When your characters say “Let’s go do XYZ” or “we’re going to ____”, you’re going to have some boring dialogue ahead.

September 6, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Writing Method

When your characters say “Let’s go do XYZ” or “we’re going to ____”, you’re going to have some boring dialogue ahead.

One of the challenges with screenwriting is that it is necessary for your characters to do things. There is a plot to service and so characters are obligated to take various actions. And as humans (or other thinking, feeling entities), your characters will need to puzzle through their decisions, come up with a plan and execute it.

But you know how tedious it is when you’re discussing the pros and cons of the various logistics of your evening with friends? It’s just as tedious to hear characters talking about their logistics as well.

BOB: What should we do for our date tonight?

JANE: Well, we could go to the movies.

BOB: Oh, and then we could get fro yo after that.

JANE: That sounds good. What time will you pick me up?  Or should we meet there?

BOB: Why don’t I pick you up at 8 so that we have time to find parking and get good seats.

JANE: Great, see you then.

I was so bored writing the above passage that I just woke my roommates up with my snoring. We don’t know anything about the characters other than their plans for the evening. While the plot has ostensibly been moved forward, we don’t know what it means in terms of character development. We don’t know whose side we’re on, or if the characters are in danger or if they even like each other.

When your characters are deciding to do something, avoid having them list out the details and instead, have them talk about their feelings so we can see how they’re reacting to the situation.

BOB: I cannot wait to see you tonight!

JANE: I’m not sure we should be doing this.

BOB: We’ve waited two years to have one night together, Jane. We can finally act like a normal couple–go to a movie, maybe get some fro yo.

JANE: Argue over where to sit and how much to tip the valet.

BOB: Exactly.

JANE: You’re right. I can’t wait to see you tonight.

This time, the scene was so excited, I almost peed my pants.

That’s not true. There was no almost about it.

In the second version of the scene, we still get the basic information: Bob and Jane are going on a date, they’re going to the movies and out for yogurt. But we also get so much more. We know that Bob is excited and Jane is nervous. That there’s something in their past that makes this night special. That Bob is able to convince Jane of his point of view and that Jane acquiesces to Bob without much of a fight.  When we do seem them on their date, we will be full of anticipation for them because we’ve been given a description of the stakes of that date.

The second version has plot, character development, tension and movement. The first version does not.

In some genres, heavy and specific logistics are necessary to the storytelling. If you’re writing a procedural, then at some point, the doctor is going to have to explain what she’s doing or the team of detectives is going to have to tell their no-nonsense boss what they’ve found. We can get away with those kinds of moments in procedurals because that information is important and is usually something the audience has been waiting for anyway. But if you’re not writing the next Law and Order: Phoenix/Toronto/Master Bedroom, then make sure that any logistical information your characters talk about tells us more than the next scene’s agenda.

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