Working alongside established screenwriters and fellow film/TV professionals, perhaps one of the biggest mistakes new writers make is placing excessive focus on dialogue. Unlike other forms of storytelling, screenwriting allows you to use dialogue as a supporting element. Instead of verbally telling a story, a screenplay allows you to visually explain the trials and tribulations of your characters.
Placing excessive focus on dialogue always leads to predictable and boring conversations. Enhance the believability and interest of your script by limiting what your characters say.
The Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine gave, now infamous, advice to readers. In an attempt to clear the air about excessive accessories, she suggests to always remove one piece of jewelry or clothing before heading out the door. The idea of decluttering your appearance by only highlighting a couple of accessories revolutionized how millions approach their appearance.
While not necessarily the same, writers can take this advice along a parallel curve. While writing dialogue, think about what you can leave out. Deconstruct conversations to say only the minimum to accomplish whatever goal the scene strives for. When you’re done writing a scene, review your dialogue and challenge yourself to eliminate one or more sentences.
In the realm of dialogue, and evidently clothing accessories, less truly is more.
Challenge Your Ability to Describe
The main hole many writers become trapped in is foregoing the ability to describe past, present and future details through non-spoken exchanges. If you’re finding it difficult to stray from excessive dialogue, even if your story calls for stageplay-esque dialogue, write the scene using only a quarter of dialogue originally written. Utilize your ability to tell a story through visual depictions instead of through spoken words.
Therefore, if a scene consists of 50 lines of dialogue, reduce speaking to roughly 12 or 13 lines. Dramatically lowering speaking lines from a scene results in one of two scenarios:
(1) The Scene does not lose impact or purpose. The writer still portrays necessary information and readers/viewers still remain “in the loop” regarding the story and character progression.
(2) The Scene does not make sense. Even through visual storytelling integral aspects of the story or character development are missed due to the need for additional dialogue.
Exploring scenes and dialogue selection in this manner clearly showcase if speaking dominates a scene when non-verbal action should take center stage. On the other hand, if a scene does not work, then the scene likely requires more dialogue than the exercise permitted.
Above all else, strive to tell your story without using pages and pages of dialogue. Streamline speaking, and if possible, completely eliminate dialogue (especially if the dialogue is nothing more than “fluff” or “filler;” allow the actors and director to decide if naturally placed fillers are necessary.)