does the character put words together in a unique way? Yoda talks backward. George Bush Senior dropped the first word of sentences: "Wouldn't do that." Some characters may like to use tags at the end of their sentences ("Isn't it?" "Oh wow!" "What do you think?" "Okay?" "You hear what I'm saying?") Make up words or use old ones in new ways relevant to your character history or backstory for tags. Try writing the dialogue straight first, and then go back over it and experiment with different grammar structures. Experiment with dropping words, reversing words, and creating new ones. Have your character run off at the mouth, not finish sentences, or add signature tags at the end. Avoid using cliche tags. Ending a sentence with "oh shucks" is much different from "oh dunderdoodle!"

3. Mindset. No two characters view the world in the same way. A mathematician sees everything as equations. Stockbrokers relate everything to the market. Football players talk like they are always in a huddle. Priests speak as if they are the voice of God. The Queen refers to herself as "we." Use spoken metaphors that relate to your character's history for his or her dialogue. No two people have the exact past, future, physical attributes, socialization, experiences, or money. What people say to themselves and others defines their reality and shows us who they are in a sense.

Learn 12 other common speech patterns to make your dialogue sound better in "Developing Digital Short Films"!



Cowboy Dialogue Techniques

This 3D Bigfoot character wants to be a cowboy (mindset), even though he is too big to ride most horses. His cowboy state of mind causes him to says things such as "Let's rodeo" rather than "Let's get out of here," and "I feel like a horse that was ridden hard and put up wet" rather than "I'm tired" (vocabulary & grammer). How can you color every line of dialogue your character speaks with his or her own personal flavor? While writing dialogue, keep a list handy of each character's Goldman Five traits to see how many traits you can reflect in word choices.

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