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Monday, October 17, 2005

Tip Of The Day : Active vs Passive Dialogue

I haven't been blogging all that much lately because I've been working on my new draft but I did want to add something to the blog that I thought would be helpful to myself and readers of this savage art... Whenever I come across some information in my travels whether it be by my own finding or someone else's I will encapsulate it into a tip.

I found this helpful tip in Karl Iglesias' column in this month's Creative Screenwriting, volume 12,#5. The scope of the column covers how we all strive to create crisp, believable dialogue but can sometimes fall short of this task. In the pursuit of great dialogue one thing must be understood, the character wants something and is having a difficult time getting it. Words need to become action, after all that is what makes an effective screenplay.

Characters negotiate, exploit, coerce, inquire, seduce, irritate, provoke, impress, blackmail, warn or create a power struggle through forceful and confrontational dialogue rather than being sympathetic, aggreeable or conversational. This is what conflict is all about.

And, as we all know, story is about conflict so conflict, in one form of another, must be expressed in your dialogue. One way this can be achieved by having the character ask questions. Questions create a verbal jousting match. It can create a confrontational tone or a coercive one, that's up to you depending on your characters motivation. Ask yourself what they want and what they are not getting when you start writing a scene and your dialogue will improve and flow greatly.


Anonymous Moses said...

This is interesting. I was recently going through a draft of mine and noticed that two of my characters ask a lot of questions and never really answer each other or anyone else for that matter.

II felt it might be kinda "off," but after reading this maybe not. Of course to much of anything isn't good but this was nice to read.

11:18 PM  
Blogger William said...

I think you need to take what you want to say with the scene into consideration. I had this three page scene of what I thought was authentic dialogue in my screenplay but it really amounted to nothing. I cut it from my current draft. The back and forth dialogue can sound good but if it means nothing in the context of your screenplay, what's the point?

Tarantino, as we know, uses this effectively. In the foot rub scene in Pulp Fiction we get the status of the players and future players with this dialogue. Who they are, who they work for and who they are about to have conflict with. It comes across as just two guys talking about a foot rub but it's obviously more. That's just one example. I think in the end it comes down to not only knowing who your characters are but knowing their status in the world you are creating.

Check the archives, I have an entry on status called What Is Your Character's Status?

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Moses said...

I'll check it out. The beauty of that scene is how he hides the exposition, like you say. Takes talent.

11:37 PM  

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