The Mysteries of Writing Dialogue

September 12th, 2016 by

There are many intangibles about the craft of screenwriting. Much of that derives from the fact that story itself is organic. Stories — good ones, at least — are not formulas. They are not widgets. Rather they are living, breathing entities with a heart, soul, and even will of their own. They slip and slide as we develop and write them, creating a series of challenges as we try our best to solve their mysteries.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with dialogue. When I pose the question, “How do you write dialogue” to professional screenwriters, the most common response is basically this: I don’t know. They just do.

Common advice as to how to learn to write good dialogue:

* Listen to real-life conversations to get a sense of how people talk.

* Read scripts and watch movies – or better yet listen to moviesin order to grasp the feel and flow of film characters talking.

* Simply keep writing, that the more you pound out pages and knock out original screenplays, you will develop your ear for dialogue.

All of those are reasonable points. But aren’t there principles and practices we can learn to help bring into focus a writer’s ability to craft compelling, entertaining and effective dialogue?

That was my thinking when I sat down to create the fifth class in the Core curriculum – Core V: Dialogue.

As with everything I teach about screenwriting, it starts with character. Isn’t it obvious the more you know and understand about your story’s characters, the more likely their respective voices will emerge into your consciousness?

Beyond that, it’s not just about hearing them, it’s about choosing the most impactful dialogue to support the point of each scene and drive the plot forward.

Hence the fifth Essential Screenwriting Principle: Dialogue = Purpose.

In a screenplay, there is almost zero room for extraneous dialogue, rather every line should tie into the Plotline and/or Themeline.

In Core V: Dialogue, we dig deep into this subject through 6 lectures I have written:

Lecture 1: Introduction to Dialogue
Lecture 2: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Inward Journey
Lecture 3: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Outward Expression
Lecture 4: Subtext
Lecture 5: What Is Not Said
Lecture 6: Realistic Dialogue

In addition there are several Insider Tips, analysis of several movie scripts, opportunities to workshop dialogue in some of your own original scenes, a 75-minute teleconference, and much more.

A testimonial from a writer:

“Scott is so generous with sharing his knowledge and it’s a great blessing to those of us who are just starting off/been doing it for years/need a reminder/need inspiration. I just completed the Core Dialogue course and I can honestly say he delivers back your investment threefold.” — Sabina Giado

There is no right way to write. Every writer is different. Every story is different. And you can learn everything you need to know about the craft of screenwriting by doing three things: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

However if you want to explore the subject of dialogue in an immersive fashion and from a distinct character-based perspective, I invite you to join me for this 1-week online class which begins Monday, September 19.

For more information, go here.

Saturday Hot Links

September 10th, 2016 by

Time for the 254th installment of Saturday Hot Links, your week’s essential reading about movies, TV, streaming, Hollywood, and other things of writerly interest.

Most of 2016’s movies have been soulless, noisy, and dull.

Summer Box-Office Winners and Losers: From ‘Finding Dory’ to ‘Ben-Hur’.

What Does It Mean for a Movie to Be Record-breaking in 2016?

The Worst of the Worst: Suicide Squad as a Case Study in Oppressive Stock Characters.

DC films will be more “hopeful and optimistic” post-Batman v Superman.

Cinema Is Dead? Telluride Says Not Yet.

Movies Aren’t Dying, They’re Just Getting Smaller.

Hell or High Water: Why Hollywood should make them like they used to.

Toronto Hot List: 16 Market Titles Generating Buzz.

Toronto Film Buyers Beware: ‘Birth of a Nation’ Blowup Casts Shadow on Dealmaking.

17 movie sequels you didn’t know were in the works.

The 30 Most Polarizing Movies Since 2000: ‘Under the Skin,’ ‘Only God Forgives’ and More.

MPAA: U.S. Film & TV Industry Generates $121 Billion in Wages.

Diversity Report Shows Little Progress Among Top Films of 2015.

The Black List for Female Directors: New Survey to “Shine a Spotlight” on Rising Talent.

Why Sony Pictures Classics Thinks Backing Female Directors Is Good for Business and Art.

91-Year-Old Oscar Voter Says He’ll Sue to Fight ‘Inactive’ Status.

Studio Series: STX Entertainment and Studio 8 Try to Stay Ahead of the Curve.

‘Warcraft’ Secret Weapon Tencent May Hold the Real Keys to China’s Movie Market.

When you buy a movie ticket, where does that money go?

WGA Candidates Signal Tough Contract Talks.

Tom Hanks’ Sudden Transition to More Biopic Type Roles.

Christopher Nolan Talks Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ With Cast and Crew at the Academy.

‘Deepwater Horizon’s Matthew Sand Reflects On Film & Brings New Heroes’ To Light With Next Project ‘Lionhearts’.

How an American Screenwriter Broke Into Bollywood.

Here’s Hollywood’s Newest Foreign Legion.

10 Famous Film Scripts and What You Can Learn from Them.

Tallying the Bottom Line for Independent Films Is Tricky Business.

Harvey Weinstein Isn’t Alone: Why Independent Film Distributors Are Taking a Beating.

In Defense of the Reboot: How Remakes Can Still Result in Great TV.

A Brief History of TV Shows Being Compared to Twin Peaks.

TV Takes a Prime-Time Chance: Kooky Comedy.

Why The Simpsons Is the Best TV Show Ever.

Westworld’ Has Five Seasons Completely Mapped Out.

Star Trek: How the Original Series Changed From Pitch to Execution.

10 of the Most Expensive ‘Star Trek’ Items Ever Auctioned.

God bless Netflix: Streaming service saves people from 150 hours of commercials a year.

Here It Comes: Sony “Aggressively” Moving Into Mobile Gaming After Pokémon GO.

ESPN to Launch ’30 for 30’ Podcasts in 2017.

‘Watchmen’ Writer Alan Moore Retiring from Comic Books.

Sharon Olds wins $100,000 poetry prize.

Chuck Wendig: In Writing, The Rules Are True, Until They’re Not.

Scriptnotes: Episode 266.

Watch: Supercut of 1980s Production Company Intros.

Watch: Gravity: A Falling Montage.

Watch: Yasujirō Ozu’s 1929 Short Film ‘A Straightforward Boy’ Has Been Found.

Screenwriting Master Class tip of the week

There are many intangibles about the craft of screenwriting. Much of that derives from the fact that story itself is organic. Stories — good ones, at least — are not formulas. They are not widgets. Rather they are living, breathing entities with a heart, soul, and even will of their own. They slip and slide as we develop and write them, creating a series of challenges as we try our best to solve their mysteries.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with dialogue. When I pose the question, “How do you write dialogue” to professional screenwriters, the most common response is basically this: I don’t know.

Common advice as to how to learn to write good dialogue:

* Listen to real-life conversations to get a sense of how people talk.

* Read scripts and watch movies – or better yet listen to moviesin order to grasp the feel and flow of film characters talking.

* Simply keep writing, that the more you pound out pages and knock out original screenplays, you will develop your ear for dialogue.

All of those are reasonable points. But aren’t there principles and practices we can learn to help bring into focus a writer’s ability to craft compelling, entertaining and effective dialogue?

That was my thinking when I sat down to create the fifth class in the Core curriculum – Core V: Dialogue.

As with everything I teach about screenwriting, it starts with character. Isn’t it obvious the more you know and understand about your story’s characters, the more likely their respective voices will emerge into your consciousness?

Beyond that, it’s not just about hearing them, it’s about choosing the most impactful dialogue to support the point of each scene and drive the plot forward.

Hence the fifth Essential Screenwriting Principle: Dialogue = Purpose.

In a screenplay, there is almost zero room for extraneous dialogue, rather every line should tie into the Plotline and/or Themeline.

In Core V: Dialogue, we dig deep into this subject through 6 lectures I have written:

Lecture 1: Introduction to Dialogue
Lecture 2: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Inward Journey
Lecture 3: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Outward Expression
Lecture 4: Subtext
Lecture 5: What Is Not Said
Lecture 6: Realistic Dialogue

In addition there are several Insider Tips, analysis of several movie scripts, opportunities to workshop dialogue in some of your own original scenes, a 75-minute teleconference, and much more.

A testimonial from a writer:

“Scott is so generous with sharing his knowledge and it’s a great blessing to those of us who are just starting off/been doing it for years/need a reminder/need inspiration. I just completed the Core Dialogue course and I can honestly say he delivers back your investment threefold.” — Sabina Giado

There is no right way to write. Every writer is different. Every story is different. And you can learn everything you need to know about the craft of screenwriting by doing three things: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

However if you want to explore the subject of dialogue in an immersive fashion and from a distinct character-based perspective, I invite you to join me for this 1-week online class which begins Monday, September 19.

For more information, go here.

Script Analysis: “The Good Dinosaur” – Part 5: Dialogue

September 2nd, 2016 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Dialogue.

Screenplay by Meg LeFauve, story by Peter Sohn & Erik Benson & Meg LeFauve & Kelsey Mann & Bob Peterson, original concept and development by Bob Peterson, additional screenplay material by Peter Hedges & Adrian Molina.

IMDb plot summary: In a world where dinosaurs and humans live side-by-side, an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend.

Some questions to consider in relation to dialogue in The Good Dinosaur:

* What do you consider to be the most memorable lines… and why?

* Any notable callbacks (a line used once, then used again later in a different context)?

* How about set-up & payoffs?

* Any exposition that caught your eye for being handled exceptionally well?

Head to comments and let me know what dialogue in the script made the most impact on you.

Major kudos to Rhidian Pentz for doing this week’s scene-by-scene breakdown.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read Plot analysis, go here.

For Part 3, to read Characters analysis, go here.

For Part 4, to read Themes, go here.

If you have a favorite movie script you’d like to break down scene-by-scene and contribute to our archive, as well as provide the foundation for a week’s worth of discussion and analysis, email me with your suggestion.

Note: The script has to be available online somewhere.

To see the archive of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here.

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: The Good Dinosaur.

Script Analysis: “The Incredibles” – Part 5: Dialogue

August 12th, 2016 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Dialogue

Written and directed by Brad Bird.

IMDb plot summary: A family of undercover superheroes, while trying to live the quiet suburban life, are forced into action to save the world.

Some questions to consider in relation to dialogue in The Incredibles:

* What do you consider to be the most memorable lines… and why?

* Any notable callbacks (a line used once, then used again later in a different context)?

* How about set-up & payoffs?

* Any exposition that caught your eye for being handled exceptionally well?

Head to comments and let me know what dialogue in the script made the most impact on you.

Major kudos to Traci Nell Peterson for doing this week’s scene-by-scene breakdown.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read Plot analysis, go here.

For Part 3, to read Characters, go here.

For Part 4, to read Themes, go here.

If you have a favorite movie script you’d like to break down scene-by-scene and contribute to our archive, as well as provide the foundation for a week’s worth of discussion and analysis, email me with your suggestion.

Note: The script has to be available online somewhere.

To see the archive of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here.

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: The Incredibles.

Two recent videos on writing dialogue

June 19th, 2016 by

Two videos about the craft of writing dialogue hit online in the last week:

Now You See It

Channel Chriswell Extra

Both worth watching. Movies are primarily a visual medium, but great dialogue is a major plus in creating a good script read.

Script Analysis: “Man Up” – Part 5: Dialogue

June 17th, 2016 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Dialogue.

Written by Tess Morris.

IMBd plot summary: A single woman takes the place of a stranger’s blind date, which leads to her finding the perfect boyfriend.

Some questions to consider in relation to dialogue in Man Up:

* What do you consider to be the most memorable lines… and why?

* Any notable callbacks (a line used once, then used again later in a different context)?

* How about set-up & payoffs?

* Any exposition that caught your eye for being handled exceptionally well?

Head to comments and let me know what dialogue in the script made the most impact on you.

Major kudos to Clare Macdonald for doing this week’s scene-by-scene breakdown.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read Plot analysis, go here.

For Part 3, to read Characters, go here.

For Part 4, to read Themes, go here.

I am soliciting volunteers to do a scene-by-scene breakdown to be used as the foundation of our script reading series. There are also over 150 movie scripts from the last 5 years, many of which we have yet to analyze.

Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

To read examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here.

To access the entire Go Into The Story Script Read and Analysis Series, go here.

Reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation! Make it a commitment to read more scripts in 2016!

To read my interview with Man Up screenwriter Tess Morris, go here.

To read my interview with Man Up producer Rachael Prior, go  here.

To watch Man Up online, go here.

Chuck Wendig: Tweetstorm About Writing Dialogue

May 14th, 2016 by

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, game designer, and of late has added comic book writer to his burgeoning resume. He is also on Twitter (@ChuckWendig) and his feed is both hugely entertaining and informative. To wit, the other day, he went on what he calls a “tweetstorm” about writing dialogue, then storified it on his blog (also recommended) Terrible Minds. It’s a great read. Here are few tweety excerpts:

—-

Good stuff! For the rest of Chuck’s tweetstorm, go here.

Script Analysis: “The Silence of the Lambs” – Part 5: Dialogue

April 29th, 2016 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Dialogue. You may download a PDF of the script here.

Screenplay by Ted Tally, novel by Thomas Harris.

IMDb plot summary: A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

Major kudos to Derek Jacobs for doing this week’s scene-by-scene breakdown. To download a PDF of the breakdown, go here.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read Plot analysis, go here.

For Part 3, to read Characters, go here.

For Part 4, to read Themes, go here.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

12 Years a Slave – Georgevine Moss
Beasts of No Nation – Jacob Holmes-Brown
Bridge of Spies – Scott Guinn
Carol – Jillienne Bee
Celeste and Jesse Forever – Ryan Canty
Diary of a Teenage Girl – Cynthia
Ex Machina – Nick Norman-Butler
Frozen – Doc Kane
Gone Girl – Ashley Lara
Inside Out – Katha
Legend – Olivia
Leviathan – Piotr Ryczko
Locke – Megaen Kelly
Macbeth – Trung
Man Up – Kristy Brooks
Monsters University – Liz Correal
Mud – Kevin
Nightcrawler – DJ Summit
Pawn Sacrifice – Michael Waters
Spotlight – Rhidian Pentz
Steve Jobs – Angie Soliman
Straight Outta Compton – Timm Higgins
The End of the Tour – Steve Fabian
The Iron Lady – Leslie
The Way Way Back – The Deuce
Trainwreck – Joni Brainerd
Wreck It Ralph – Kenny Crowe

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series – free and legal – by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 55 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

And for those of you who have volunteered, please send me your scene-by-scene breakdown as soon as possible!

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: The Silence of the Lambs.

Script Analysis: “The End of the Tour” – Part 5: Dialogue

April 8th, 2016 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Dialogue.

Screenplay by Donald Margulies, book by David Lipsky.

IMDb plot summary: The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’

Some questions to consider in relation to dialogue in The End of the Tour:

* What do you consider to be the most memorable lines… and why?

* Any notable callbacks (a line used once, then used again later in a different context)?

* How about set-up & payoffs?

* Any exposition that caught your eye for being handled exceptionally well?

Head to comments and let me know what dialogue in the script made the most impact on you.

Major kudos to Steve Fabian for doing this week’s scene-by-scene breakdown.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read Plot analysis, go here.

For Part 3, to read Characters, go here.

For Part 4, to read Themes, go here.

To download a PDF of the breakdown, go here.

To read my 2015 interview with screenwriter Donald Margulies, go here.

Tomorrow we shift our focus to the script’s key characters.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

12 Years a Slave – Georgevine Moss
Beasts of No Nation – Jacob Holmes-Brown
Big Eyes – Rachel Sheridan
Bridge of Spies – Scott Guinn
Carol – Jillienne Bee
Celeste and Jesse Forever – Ryan Canty
Diary of a Teenage Girl – Cynthia
Ex Machina – Nick Norman-Butler
Frozen – Doc Kane
Gone Girl – Ashley Lara
Inside Out – Katha
Legend – Olivia
Leviathan – Piotr Ryczko
Locke – Megaen Kelly
Macbeth – Trung
Man Up – Kristy Brooks
Monsters University – Liz Correal
Mud – Kevin
Nightcrawler – DJ Summit
Pawn Sacrifice – Michael Waters
Steve Jobs – Angie Soliman
Straight Outta Compton – Timm Higgins
The End of the Tour – Steve Fabian
The Iron Lady – Leslie
The Way Way Back – The Deuce
Trainwreck – Joni Brainerd
Wreck It Ralph – Kenny Crowe

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series – free and legal – by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 54 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

And for those of you who have volunteered, please send me your scene-by-scene breakdown as soon as possible!

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: The End of the Tour.

Movie Analysis: “The Shawshank Redemption” – Dialogue

April 1st, 2016 by

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

For this week’s movie, we go back in time to 1994: The Shawshank Redemption, screenplay by Frank Darabont, novella by Stephen King.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. But seriously, if you haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it! If you have seen The Shawshank Redemption, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

(more…)