Monday, March 28, 2005

Rules for Dialogue

This week, I write.


Sir Knavely explores the back of the computer screen.


When he's not sleeping.


               *     *     *


A good week.  Already.


I'm productive.




To be exact, I'm 75 pages into the screenplay and moving.


               *     *     *


I've been thinking a lot about McKee's suggestions for dialogue.


I took notes on writing dialogue.  Compressed them into fifteen statements.


1. Strive for compression and economy.


2. Dialogue should have direction.


3. Dialogue should have purpose:  Each line or exchange of dialogue executes a step in design that builds its scene around its Turning Point.


4. Build short, simply constructed sentences:  bit by bit the audience gets it.

  • Noun ? Verb ? Object
  • Noun ? Verb ? Complement

5. Typically, drop the opening article or pronoun.  Speak in phrases.  Grunts.


6. Fragment the speech with silent reactions that cause the speaker to change the beat.


7. Break up dialogue by inserting parentheticals.  A character can react to himself, to his own thoughts and emotions.


8. Use the periodic sentence:  ?If you didn?t want me to do it, why?d you give me that gun/look/kiss?



  • Choose the visual expression over the line of dialogue:  How could I write this in a purely visual way and not have to resort to a single line of dialogue?
  • Obey the Law of Diminishing Returns:  The more dialogue you write, the less effect it has.
  • Image is our first choice, dialogue the regretful second choice.  Dialogue is the last layer we add to the screenplay. 
  • My note: Krzysztof Kieslowski  is the finest directing model I know of here: The Decalogue is brilliant.

10. Obey the Law of Diminishing Returns:  The more dialogue you write, the less effect it has.


10. Recognize exactly what it is we describe:  the sensation of looking at the screen.

  • What doI see on the screen?
  • What is photographic?

11. Write in the absolute present tense in constant vivid movement.

  • Film is on the knife edge of now
  • Whether we flash back or forward, we jump to a new now
  • The screen expresses relentless action
  • Film is vivid

12. Create vivid writing by using the names of things

  • Nouns are the names of object
  • Verbs are the names of actions
  • Avoid generic nouns and verbs with adjectives and adverbs attached and seek the NAME of thing

13. Eliminate the following:  is, are, we see, we hear.


14. Eliminate all metaphors and similes that cannot pass this test:  what do I see or hear onscreen?


15. Use a powerful imagination and vocabulary.

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