March 27, 2015

Jesse’s Development Process – Stage 6


Careless Talk Costs Lives

So – here we are – at the very smallest unit of story – the dialogue itself.

The first thing I would say to you is delay the moment you write dialogue for as long as you possibly can.

This will feel weird because writing dialogue IS writing right?


Writing dialogue isn’t making the cake – it’s icing it.

I know that at least half of the people writing this will ignore this advice, but of all the things I have written so far in this Guide to Development it is the single most important piece of advice I have to offer.

If you start writing before this is true you will fall in love with certain lines or turns of phrase (always a bad sign BTW), and then, if you do need to go back in a fix story, you will be subconsciously working around dialogue you want to preserve – and it always shows.

So – once more – you have to have got your story right before anyone says anything and I don’t mean basically right – I mean RIGHT. I mean like every moment flows into the next, like the turning points are surprising and moving and exciting, I mean like every character’s arc is compelling and human and visceral, I mean like you could pitch that story in the pub to a bunch of half pissed morons and by the end you’d have them in the palm of your hand. Yep – not just mostly right – totally right.

Have you – have you really?

OK – I believe you – you are ready to write the dialogue.

Next piece of bad news if you think writing dialogue is writing – write as little as you can. Show it don’t tell it. If you really need a page long speech from your character – then go and write a play or a novel – a screenplay has no room for such self indulgence. Whether I am writing or editing films – if I see any speech longer than five lines – I cut it down.

Oh – and don’t f**k about with the margins in final Draft either to try and get the line count down – or the screenplay shorter – readers will immediately write you off as an amateur chancer. We all know how wide they should be on the page.

Secondly – people do not say what they mean, and they do not speak in complete or even very well constructed sentences. People say what they want people to hear, they say what they think will get them what they want, what they think will conceal what they are afraid is true about them, or what they think will make them more lovable. If you don’t know your characters arse backwards – this will be impossible – so go back a few steps and get to know your characters better.

Start your scenes late and end them early – we don’t need to see people walk in and settle, we don’t need to see them grind to a halt – we want to see people in dynamic interrelation.

If you need to have exposition – and I have a feeling maybe I said this in an earlier post – disguise it as conflict – have two people with a different view of what is going on – the audience are lot less likely to spot it.

Dialogue is what gives you page count – and aim for 90 pages – no more – especially if you have now produced credits – pages cost moment – and untried writers don’t merit the extra investment in the eyes of most producers. If you get to the end of your draft and it’s too long – go back in and cut the dialogue – cos if you really did get the story right it won’t be scenes you need to lose – it will be talk.

If you get to the end and your draft is too short – add scenes – not talk!

I feel like maybe I should say something profound at this point – but then that would just be talking too much – and we all know what a bad idea that would be.

Good luck – and thanks for reading


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