Posted by: michellemuldoon | November 11, 2010

Are You Talking To Me?

Yes, I most definitely am. Let’s talk about talking. I think story-telling is so much about setting up the scene, and then letting your characters do the rest. I know, sounds simple, but I definitely don’t find it to be.

I thought I’d talk about what not to do first, then maybe we can chat about how best to make things work for you.

Many new screenwriters are accused of being too “on the nose”; not alluding to things, or implying intent, but instead being far too literal in the dialogue. The name of the game is striving for strong, memorable subtext, and finding it, can be as  hard as avoiding dialogue that’s “on the nose”.

I know that finding balance on the continuum between “on the nose’ and subtext can be a struggle for me. I’m often guilty of being too vague, trying so desperately to avoid being “on the nose”, that I end up not being clear enough. I try so hard to avoid one direction, I sometimes go too far in the other.

Exposition is another one of those traps I struggle with. It’s tough, because sometimes, depending on the point in the script, or the genre, you need to have a character that can provide a little back-story. However, the worst thing is becoming complacent and letting the characters tell the story, instead of being a good screenwriter and showing the story.

Good dialogue should sound unique to each character. It should give a character its own voice. Good dialogue should propel the story without mapping it out. And lastly, good dialogue should tell us a lot about the character speaking. Through tone, inflection, the right placement of silence and of course, the killer one-liner, we learn who these people are, and whether or not we should care about or possibly loath them.

When you force the dialogue, you lose the unique voices of the characters. They don’t sound natural, and when that happens, they lose their authenticity.

I love dialogue, and I love writing it, but I always have to be careful that I’m not trying to get too clever. I end up pushing the dialogue too much when that happens and then it doesn’t flow. The characters seem out of sync and probably a little smug.  And there goes that authenticity issue, again.

This has probably been my most serious blog to date, and I think it’s because I’ve worked so hard to improve my dialogue, that it’s become a real passion for me. When I started writing, I think a lot of my characters sounded the same. I think I’m at a different place now, and I think it shows on the page.

 Just saying…



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