Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Scott McConnell

The Dialogue Technique All Pro Writers Use

A mother walks into a room and informs her two young daughters that they are going on a playdate with some children they have never met. One daughter replies, “Will they like me?” The second daughter responds, “Will I like them?”

While there are many qualities of good dialogue – including realism, essentialized brevity, individualized voices, irony, and wit – implication is one of the most important qualities of compelling dialogue.

The above vignette is an example of good implicit dialogue. Let’s look briefly at the implied meanings in both bites.

The Dialogue Technique All Pro Writers Use

The above vignette is an example of good implicit dialogue. Let’s look briefly at the implied meanings in both bites.

When the first daughter asks, “Will they like me?” she is implicitly revealing one type of soul, that of a person who lacks confidence and likes to fit in, who wants to be accepted.

The second daughter in her dialogue implies that she doesn’t care about being liked, and esteeming herself highly, she wonders if the other kids will impress her.

Both daughters are well revealed by the key implication in their quote, respectively: Dependence and Independence.

Dialogue bites like these that help define a character are especially important in the beginning of a script where a writer has to deftly reveal to the audience the essential nature of the lead characters.

To show how implication is so impactful on an audience let’s contrast the implicit dialogue above with explicit versions of these bites. Yes, it’s good to be exact and clear but would the following explicit dialogue involve your audience?

Daughter 1: “These kids might not like me and that will upset me. I want to be with kids who like me. I like to be accepted.”

Daughter 2: “I might not like these kids and won’t like spending time with them. I like to choose my own friends who are interesting to me.”

Long winded and on the nose dialogue! These two rewrites explicitly state what the daughters are thinking and feeling. Bad dialogue! Why?

Because it leaves nothing for the audience to do with it. Its meaning is obvious. Its told the audience everything.

In contrast, implicit dialogue forces the viewer or reader to do mental work on the words. Hearing implicit dialogue, an audience has to think (usually doing so lightning fast) about what is the explicit meaning of the words. Because the audience performs this mental task on the dialogue, it is more involved with the characters and story.

To read the full article, visit the Story Guy Newsletter here.

Scott McConnell, the story guy, is a former Los Angeles producer/showrunner who is now a script consultant and story developer. He is also the editor of The Story Guy Newsletter, a bi-weekly publication of practical writing advice for scriptwriters. Subscribe here.