The concept of mystery within dialogue is intriguing for many writers. There’s a common technique of not giving away the primary objective or goal of a character within the dialogue. While this ensures words are not hokey or stilted, it does present a specialized challenge. Some of the best screenplays I’ve seen are those with mystery within each word. However, here lies the problem – if dialogue is too mysterious, audience members and readers will not understand where you’re coming from. As with any mystery novel or screenplay, dialogue must never give away answers but rather gently navigate onlookers to the answer.
When writing dialogue, make sure you are never too simple in your speech; however, you must also ensure your words are not too rich with mystery and symbolism. It’s only when you accomplish this delicate balancing act that your screenplay will be alive with mystery and substance.
Avoid Excessive Cliffhangers
I once read a script where the writer thought it would be interesting to involve a cliffhanger in almost every scene. By cliffhanger I mean dropping the scene the moment a climax might happen. Surely you’ve seen this is movies, TV shows or in novels. The moment before you receive a vital answer, the scene goes black and transitions into a non-related encounter. While this type of storytelling does have merit, and can provide a unique viewpoint as audience members are left guessing, using this technique in excess does nothing but complicate a scene.
Use cliffhangers wisely and only when absolutely necessary. Sometimes in dialogue you must avoid common knowledge or telling all the details because it would not only ruin future scenes but also eliminate the sense of mystery that’s vital for interest and intrigue.
What Was That?
There are far too many scripts circulating throughout the desks of agents and producers that are filled with unique language and mysterious phrasing. As stated earlier, this type of writing can be very useful; however, you must execute it with precision to avoid the script looking strange.
The biggest mistake most novice screenwriters make in terms of adding mystery to their dialogue is referencing people, places or things that are unknown. Or worse, cultivating dialogue that’s full of mystery…and that’s it.
Whenever you’re writing dialogue, make sure your scenes are filled with actual substance. Don’t create scenes and dialogue that are so mysterious onlookers will have no idea what they’re talking about. The quickest way to lose interest is formulating dialogue that’s rich with symbolism, but with no legend to decipher these messages.
Use your creative power to create mysterious dialogue, but don’t use this as an opportunity to write a special code. Rather, formulate dialogue that keeps the story moving forward and audience members guessing without causing them to tilt their heads to the side in confusion.