Imagine standing at the beginning of the Rocky Mountains. While the terrain around you is gently rolling, a few miles ahead of you, sharp mountain peaks rip up through the Earth’s crust. These gigantic peaks are only made greater by their contrast against low-lying valleys. It’s the peaks and valleys of a mountain range that truly give it its awe-inspiring power. Imagine if a mountain range featured no valleys? Or a flat valley void of the drama caused by roaring mountains? Now, replace the Rocky Mountains with your screenplay dialogue. To create dialogue that is as engaging and inspiring as any mountain range, you must engage in peak-and-valley writing.
Creating peaks and valley’s within screenplay dialogue evokes an emotional response from audience members as they’re taken not on a predictable flat or bumpy ride, but one with sharp peaks and calm, serene valley’s.
Avoiding Monotony in the Calm and the Dramatic
When many novice screenwriters think about monotony in screenplay dialogue, they’re likely conjuring feelings of monotone dialogue and a lack of emotion. While this is accurate, it’s beyond important to remember monotony can also exist in dramatic dialogue moments. In my professional opinion, monotony (rather through the stereotypical style or in constant high-action/drama moments) does nothing but remove audience members from their suspended belief and lead to a boring and very predictable story.
The most important takeaway from this section is to remember that screenplay dialogue must pulse like your heart or lap at the shore like ocean waves. Play with both quiet, serene moments and violent, disastrous moments.
Create a Visual Dialogue Diagram
In the scope of dialogue writing, the use of visual diagrams for dialogue editing and review is imperative. Unlike everyday speaking, every word written in your screenplay must carry a purpose. You are painting with words. Moreover, you’re sculpting with a mixture of materials – words, actions, visuals, sounds and time. Unlike a painter, in order to create your masterpiece you must become a master at more than just manipulating watercolors or oils. You must master each element of dialogue.
Approach your dialogue by identifying baseline levels of each character. The emotional energy delivered with every line is rate one through 10 – with one being absolute calm, peaceful and almost boring, and 10 being the highest level of emotional energy this person is capable of. Rate the energy level of each line with a mark next to it. After you’ve completed this step, create a chart.
On the left side of the chart mark one through 10 in a vertical manner. On the bottom and going horizontally, write the primary marker for that moment in the scene. Now, create a dot next to number associated with that moment in the scene. Once all the dots are marked, draw a line connecting these darts. Hopefully, you’ll end up with a diagram that features multiple peaks and valleys. If not, review your dialogue to find out why. While some scenes are calmer and more valley-like in their appearance, they should never be flat. If your line if flat – you’ve made a mistake and you MUST edit your dialogue.