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dialogue How do you write dialogue?

Hello everyone,

I posted a thread on ethnic characters, and I also read the one on the characters speaking in foreign languages in a sci-fi short. I write clearly, and plain English is better than flowery prose - as Isaac Asimov noted, creating transparent glass is far harder than making multi-coloured panes, so I try to write so you don't notice the words, just seeing through to the ideas. But people don't speak perfect English, and their accents and speech should mirror their personalities. I presume I have to research ethnicities to know how they speak, and I'd like some directions on how to construct dialogue.

Thanks as always for your help.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
You can over-think this stuff. Keep in mind that people of different ethnicities speak differently depending on where they live. An Italian-American from New Jersey is not going to sound like an Italian-American from Florida. A Chinese immigrant who lives in Flushing, Queens will talk differently from one who lives in Southern California.

And each actor will bring something different to the table re pronunciation, accent etc.

I focus on making the dialogue itself seem realistic, which I do by listening (ok, eavesdropping) wherever I go.

A few things that I consider important to keep in mind when writing dialogue: (1) people rarely address each other by name; (2) people rarely give long speeches; (3) people rarely say exactly what they think/mean - aka avoid on the nose dialogue.
 
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CamBlamo

Pro Member
indiePRO
I was juuuuuust thinking about this!!!

Watch my short Infinitus if you want an example of not how to do dialogue in a sci-fi film. As a writer, I have always been more visual. I also am not a natural conversationalist, so I am really weak in the area of dialogue writing.

After finishing another script and having someone who is very critical and very open about feedback (which I appreciate)... They knew about my weakness, and told me to bolster my strengths instead.

I'm going to revise the dialogue to be "less on the nose", and overall have less in general. My filmmaking style is more visual anyway, so I'm going to push more into that realm I think with the writing.

When revising, I'm going to stop trying to explain what's happening, and do more with less words. I don't know, hopefully it works out!
 
I'm writing bits and pieces, and I'm improvising as I go along. Writing this way gives me the freedom to do what I want, which is fun, though I will have to do drastic rewrites.

Onebaldman, don't worry too much - you've done a decent job, and you're further ahead than me. :)
 
people rarely give long speeches;
Unless they’re in a Sorkin production 😬

I think sometimes it helps to read the dialogue aloud: if it sounds like you (or someone) wouldn’t say it, then change it. Sometimes it’s hard to pick up the intonations of speech just by reading it on a page.
 
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Thanks, me too. Rewrite city..... Ughhhhh. I hate re-writes.
Rewrites can be a pain, but I'm a writer more than a director, so they're not too bad.

For example, I have written

The ship's AI noted the planet's destruction, then engaged the drive to head towards a watery blue planet circling a yellow sun.

That's my telling of Krypton's fate, a vital part of the Superman myth. Even though I can't publish it for profit yet, it's still an emotionally powerful statement to me, and I've re-written it several times. I've written other things, in various genres, and I'm learning the craft.
 
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Another snippet, from my history of the Second World War:

(After the attack on Pearl Harbor) When Churchill heard the news, he felt the greatest joy - so they had won after all! Hitler's fate was sealed, Mussolini's fate was sealed, and the Japanese would be ground to powder. He knew that the American economy, once activated, would generate unlimited energy. He knew also that many people, and not just on the enemy's side, considered the Americans to be weak and degenerate, but he knew better. He had studied their civil war, and American blood ran in his veins. He knew that the Americans were as capable of fighting as any other people.
He may have been concerned that the Americans would fight the Japanese but not the Germans. But Hitler solved that problem a few days later. In his speech to the Reichstag, he screamed about all the wrongs done by the Americans to the Germans, and a reckoning would now come, as the Germany would declare war on the United States. Mussolini, in the fascist trend of the day, decided to do the same. The stage was now complete, and the stakes were clear - either the world would go to a dark age of oppression and perverted science, or it would enter a new age of ever-increasing prosperity and enlightenment.

I've re-written this bit many times, along with others, and I'm plugging along. My creative passion is writing, not directing.
 
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Thanks for the like, Unknown Screenwriter. Most of that section on WW2 is paraphrased from Churchill's history of the war.

The following snippet is by me

With that in mind, American men grimly prepared for combat, while American women entered the factories to build the greatest war machine in history. All that remained was to focus that power on the enemy.

With that in mind, Churchill sailed to Washington, DC, on his flagship, the Prince of Wales, to ensure that the allies got their priorities straight, which was to destroy Germany first.
 
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