The most obvious sign of a novice screenwriter is the length of dialogue between characters. Dialogue length within a screenplay refers to the number of words a character uses to express himself. Most often if you were to look at your dialogue, it’s too wordy, contains excess fluff or doesn’t align with the overall objective/goal of said scene. To make your screenplay stand out from the crowd while simultaneously aligning readers with the true intention of a scene, you must focus on your dialogue.
Eliminating excess words is among the most challenging requirement for screenwriters. Fine-tuning your script makes it more attractive to readers and ensures the purpose of the dialogue isn’t lost.
Eliminating the Fluff
The first step in creating effective dialogue is looking at each dialogue block, which is the dialogue underneath each character. When reviewing this dialogue, write in a short sentence the purpose of the dialogue. If the purpose is to simply say something, then you should likely eliminate the dialogue completely.
When writing a screenplay, I always construct dialogue in two phases. The first phase is simply writing stream of consciousness. If you’re like me, then you typically write first and edit later. Use this first draft as a means of blueprinting what you wish to truly say.
Once you’ve written the “outline” of the dialogue, go back through and eliminate all fluff or unnecessary words. Oftentimes, writers include pleasantries and other phrases that aren’t required. Allow your actors freedom to create underlining dialogue. Your script should contain only dialogue that has true purpose and meaning.
Say What Only Needs to Be Said
An effective exercise in eliminating dialogue fluff is going through a pre-written scene and seeing if you can accomplish the scene goal with half the words you originally used. The goal of this exercise is to showcase how little words you must actually use within a spoken exchange.
More often than not, you’re using far too many words to navigate a scene forward. Don’t be surprised if your five dialogue boxes transforms into two or three. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you must use a decent amount of dialogue to get to your point, or your writing style is more theatrical, which requires more than the standard dialogue amount.
No matter what, only allow dialogue that’s highly focused and narrow-visioned to the goal of your scene.