Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

How to Write a Script Without Dialogue

From shorts to features, there are entire films made today that have little to no dialogue. And the screenplays for these films are often the perfect example of what a screenplay should be, a demonstration of showing and not telling, using only visual storytelling techniques.

With one click

Export a perfectly formatted traditional script.

Try SoCreate for free!

Write Like This...
...Export To This!

We asked Screenwriter Doug Richardson (“Bad Boys,” “Die Hard 2,” “Hostage”) what he believes are the keys to success for storytelling without dialogue.

“Oh, that’s very simple,” he told us. “How to write a screenplay with little or no dialogue, and how to keep the reader engaged? It’s a very simple thing. Tell a story that makes the reader want to turn the page.”

Screenplays are blueprints for a film, and so much more than dialogue. The theme, setting, sound, characters, expression, action beats, and more go into visual storytelling. You need all of this to work in tandem to tell the story effectively. Let’s not forget where it all began: Silent films, where they “didn’t need dialogue. [They] had faces,” as Norma Desmond proudly exclaims in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard.”

What is Visual Storytelling?

  • Describe what the audience is seeing, including the setting and any action that the character is taking

  • Include sounds, even when there are no words

  • Consider what your character is doing that could further the story

  • Separate every new location with a heading in CAPS that includes INT. or EXT (interior or exterior) – short location description – and time of day (MORNING, NIGHT, DUSK, Etc.)

  • Give your characters distinguishable characteristics

  • Keep action sentences short and to the point, so you script lines are more vertically oriented than horizontal

“Make them turn the page,” Richardson concluded.

Visual Storytelling Examples

Take “Shaun the Sheep” for example, written and directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak. The screenplay paints a vivid picture, sans any dialogue from the characters, except for a few grunts and mumbles. “WALL-E” written by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, and Pete Doctor, is a movie with a big message, but very little dialogue. And “A Quiet Place” is just that, a quiet movie void of dialogue and full of terrifying suspense if a character dares make a noise. Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski wrote the screenplay.

“It’s that simple,” Richardson continued. “Be compelling. If you put something on paper … and you start telling a story in such a way that the reader has to know what happens next, you don’t need dialogue. You just need skill, talent, and a great story.”

How to Write a Story with Little to No Dialogue in SoCreate

To write a story in SoCreate with little no dialogue, you’ll rely heavily on your Location and Action Stream Items.

You may still use Characters and Dialogue Stream Items to help illustrate character noises or facial expressions.

Here’s an example of what a scene with very little dialogue might look like. Note that this example uses tools such as Dialogue Direction and Dialogue Type to better illustrate visually what the characters are doing, despite no dialogue being spoken.

An example of a screenplay showing little to no dialogue

Using Dialogue Type in SoCreate

To add Dialogue Type, which appears as a notation above the dialogue to indicate to the reader that this is not simple on-camera dialogue, click into the Dialogue Stream Item you wish to edit. Find the icon that looks like a person speaking.

An example of a screenplay showing little to no dialogue

Options such as Mouthing Dialogue, Sign Language, and Text Message could be used to illustrate that dialogue is somehow being communicated, but not spoken.

An example of a screenplay showing little to no dialogue

If you decide to export your SoCreate story to the traditional screenplay format, Dialogue Type will show in parentheses immediately to the right of the name of the character who is delivering the line.

Using Dialogue Direction in SoCreate

Character expressions are paramount in screenplays with little to no dialogue. A picture is worth one thousand words, as they say! You can note the expression on a character’s face using the Action Stream Item or using Dialogue Direction.

By using Dialogue Direction, your readers will get a visual cue of what the character is doing, since character faces have 15 different alternate expressions within the SoCreate app. If you indicate in Dialogue Direction that your character is crying, screaming, laughing out loud, falling asleep, and more, your character image will change to match .

To use Dialogue Direction, click into the Dialogue Stream Item you wish to edit. Then, find the icon that looks like a person with an arrow next to it.

Clicking here will open up a grey box above your dialogue where you can explain how the character is meant to deliver the line.

An example of a screenplay showing little to no dialogue

If you decide to export your story to the traditional screenplay format, Dialogue Direction will appear in parentheses immediately beneath the character’s name who’s assigned that line.

In Conclusion

Movies and TV shows are visual mediums, so dialogue is not a necessary part of the equation. It’s a great exercise in showing and not telling! SoCreate makes it easy to write screenplays with little to no dialogue, while breaking up large blocks of text you might find in a traditional screenplay that’s written this way. SoCreate keeps things visual with easy tools such as Action, Dialogue Type, and Dialogue Direction.

Now shhh, I’m writing over here.

You may also be interested in...

Question mark

Say What?! Screenwriting Terms and Meanings

Expert screenwriters say one of the best ways to learn to write a screenplay is to read screenplays that have been produced. You may come across some unfamiliar terms while doing this, especially if you’re new to the craft. We’ve put together a quick read for you to refer to when you come across a word or acronym you don’t understand. These are also good to know when you dive into your screenplay masterpiece, of course! Action: Showing through action is generally better than telling through dialogue. Action is the description of the scene, what the character is doing, and often a description...
Screenwriter pay

How Much Money Does a Screenwriter Make? We Asked 5 Professional Writers

For most, writing is less of a job and more of a passion. But wouldn’t it be ideal if we could all make a living in a field that we are passionate about? It’s not impossible to get paid to do what you love, if you’re willing to accept the reality: there’s not much stability for writers who choose this path. We asked five expert writers how much money the average writer can expect to earn. The answer? Well, it’s as diverse as the backgrounds of our experts. Per the Writers Guild of America West, the minimum amount a screenwriter can be paid for a low budget (less than $5 million) feature-length film...

Screenwriters, Novelists, Game Writers: Michael Stackpole Tells You How to Get an Agent

“Finding an agent is one of those questions that a lot of people ask. Everybody wants one,” Michael Stackpole explained during an interview with us at the Central Coast Writers Conference. A writer, game designer, podcaster, and regular conference speaker, Stackpole had an answer at the ready. “Once you’ve completed something, farm it out to some friends. Get them to write down two or three authors that they think you write like. Research those authors. Find out who their agents are. Perhaps meet them at a conference. Talk to them and see if their agents are taking on any new clients...