Screenwriters often define their characters in two key ways; via their dramatic function such as protagonist or antagonist. and by their personality traits such as kindness, selfishness or generosity.
However, we can also enhance our screenwriting by paying attention to character speech patterns. This is not just their dialog (actual words spoken), but more the way they are spoken and their motivations.
Here are a few ways to spice up your film script:
This is a non-sensical rambling that is foolish and irrelevant to the conversation. It can be composed of a mess of incoherent thoughts, or as a barrage of sentence fragments. It is often comical in nature and used to demonstrate character nervousness, anxiety, excitability or hyperactivity.
This is often a self-inflicted speech wound often seen in characters who are confused or in shock. Their thoughts are jumbled and their conversations segue from one topic to the next. This speech is connected and reasoned, but it highlights a character who has lost their original train of thought. Think Grandpa Simpson.
This is a dialogue technique to throw an opposing speaker off their train of thought. It is a deliberate tactic to change the subject or obfuscate a conversation. This is often seen in films with courtroom or interrogation scenes where a suspect takes control of a conversation and alters its course.
This in an interesting speech pattern because it is circuitous and ends up at the start. A character has lost their train of thought, veered off into a tangent and then returned to the original conversation point. This is often seen in characters who can’t stick to the point of a conversation.
Repetition can be categorized in two ways. One is repeating a sentence several times and the other is paraphrasing. The first speech pattern is often used by public speakers to reinforce a concept and the second is to clarify a concept.
This is typically used by anyone constructing a reasoned argument. A caused B which influences C resulting in outcome D. Each statement is tightly connected to the next one in a rational and seamless fashion. This is a very precise and unemotive way of speaking often spoken by detectives, scientists, doctors and engineers.
These short speech breaks are strategically positioned so that the listener has time to absorb and process what was said. Pauses are also used to allow the speaker to reflect on what they said and to organize their thoughts and prepare for their next dialogue.
These are hard breaks in conversation. They can be used to delegitimize what the other character said, to express disdain, to allow the other person to reflect, to avoid answering, or when a longer period of time is needed to articulate a verbal concept.
These are basically fact bombs. A character spews out everything they know about something, regardless of whether the situation warrants it. For instance, asking someone how to change a tire can result in a conversation about the different types of rubber used to make tires to the the tread and the radius. This is often a used when a character wants to assert an intellectual superiority, when they don’t understand the question or the motivation behind a question or a state of confusion.
I love these types of speeches. Consider the idle chit-chat and the pleasantry exchanges that occur at overly formal gatherings that you don’t want to attend or don’t know the other attendees very well. They avoid heated topics like politics and religion, yet struggle to extend a mundane conversation beyond the weather or the news.
Also consider the mindless chatter that is totally incongruent to a situation. Two thugs waiting in their car who are about to commit an armed robbery chatting about their favorite karaoke songs or debating the ideal length of time to boil an egg. Think of the subtext these conversations create.
These are non-word utterances that are used during speech. These include “um”, “er”, “aha” and “hmm.” Speech dysfluences can be used to give the speaker more time to construct their next dialogue, to reinforce somebody else’s speech, or to agree or disagree.