How to Write Dialogue: Tips & Techniques

Writing dialogue is an art form. It’s the vehicle through which characters communicate, express their emotions, and reveal their personalities. It’s also a tool that screenwriters use to advance the plot and create tension. However, crafting dialogue that feels natural, engaging, and true to your characters can be a challenge. 

In this guide, we’ll explore tips and techniques for writing dialogue that resonates with readers and viewers. Whether you’re an aspiring screenwriter or a seasoned professional, these insights will help you refine your dialogue writing skills.

Let’s get started!

Crafting Natural Dialogue

One of the keys to writing compelling dialogue is to make it sound natural. This doesn’t mean that your dialogue should mimic real-life conversations verbatim – those often include a lot of filler words and can be quite mundane. Instead, aim for dialogue that feels authentic and purposeful. Here are a few dialogue writing tips:

Read your dialogue aloud: This is one of the most effective ways to identify awkward phrasing or unnatural speech patterns. If it doesn’t sound right to your ears, it probably won’t read well on the page.

Use contractions: People often use contractions when they speak. Including them in your dialogue can make it sound more conversational and less formal.

Vary your sentence structure: Just like in real life, characters should speak in a mix of short, medium, and long sentences. This variety can make your dialogue more dynamic and realistic.

Dialogue Mistakes

Even experienced writers can fall into common dialogue traps. Here are a few mistakes to avoid:

On-the-nose dialogue: This happens when characters say exactly what they’re thinking or feeling. It can come off as unnatural and can rob the audience of the chance to infer meaning.

Overuse of names: People rarely use each other’s names in conversation, especially when it’s just two people talking. Overusing names in dialogue can make it sound stilted.

Too much exposition: Dialogue shouldn’t be used as a tool for dumping information on the reader. It’s better to reveal important details gradually and organically.

Fitting Dialogue to Your Character

Every character has a unique voice, and their dialogue should reflect that. Consider their background, education, and personality when crafting their speech. 

A teenager wouldn’t speak the same way as a middle-aged professor, and a character from the 18th century wouldn’t use the same slang as someone from the 21st century. Make sure your dialogue is consistent with your character’s identity.

Writing Dialogue vs. Writing Narration

Dialogue and narration serve different purposes in a screenplay. While dialogue reveals character and advances the plot, narration (or action lines) describes what’s happening visually on the screen. 

When writing dialogue, focus on character and conflict. When writing narration, focus on visual storytelling. Remember, film is a visual medium, so show don’t tell.

Dialogue Formatting

The proper dialogue writing format is crucial. It not only makes your script look professional, but it also ensures that your dialogue is easy to read and understand. Here’s how to format dialogue for different scenarios:

Dialogue Between Two Speakers

When writing dialogue between two characters, start a new line each time the speaker changes. The character’s name should be in all caps and centered above their dialogue. The dialogue itself should be indented and written in sentence case.

Dialogue Between Three or More Speakers

When three or more characters are speaking, the same rules apply. Start a new line for each speaker and use their names above their dialogue. If a character speaks multiple times in a row, you don’t need to repeat their name each time.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, writing dialogue for film is a crucial skill for any screenwriter. It’s a tool that brings your characters to life and moves your story forward. By avoiding common mistakes, tailoring dialogue to your characters, and adhering to proper formatting, you can craft dialogue that is natural, engaging, and true to your story. Remember, practice makes perfect. Keep writing, keep refining, and keep experimenting with your dialogue. With time and persistence, you’ll find your characters’ unique voices and bring them to life on the page.

Oh, and before you go 

If you’re looking to break into the theatre industry — as a screenwriter perhaps? – you should consider signing up for TorontoFilm School’s industry-focused newsletter Insider Advantage. Packed with exclusive content and useful industry insights, Insider Advantage is essential reading for anyone looking to make their mark in the world of film and television.

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