How To's | Screenplay Doctor | Screenwriting

Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Tips for Good Dialogue

1 Jul , 2012  

Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by:

One of the foundations of a good screenplay is great dialogue. Screenplay expert Susan Kouguell gives you her top ten tips for writing the best dialogue. E-mail screenwriter@newenglandfilm.com to have your screenwriting question answered in an upcoming issue.

Whether you’re writing a feature-length film or a short film, good dialogue will enhance your characters and bring life to your screenplay. Want to grab the attention of film executives? Write good dialogue!

Characters’ voices must be distinctive and not interchangeable with other characters. Readers must be able to identify who is speaking without needing to look at your character headings. Characters’ speech patterns, idiosyncratic phrases, staccato responses, and even their pauses, will enrich their dialogue and make each character identifiable. Keep in mind less is often more — the less said can prove more poignant.

Ten Top Tips to Writing Good Dialogue

  1. Characters’ dialogue must clearly convey emotions, attitudes, strengths, vulnerabilities, motivations, goals, and so on, while revealing the details of your plot and advancing your narrative.
  2. Each word of dialogue should be true to your character. Always consider your characters’ behaviors and motivations when they speak.
  3. Flow of dialogue is as important as what’s said. Consider silences and pauses your characters might use, or another character’s interruptions, to further convey tensions, actions, moods, and emotions.
  4. Dialogue should not sound wooden or stilted. Remember that in real life, most people do not always speak with flawless grammar and complete, formal sentences.
  5. To make your characters’ dialogue more identifiable consider using contractions, colloquialisms, slang, and so on, when true to your characters.
  6. Characters can speak in verbal shorthand, such as family members and best friends do.
  7. Keep in mind how your characters listen or don’t listen to each other and respond or don’t respond.
  8. Always research your topics thoroughly so if your character is speaking about medicine, for example, make sure you are accurate. The same is true when writing a period film; do your research so your characters’ dialogue is historically accurate.
  9. Watch out for on-the-nose dialogue. People don’t always say exactly what’s on their mind or say what they mean and neither should your characters.
  10. Write character bios for all of your characters; this will help to hone in on their specific word choices and language usages, such as slang, speech patterns, and rhythms.

You can find more tips about writing good dialogue and helpful dialogue exercises in my book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, which is available at a discount price of $1.00 off. Click on www.createspace.com/3558862 and use DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt, click here.

Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.


Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.