It’s quite common for screenwriters to feel the need to overly explain within dialogue. For example, instead of a character simply saying he went to run errands, many novice writers include unnecessary expositions such as, “I went to the store to get some deodorant, then I went to the gas station to fill up on gas and I might of bought a back of cigarettes.” This exposition is far too obvious, and it dilutes the power of each word. Remember, in screenwriting every word of dialogue must carry weight. Never include obvious expositions as this eliminates any guesswork the audience must do, which leads to a boring story.
Obvious expositions are easy to detect and even easier to eliminate. Avoid giving away information that audience members can piece together.
Use Hints Not Expositions
Using the example above, the character responds to the question of where were you with “I ran some errands.” I stated earlier that an obvious exposition would be to explain exactly what he did; however, in the realm of this person, he doesn’t want to explain that he went to buy a pack of cigarettes as he’s trying to quit. By eliminating this exposition and replying with a vague, but clear, answer, the other character is led to inquire further:
“What did you get?”
“Just some essentials.”
“Did you buy cigarettes?”
During this moment of the exchange the character has an option to either tell the truth or continue with his cover-up. By eliminating a lengthy exposition at the beginning of the scene the character sets up the remaining of the scene by beckoning the other character to ask more details.
Effective dialogue never gives away its answers but rather leads others to ask questions. The question and answer effect of dialogue is not only interesting, but provides ample opportunities to establish relationships, fears, anxieties and objectives.
You Don’t Always Have to Explain
A paramount, and common, screenwriting mistake is having a character explain every intention and action he takes throughout his day. While it’s common to reveal the activities a character undergoes, it’s never proper to explain every detail. Novice screenwriters typically fall into this trap; however, what they don’t understand is more times than not, less is more.
In the realm of dialogue creation, provide an element of mystery to your characters. Allow their actions and other scenes the ability to explain their happenings. If you find your character is always explaining himself, you’re likely relying too much on dialogue and not enough on the unspoken happenings of your character to move the story forward.