Distinctive Dialogue

Bill Martel, an L.A-based produced writer and script instructor, offers some tips to enhance your dialogue.

ECHO LINES – a repeated sentence, or variant that has a slightly different meaning (or significance) every time it is used. This includes double-entendres, figures of speech, quips, witticism and assorted catchphrases. Martel cites the line from “Dolores Claiborn”: “Sometimes being a bitch is the only thing a woman can hold on to”.

NEXUS WORDS – chose a list of words from a palette and use them as appropriate. Don’t force them into the dialogue. Let them flow organically. Often nexus words revolve around a theme. Consider Dr Sheldon Cooper’s speech patterns in “The Big Bang Theory”. Everything relates to physics and science.

DETAILS – This relates to avoiding in-the-nose dialogue and adding subtext and depth. Consider “The sky just clouded over” when an unwanted ex-partner enters the room.

BUMPER STICKER – These are short and memorable lines of dialogue such as “make my day” and “I’ll be back”.

INCONGRUOUS – This relates to dialogue which has nothing to do with the current situation. Often it reveals character, true intent and subtext.

REMOVE DIALOGUE – Consider clipping the first and second words from a line, or even removing a word in the middle or end. You can even clip the endings or beginnings of certain words.

COLLOQUIALISMS – Like totally. I recently met a writer from Texas who always said “Yes, sir” after my sentences. Perhaps he came from a military family or was very respectful to his elders.

SENTENCE LENGTH – This relates to pacing; whether a line of dialogue is spoken fast or slowly. Shorter lines tend to be spoken faster and longer ones are spoken more slowly.

STINGER IN THE TAIL – Look at your sentence structure and the meaning it contains. Ensure it ends with the key concept at the end.

NEVER HEARD THAT ONE BEFORE – Movie dialogue is often highly stylized and hypherluted rather than accurately mimicking real speech. Be original. Don’t use lines from other films unless you’re consciously making references to them. No-one wants to hear another “You complete me” or “Life isn’t about how many breaths you take, but about the moments that take your breath away”.


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