Screenplays are meant to be taut, precise, almost effortless reads that act as a blueprint for other film industry folk. But there are common dialogue problems in a script that muddy its purity, leaving your reader trudging through page after page of gobbledygook. Luckily these issues are easy to spot during a rewrite of your script's lines of dialogue. Take a read through four common screenplay dialogue problems (with dialogue script examples) that you can probably find (and fix) right now.
You’ll learn how to write strong dialogue in a script that keeps the reader moving right along!
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1. Fluffy Character Lines in Your Film
When we wrapped the SoCreate “Get Writing” One-Page Screenplay Competition, the results were fascinating. Where some writers complained that “it's simply impossible” to fit a properly formatted scene on a single page and include all the character names, scene headings, sluglines, and action lines, others succeeded with flying colors. The successes removed the fluff from their screenplay dialogue.
For example, there’s no reason for this extra dialogue in your script …
Johnny, I don't know about the hair. The color, the odd bob ... you're starting to look like Jonathan Brandis in Ladybugs.
I know you're unsure about it, but it's the style right now. It makes me feel good about myself. I don't care what others think about it because it's my favorite haircut ever.
When you can write this, using action during the dialogue in your screenplay to show, not tell …
Johnny flips his hair, admiring herself in the hallway mirror. Kimber is unsure.
You're starting to look like Jonathan Brandis in Ladybugs.
Come on ... I love it!
See how much stronger that interaction becomes without the overwritten dialogue? Screenwriters often forget how much dialogue is implied, not spoken.
2. Writing What Should Be Subtext Into Your Character's Dialogue Lines
Sometimes writers blatantly state subtext in their script dialogue. Subtext should not be stated. See what I did there?
Dad, DAD! I gotta go to the bathroom now! Or else we're gonna have an emergency!
Little Sammy didn’t have to say much of anything to let his dad know that they had a time sensitive problem on their hands. This would have been better:
Little Sammy tugs on dad's shirt, squirming and eyeing the bathroom.
Show, don’t tell.
3. Using Complete Sentences in Your Scene
Grammarians beware: a screenplay is no place for you. Script dialogue is a true representation of how we speak to each other. It’s not formal, unless your character is formal. Are you using too many complete sentences in your screenplay? Try reading the lines aloud with a friend, and revise based on how those lines would be spoken in real life. Shake out that stiffness!
Do you know why there's a controversy?
I heard there's a disagreement between the agents and the writers.
What's the problem?
Agents and writers ... you know how it goes.
4. Too Much Actor Direction Above Script Dialogue
Wrylies, parentheticals, actor direction … there are several ways to refer to the line of text under character's name, wrapped in parentheses, often indicating action or sound effects during screenplay dialogue. Many times, these wrylies are necessary, but closely examine your use of them to avoid going overboard. Does the action really happen during the dialogue? Then use a wryly. If not, consider writing it as action description before the dialogue. Too many wrylies can just lead to bad dialogue.
(screams and points to Adedyo's shoulder)
(flicks bug from his shoulder)
Just a young grasshopper.
Won't it bite?
The parentheses are overkill and make the dialogue hard to digest. Instead, try:
Mobo jumps backward, gesturing Adedayo's shoulder.
(flicks bug from his shoulder)
Ah it's just a young grasshopper.
Won't it bite?
The latter script dialogue example is much easier to read and implies enough through dialogue, rendering wrylies futile.
5. Improperly Formatting Foreign Language Dialogue
Screenwriters make other dialogue block errors when it comes to foreign language dialogue, specifically. If you're planning to add foreign language dialogue to your screenplay, check out our formatting guide for How to Write Foreign Language in a Traditional Screenplay.
Just like that, you can makeover screenplay dialogue with a few simple snips. So, watch out words! This screenwriter has a script rewrite coming for you.