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How Do You Write Dialogue for Film?

Some of the best films and television shows have one very important element in common. They’ve got great dialogue! But, great film dialogue, as important as it is for your project. It can certainly be challenging to write. Even for an avid professional with several years of industry experience. So, how do you write dialogue for film that will capture your audience’s attention? Connecting them closely with your characters and keeping them around until the very end?

The art of writing film dialogue is certainly something that screenwriters practice. Sometimes for years, before getting it “just right.” This is more than just being able to dictate the communications taking place between your characters.

It’s about setting a pace, adjusting the tone, and carefully planning each word that comes from your character’s mouths. Dialogue is an incredibly powerful concept. Let’s dive in!

But first, let’s define dialogue for film….

What is Film Dialogue?

Two characters (or more), having a conversation with one another. True, but film dialogue is so much more than just two people talking to each other! In fact, the sooner you can wrap your mind around the intricacies of dialogue.

The sooner you’ll become a better screenwriter that is more capable of capturing your audience’s attention with the film dialogue that you write!

Dialogue is a conversation. But it’s how these conversations play out that can carefully build your character’s up. Shed light on who they are and what their values are for your audience. And provide context to what they’re feeling and how they’re going to react to it all.

Think it Over

Now, if you think carefully about every word that any of your characters speak to one another, and you place meaning to it. You’ll find yourself writing some of the most intricate, beautifully composed dialogues. And your audience will recognize it too!

Think back to all your years of watching various movies. Think about the conversations that have taken place between characters in some of your favorite films. Not just how they speak. But what they say and how their interpersonal chats shed light on the rest of the story. 

Context Clues

Film dialogue provides vital background information and context to the story, through simple chats taking place between your characters. Now that’s interesting! 

How can you make something so simple, as a chat between a couple character “friends” in a movie, equate to something so complex.

As dialogue that is shedding light on the morals, values, and underlying feelings and emotions that are driving a story? It comes from learning how to write great dialogue for film.

5 Tips for Writing Dialogue for Film

So, how do you write dialogue for film and keep your audience engaged and listening to even the most subtle conversations between your characters?

Follow these tips for writing dialogue that is not only going to communicate your characters’ thoughts and feelings, but which will build your narrative, guide your story, and deliver the powerful dialogue punch your audience expects:

Make sure all of your characters have their own voices.

Not just male vs. female, but accents, and underlying nuances too. Does a particular character say “like” after every few words? Does your character have a vocal tic? Spend time listening to how people speak around you so that you can inject some of the nuances of dialogue into your writing.

Avoid Yes/No Questions in your character dialogue.

Instead of short, yes/no questions, consider creating a dialogue that results in healthy conversation. In real life, few of our conversations are made up of back and forth, yes/no style communications.

We elaborate on things, we say more than we should more often than less, and we speak to one another. Again, listen to conversations taking place around you.

Avoid using dialogue for things that can be better delivered through acting.

Do your characters really need to tell us that they feel sad because, xyz? Or can they act out the emotions and shorten the dialogue? 

Make sure that your character dialogue fits the pace and tone of the film.

As you’re planning out your characters and their conversations, make sure that these conversations fit the pace and tone of your film. You wouldn’t have light-hearted and comedic character dialogue in a drama. Think about the conversations taking place and how they fit the tone of your movie and if it doesn’t fit, eliminate it.

Give each character, even the “small roles” a distinctive personality.

Just as you would carefully outline the buyer personas for a marketing campaign, so too should you carefully outline the personas of each of your characters – even those with seemingly minimal roles in your film. Give them a unique personality, all their own, just like people have in real life.

Instead of “Waitress #1” and “Waitress #2” in a cafe, give them names, and personalities – if you’re unsure, GO to a cafe and jot down some notes about each of the waitress’s that you see, how they talk, what their demeanor is like, who they are – they’re all unique, and they have a personality of their own.

It’s not like just because they work at a cafe as a waitress and had a minimal role in your day, meant they do not have a unique personality — make this the case for your film, too!

In Summary

Following these tips will help you establish unique characters with dialogue that builds up the value of your characters and the story they are part of.

The next time you question, “How do you write dialogue for film?” Think about all of the nuances you encounter in a single day of sitting in a coffee shop and listening to the dialogue taking place around you – you’ll be amazed at what you can learn!

Need more tips on how to write great dialogue? Check out the references The Closer Look makes in their video featuring some of the most memorable lines from films throughout the ages: