Monthly Online eZine  
News And Views For Working Writers

 INside Scoop
 IN Her Own Write
 Pen IN Hand
 Write On!
 Screen & Stage
 Top 10 Resources
 Book Reviews
 Items Of INterest
 Global Offerings
 INside Services
 Bill The Bard
 The Writer At Work
 Games & Puzzles
 Classic eTexts
 Free Software
 IN Banners
 Who's IN
 What's IN
 Editorial Calendar
 Join IN's Team
 Contacting IN

IN Front Cover


Learn To Be A Better Journalist

Buy Classic Literature Collections

Acclaimed Screenplay Writing Software

Books On How To Write Fiction

Become A Well Paid Travel Writer

Vote daily and raise our ranking!

Screen & Stage
January, 2008

Coyote Morning

Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue
I knew her by her words
By  J. R. Kambak

Dialogue is vital logic, carrying the action further; enhancing audience experience.
Writers over the years have learned tricks that effectively convey character and emotion, techniques to prop up shaky conversation, fill in holes, and make second-rate dialogue serviceable without a lot of effort. But these are the very cinematic clichés to avoid.

First thing you need to ask yourself is: Are the characters' voices consistent with the characters? For some scriptwriters, they can find their character's voice just by "tuning in" to the persona, writing the dialogue in a stream of consciousness. But for the rest of us it boils down to a lot of rewrites.

You can't point out why SHE is so cold toward her husband or that it's because HE is womanizing on the side. And the audience won't know because your dialogue is a two-fer; your characters are speaking in two different trains of thought when they are supposed to be in a conversation. The problem is you aren't putting the right words in their mouths, because you aren't feeling the emotions of the situation and, as tempting as it is, you can't inject an explanation.



You can't be serious.

In a screenplay, dialogue is a vital part of the author's logic, carrying the action one step further; showing, not telling for audience experience. Think about the above example. There are many ways to be astonished, angry, relieved, overjoyed. The way your characters act and react is what makes them the way they are. So, you want to show how HE is astonished, through dialogue or a beat, and possibly you want to rewrite the line because it's too formal. Here's an example with a revised dialogue of HE.



I don't believe you.

Every word you write is an integral part of the storytelling - evocative words, action verbs, nouns that entice the audience visually and emotionally - conveying a strong sense of movement and action, all in the present tense. One of my most trusted tools to accomplish this is a thesaurus. In fact, I've downloaded CleverKeys, which allows me to look up words while I'm writing on my PC. I highlight a word and hit CTRL + L. Bingo! I get an HTML page of related words, antonyms, dictionary, encyclopaedia, and web resources all at my fingertips while online. I am able to nail down exactly what I want to say, keeping my writing juices flowing.



I have evidence.

The other trap is "ping-ponging" your dialogue in direct address. SHE carries the action forward, having a new revelation. Is SHE telling the truth or baiting him to confess? You could give him away by inserting a beat - that subtle moment of indifference in plotting his answer, causing him to stall, the assumed trait of a cheat and a liar.

What I have been describing here is the "story hearth" as defined by American Film Institute's Dona Cooper who narrows it down to five mental processes:

  • Resistance
  • Orientation
  • Expanding from landmark
  • Assessing the effort

Continuous decision making that result in four emotional needs:

  • Need for new information
  • Need to bond
  • Need for conflict resolution
  • Need for completion

The other thing to keep in mind is that the parenthetical notation should be treated the same way as if you were writing dialogue in a novel. Overuse - for example, too many adverbs - will brand you as an amateur, because well-intentioned attempts at variety will draw attention away from the dialogue. You want your audience to pay attention to your dialogue, not your techniques. So, instead of describing her emotions with "fervid" you can place a visual attribution.

She trembles, holding back a flood of tears masked by
the burn-in-hell hate in her eyes.


I have evidence.

The key moments for your dialogue are usually at the starting point, the pivotal moment of change, and the climatic result. These key moments incorporate one or more of the following:

  • Internal change
  • Interpersonal change or character arc
  • Societal change including social norms
  • Situational change from events beyond the character's control
  • Inability to change - the heart wrenching dilemma for a character unable to make their life better

There are three basics of dialogue that keep you grounded in the dramatic equation: characters need to have distinctive voices; dialogue needs to reflect the story genre; and be concise. Below are some dialogue style definitions with explanations in reference to example movies.

Transparent: The focus is on everyday conversation. The script of Spanglish, written and directed by James L.. Brooks, tackles the cross-cultural issue of over coming the language barrier in a social strata conflict of a Mexican emigrant maid struggling to find a better life while employed by an affluent, but troubled household. This script exposes our most intimate taboos through painful but redeeming human honesty.

Theatrical: This is more stylized and calls attention to the individual characters. In Kramer Vs. Kramer, based on the novel by Avery Corman and adapted to script by Robert Benton, Dustin Hoffman, having just gone through a divorce himself, rewrote some of his dialogue to reflect his own personal experience. Hoffman turned down screenplay credit.

Streamlined: This style reinforces the difference between the character and ordinary people, so I'm reaching into the classic's vault. Without a doubt Frank Capra is the master of this dialogue genre. Meet John Doe written by Richard Connell, Robert Presnell, and Robert Riskin, was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar in 1941. You have to give Barbara Stanwyck kudos for her pistol tongue delivery of Capra's signature crisp dialogue - as streamlined as it gets.

One last piece of advice: Give yourself time to read through some scripts, watch the movie while you read, and listen to DVD writer's commentaries to get a feel for how it translates into cinema. And remember, action always speaks louder than words.
IN Icon

J.R. Kambak is a regular IN contributor and award-nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. Contact J.R. Kambak for more information and resources:

Sign Up and Use Our New Forums! Voice Your Opinion! Discuss Our Content! Ask for Writing Assistance. Post Your Successes, Queries or Information Requests. Collaborate with Other Writers.

© Freelance Writing Organization - International 1999-2049

Screen & Stage
IN This Issue
Novel To Screenplay: Adaptation 101
Learning The Lingo
Elevator Exposure
Who Profits?
On The (Back) Lot
Lingua Scriptus
Part II: The Script's Key Plot Points
Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Origin Of The Screenplay
Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue

Support IN
Receive Free Gifts
$20.00 Voluntary Contribution
$35.00 Voluntary Contribution
$50.00 Voluntary Contribution

New Novelist Software

Effectively Manage Your List

Writers Digest 101 Site Award

Your Ad Here

Traffic Swarm For Writers

Hottest Books This Month!

Whose Books Are Turning Into Movies?
Bald Ego
Mouse Over To Pause

Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

The Write of Passage
The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

Our Own Banner Rotator System
Any banner seen below is either our own or one of our members.
Support the cause - click a banner.

Want Your 468x60 Banner Above? It's FREE For Newly Published Books

© Freelance Writing Organization - International 1999-2049
All Rights Reserved. Copying in any way strictly forbidden.
Our Disclaimer Is Based Upon McIntyre's First Law: "Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you may be wrong."