Feel what you mean, but not what you say!

Bar scene in Southside of Elsewhere (Antonio Lexerot, Katherine Joan Taylor, Ben Governale & Hailey Nebeker)
So I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what I'm going to post today- since I have resolved myself in keeping this blog very active to AT LEAST two postings a week. I was planning on doing a post about ADR or cubist editing.

The day got away from me as started going through my lostskies email (it doesn't hold very much so I'm pruning out old emails) and I came across this advice I had posted on a forum a few years ago. I saved the text in an email so I could keep it for my own records. In any case, my foresight is helping us out here :)

The forum person asked why their dialogue felt so stale even though he felt his plot was exciting. This was my response:


Dear ******,

I know you didn't ask for tips, but I just felt that some advice on scripting dialogue might help you find out why you're running into some problems, and offer advice to others who might be in the same quandary.

Most of the time, as I've seen with many new writers when they feel that their dialogue all sounds the same or doesn't seem "witty" or catchy, is that they haven't found the character's voice.

"Mmmkay... what does that mean, exactly?"

It means you may be just throwing down what you want your characters to say, but you're not exploring on how they'd say it- or WHY they are saying it, or saying something other than what they are feeling. This is called subtext.

Dialogue should be motivated- coming from inquiry or demand on the part of the one, and conflict, confusion, manipulation, from the other. Once you've figured out WHY a character would say something, and the other gives an ironic response- especially with SUBTEXT- the rest will fall more easily into place and thus magic is born.

Read. Read as much as you can- and not just other screenplays, read from literature... read from graphic novels... read the newspaper! This might give you an insight on what may motivate people, and how they'd react when faced with conflict- especially with words.

Practice writing- even if it's one scene, one page.

Observe other people in the store- why is that new mom mad at her husband? Why does the cashier keep glancing at the door and ignoring you while you check out?

Also, it's also been in my experience that the actors can bring their own voice and SAY it better than you could script it. While admittedly it's saved my behind more than once, it might be counterproductive to what you are trying to SAY with your story... and suddenly something doesn't jive right. When an actor asks for motivation, again, in my experience, it's because it's not really there in the story... but the best screenplays, the motivation is clear. Everybody wants something... and everybody wants to protect what they have.

I hope this helps!

I've updated some of the text, but the jist is the same: trying to write witty dialogue without any substance from a thinking character will come across as being stale, or worse- phoney. Remember, your characters have feelings, use that to your advantage so your audience can connect to them. What do you think? I'd love to hear if you have anything to add- post below!