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Archive for the Category "Dialogue"

Pop Quiz: What’s wrong with this dialogue? Jun 06

Are you a sloppy writer?

Of all the common, lazy mistakes I encounter when reading scripts, the one that possibly irks me the most can be found in the following dialogue exchange.

Have a look:

TOOKY

Look, I ain’t playin’ with you. Give me the money, or you gonna get got!

JOSH

I really should of stayed at a nicer motel.

Pop QuizDo you see it?

“ain’t”? — No, that’s a legitimate word. Merriam-Webster tells me so.

“playin’”? — Nah, that’s simply eliding a letter to give a better sense of the how the character speaks.

“you gonna get got”? – Nope. As grammatically offending as that slang is, it’s appropriate for the character.

So what is it?

Take a closer look at Josh’s line.

Do you see it?

No? Then you may be a sloppy writer.

There’s no such thing as “should of”!!!

The phrasing is either “should have” or “should’ve.” It may sound like “should of,” but sounding like something doesn’t count.

It’s like that time I wanted to tell someone off in my yearbook graduating entry, but didn’t want to have it flagged. So I wrote “FUH Q” instead of, well, you know. (True story. Yeah, real classy.)

Sounding like something, and being the equivalent of something, are two totally different things.

But what about intentional misspellings to give characters a certain affected manner of speech?

Intentional misspellings and grammar faux pas are permitted in screenplay dialogue blocks, as long as it’s clear to the reader that the mistakes are indeed intentional (e.g., slang, speech impediment).

It’s like how I wrote, “real classy” above, instead of the grammatically correct, “really classy.” In a casual blog post, or a script dialogue block, that’s just fine. It’s being cheeky and using the common phrasing.

However, spelling it: “reel classy” would be a mistake. The audience can’t see or hear the misspelling, so it can’t be justified by saying, “But that’s how my character would have spelled it!”

Bottom line is, if you’re one of those who missed the mistake above, you may be making others in your script that you’re not even aware are mistakes.

So if you need proofreading or script notes, I’m here for you.

Three Dots vs. Two Dashes Jun 04

Punctuation PoliceWhether I’m providing script notes or I’m proofreading scripts, I often find instances where the writer has used three dots (...) where she should have used two dashes (--), or vice versa.

When used at the end of a sentence in scene description, there’s a measure of interchangeability (I’ll tackle that in another post). But when used at the end of a sentence in dialogue, things are very clear cut.

What’s the difference?

Three dots (an ellipsis) at the end of a sentence, are used to indicate that a speaker has trailed off. For example:

JACQUELINE

But if my fingerprints are on the knife, then that means...

Jacqueline stares at her hands, the realization sinking in.

TED

You’re the Sleepwalk Killer!

Two dashes (technically hyphens) at the end of a sentence, are used to indicate that a speaker has been interrupted. For example:

JACQUELINE

Follow me to the kitchen. I want to show you my new knife collec--

TED

Not a chance!

JACQUELINE

I made cinnamon buns.

Ted considers.

Hyphen Positioning

The double hyphens can also come after a completed word, in the middle of a sentence, to indicate an interruption. I could have put the double hyphens after the word “knife” in the sentence above, but then that may have given the impression that the sentence had ended there.

If I didn’t want to write a partial word, then this rearranged sentence could work: “I have a new knife collection I want to show--”

Notice how there’s no space between the double dashes and the last word being interrupted? I feel it gives a better sense of an interruption that way.

A Note About Single Hyphens

Some screenwriters (including some pros) use single hyphens to indicate an interruption or a pause. I guess the idea is that the single hyphen takes the place of a longer em dash (—) that you would normally see in anything written with a proportional font instead of a fixed-width font like Courier — basically anything other than a script.

But we’re talking about a script. So the practice of using a single hyphen (for this purpose) is kinda weird to me, as it is to many other readers. Do you want to use something that may bump certain readers, or do you want to use something that wouldn’t bother a single reader?

Having said that, give me a script where the writing is otherwise fantastic, and I won’t even notice the issue.

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Parentheticals: Always Before Dialogue – Not After Apr 15

Quick Tip

Never end a dialogue block with a parenthetical.

I’ve been seeing this kind of thing a lot lately in the amateur scripts I’ve been reading:

DEMON

You think that puny gun can kill me?

(laughs)

If you need to indicate an action that follows a block of dialogue, then just write it as an action line following the dialogue. For example:

DEMON

You think that puny gun can kill me?

Demon laughs.

Note: The first example would have been okay if there were another line of dialogue after the parenthetical (also known as a “wryly”). For example:

DEMON

You think that puny gun can kill me?

(laughs)

Shit, you might be right.

For more juicy insight on this absolutely fascinating topic (not really), please check out my 10 rules for using parentheticals.

Quick Screenwriting Tip: Don’t depend on one line of dialogue Oct 21

Quick Screenwriting TipQuick Screenwriting Tip:

The comprehension of a scene or scene sequence should never depend solely on a single line of dialogue.

I’m still surprised by how often I see this mistake, in both scripts and movies. If something significant needs to be revealed in dialogue, that significant detail needs to be reinforced with some banter, or an action. In most cases, multiple times.

If not, the audience might miss it, and be left in the dark later as to how a character knew something, or why a character did something, or to the payoff of a key moment.

Example of how to do it right

In The Shawshank Redemption (SPOILER ALERT), written and directed by Frank Darabont, imagine if Andy (Tim Robbins) had simply said to Red (Morgan Freeman), “Tell you where I’d go. Zihuatanejo.” — and just left it at that. We’d probably be left scratching our heads at the end when Red shows up on the beach.

No, instead Red repeats the location (Zihuatanejo) back to Andy. On top of that, Andy has the following dialogue:

ANDY

Mexico. Little place right on the Pacific. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I’d like to finish out my life, Red. A warm place with no memory. Open a little hotel right on the beach. Buy some worthless old boat and fix it up like new. Take my guests out charter fishing.

(beat)

You know, a place like that, I’d need a man who can get things.

Red stares at Andy, laughs.

It’s an important point, with a huge payoff later, so the dialogue reinforces it in the audience’s mind.

And when Red retrieves the package that Andy’s left for him, we are again reminded of the destination reveal:

ANDY (V.O.)

Dear Red. If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you?

Never rely on one line of dialogue alone for the audience’s understanding or enjoyment of a key section of your movie.


Need someone to read your script? Please take a look at my script services.

Quick Screenwriting Tip: Redundant Parentheticals Apr 28

Quick Screenwriting Tip

If a parenthetical provides obvious information, it should be removed.

Example of UNNECESSARY parenthetical usage — (angrily):

JAKE

(angrily)

I’m going to kill ALL of you!

We know Jake is angry because of what he says and how he says it. The parenthetical is redundant and slows down the read.

Have you eliminated all of the unnecessary parentheticals in your script?


Want me to personally read your script and let you know if it’s ready to go out? Please take a look at my professional script services.

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