View Full Version : Dialogue = "Talking Heads"
05-25-2001, 02:21 PM
Anybody else run into this? A few times I've had industry people decry my lengthy exchanges of dialogue, in some cases merely by eyeballing the script format without even reading it. How much is too much? Sure there's the "no more than 4 lines of description" rule, but what about speech? I think if it's meaningful, it should stand the test, but if it makes me appear as amateurish as I truly am (leaving no room for doubt), should I alter my script to suit the "industry accepted" limits?
05-25-2001, 02:32 PM
without knowing what kind of script you've written, and the quality of your dialogue, it's hard to say.
if indeed you have very talky scenes, try "cheating" by breaking up long dialogue with action, or break up the interaction between your characters the same way. i'm assuming here that you've already done ALL the cutting POSSIBLE and that none of your dialogue is actually superfluous.
i don't think much of people who "look" at a script and judge it by the way it "appears". unless what they're saying is really they've read your script and didn't care for it, and then are using that excuse as a polite, bullshit way of saying "no".
05-25-2001, 02:38 PM
Well, I'm a rank amateur too, so I might not be of much help. I do know I don't have a single "dialogue" scene longer than three pages in any of my screenplays, and usually the max is two. And each time I read a script, I usually find a couple more lines of dialogue that I don't absolutely have to have. In late, out early, and is there any way to convey the same information through action? Standard guidelines that I'm sure you're familiar with, but sometimes a reminder helps- I know it does with me!
05-25-2001, 02:57 PM
First off, no, I'm not following you around the board like it appears!! :)
Second, I had heard (or read somewhere) that dialog "should" be no longer than three or four lines also. I don't really follow this myself ALL the time, cuz though I write shorter, more stacatto (sp?) dialog, I've written longer speeches for characters, but with great trepidation, for I have also heard about what you mentioned regarding readers who skim a script when they first get it, and sigh if they see long descriptions or dialog passages. I agree with Strange about breaking it up with action if possible.
And I'm the rankiest, skankiest amatuer 'round deez parts!
05-25-2001, 03:20 PM
AWarhol...your humility is becoming!
For the record, I happen to have read the works of both Strange, and Daphne, and they are EXCELLENT writers. I would listen to their advice.
And the last time I shared a scene with Strange, it had like 10 words of dialogue in it, and he took out TWO more!
I too have heard the "no more than four sentences" per line of dialogue. And they'd better not be complete, full sentences.
05-25-2001, 03:31 PM
But I think it really depends on the nature of the movie as well.
For example, the whole NSA speech by one Will Hunting takes up over a page and a half.
Okay, I zoned out during that portion of the movie but... in the context of the movie, William Goldman, I mean, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck used this long monologue effectively.
05-25-2001, 03:34 PM
First heard this term from an agent/former producer/professor of mine used to describe screenplays that read like radio plays. And he warned us that industry folk would give us this note of criticism on our screenplays if we had too much dialogue that wasn't "broken" (as Strange suggested) by action. And yes, a lot of the time without even reading the script... The assumption being that the script isn't visual enough and thus "isn't a movie" (which is ironic because another old caveat is that readers like to skip action lines to get to the dialogue, especially if they see too much black on the page... hence the four lines of description "rule" and why some writers hide action in the dialogue)
Basically, it has to do with both the length of individual dialogue passages AND how many dialogue exchanges you have with no action lines. Break 'em up. The exchanges AND the long passages. Don't give your reader the impression that your characters are just standing or sitting, talking to one another. Make them do stuff... just don't let it seem artificial. Their actions have to come naturally within the framework of the scene and from them as characters...
05-25-2001, 03:48 PM
What were those scenes called when people were in bars talking over drinks? Swizel Stick Scenes?
I guess the best way to do it, is to always keep the visualization in your head straight. Be sure you know what each character is doing at each moment.
I'm working on a script that deals with about five people talking while playing poker, with a cocktail waitress waiting on them. It's a bitch trying to keep them all involved and active, but I just try to remember my dads Saturday night poker games in our den with his buddies, and how they bantered back and forth. only then I was the eight year old cocktail waiter! :)
05-25-2001, 04:00 PM
"I too have heard the "no more than four sentences" per line of dialogue. And they'd
better not be complete, full sentences. "
It's odd, because the advice depends greatly on the person giving it. The "no talking heads" professor obviously subscribed to the "no more than four lines of description" rule, also advising us ad infinitum to "kill our children" and keep our sentences short and simple, while holding Shane Black up as the ultimate model for us to emulate and learn from, however...
I recently ran across some notes from another prof. who was quite adamant about telling us not to use "short, simple, hip sentences... dazzle your readers with your literary prowess, instead..."
I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Whatever serves YOUR screenplay... whatever tells YOUR story.
05-25-2001, 04:45 PM
Well, F Hollywood. My tediously rewritten script is going out tomorrow to numerous parties, and if they don't like it, at least Talkie Tina might finally return my calls.
05-26-2001, 09:03 AM
Plays are about the sound of language. The well-written speech. People sitting around philosophizing.
Movies aren't about words. They're about creating emotion in the audience with fast-paced forward motion: the character trying to achieve a goal, being blocked, trying again.
Movies are about what happens next. And next. And next. Every scene advances the plot. No one sits around. No time.
Movies are about fascinating, original visuals that don't sit still. Just enough dialog so they get the idea. Characters are what they do, not what they say.
Movies don't have time for long conversations. Movies move.
05-26-2001, 02:00 PM
Right. I think there's room in movies to explore philosophies, and there's definitely room for "literary" writing- but it's a challenge.
I do know when I have a scene that is JUST dialogue- ie nothing else much is going on physically- I make sure the characters are fighting. Sparring, flirting, pushing, disagreeing. Always. It's more fun that way.
vBulletin v3.6.2, Copyright ©2000-2013, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.