Dialogue - How much is too much?

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  • Dialogue - How much is too much?

    Hey there everyone, first post here, had some troubles getting my account registered but finally I have the means to rant to my hearts content.
    Anywho, I'm scribbling up a script, like a bunch of other newbs out there. I seriously doubt it'll ever go anywhere, but I've got free time and I'm enjoying doing it. Even though its pretty much for myself (a story I've had stuck in my head for too long) I'd like to write it such that others might enjoy it as well, and try and learn a little about the craft in case I ever decide to pursue it as a career.
    On to the purpose of this post: How much continual dialogue is it generally okay to get away with, if it's interesting and advancing the story? With what I'm working on, the main character is kind of alone through most of the middle of the story, so everything's about 80-90% visuals and action and 10-20% dialogue, then towards the end the main character gets to seriously talking to someone. Right now I'm looking at possibly three to six pages. Is that too much?

  • #2
    Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

    If you went most of your film without dialogue, then you could possibly get away with a long dialogue passage, but still, every piece of dialogue would have to be important or else your film will probably feel poorly paced.

    One thing I read on this site that was good advice is that every line of dialogue should do at least one of three things; advance the story, tell us something about the character, or get a laugh. Two at once, all the better... and all three at once the best.

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    • #3
      Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

      I just watched a DVD of Sling Blade..twice. I had never seen the movie before.

      It is a brilliant movie and seems to break many so-called "rules" of exposition, dialogue and pacing.

      It is so well-written, and the characters are so vivid and compelling, you can't quit watching.

      I came away believing you can almost get away with anything if it is well-executed.

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      • #4
        Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

        Well sure, if you are capable of exemplary screenwriting, you can break any rule you want. Most people here, however, are not... most screenwriters start out trying to break the rules, because they are convinced that they are going to be unique and different and stand out from that glut of other screenwriters, but then they find that they have to learn and understand and be capable of executing those "rules" in order to be able to effectively circumvent them.

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        • #5
          Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

          There's too much dialogue when it's:
          a. Boring.
          b. Repetitive.
          c. Unecessary.
          d. Repetitive.

          Start late. End early. Don't waste your precious pages with stuff that doesn't progress your story or develop your characters. We're only getting about a two hour window into someone else's life in a screenplay, edit it to what's important to the central story you're trying to tell.

          If you really want to write this just for yourself, you might even try writing a novel instead of a screenplay. That will exorcize all overwriting demons so that if you ever do decide to write the screenplay, you know exactly what you need to keep and what can be tossed for economy's sake.
          "So I guess big parts of our youth are supposed to suck. Otherwise we'd get too attached and wake up one day trapped on a hamster wheel that used to look like a merri-go-round." - Hal Sparks

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          • #6
            Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

            Originally posted by Geevie
            If you really want to write this just for yourself, you might even try writing a novel instead of a screenplay. That will exorcize all overwriting demons
            Um. Novels do not have permission to be overwritten. Every word should count, it just counts in a different way.

            To answer Empath's question, I personally would say that three to six pages of dialogue unbroken by any kind of action or change of location is, yeah, a bit too much.

            There's no reason your characters can't be doing something while they're talking. Appropriate actions can add poignancy and increase the subtext. Like a wife getting her husband's coffee and waiting on him hand and foot while she's telling him she wants a divorce. Bad example off the top of my head, but it shows something about their relationship other than what she's saying, and it gives us something to watch and ponder so we don't get bored while they're chitchatting.

            You could also consider changing locations while they're talking. Their conversation could start at a restaurant, pick up in the car, continue in a back alley and end as one character knifes the other and dumps him in a dumpster. You don't have to show them getting from one place to another, and you can keep the conversation flowing unbroken as you switch locations, even though in real life it wouldn't do that. But you're not writing real life or real dialogue, you're writing the illusion of real life and dialogue.
            "Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.-
            ― Ray Bradbury

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            • #7
              Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

              I didn't mean to imply that novels are to be overwritten. I simply stated if he was writing it out for himself only then to approach it with a longer, more liberal medium. Not everything you want to tell is always best to tell in a screenplay and this can be especially true in dialogue. Put a novel next to its film adaption and you will see there were things that were integral to the novel that didn't need to be addressed in the screenplays.

              So if you want to flesh out your story first, get it all out on the page, try a novel rather than a screenplay. There's no law saying you can't write the screenplay later.
              "So I guess big parts of our youth are supposed to suck. Otherwise we'd get too attached and wake up one day trapped on a hamster wheel that used to look like a merri-go-round." - Hal Sparks

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              • #8
                Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

                Wow, thanks for the responses everyone!

                KeenGuy - Thanks for the pointers, there's lots I'd like to convey about the characters (the story being character-centric, this also pushes the story forward), I'm working on boiling it down to the bare basics, and doing my best to be entertaining.

                GreyGhost - Encouraging to hear, I'm doing my best.

                KeenGuy - My writing is definately not exemplary, so I'm trying to stick to the established rules.

                Geevie - Good points, I'm working to make it snappy.
                As to writing a novel, I don't quite have the patience to spend a year focusing on a single story. And I'm not writing this just to write it, but to learn about screenwriting. I've always had an interest in storytelling, and have in the past done acting, theatre production, animation and visual effects, a little short story writing, poetry, and wanted to try my hand at this just to see how I liked it. I'm only seventeen, so I'm exploring options.

                Ravenlocks - Excellent tips! I'll see what I can do to include them, but the situation I have set up doesn't really lend itself to a lot of that. It's a road movie, and the conversation starts up between strangers in the back of a greyhound bus (location switching out the window there). I do already have a few actions woven in, and I'll see what more I can add.

                Here, don't bother to comment on the screenwriting aspects of this (when I feel I have anything written to the best of my abilities, I'll post it in the script pages forum), but this is what I have so far:

                Code:
                
                GIRL
                Hey.
                
                Alex turns, looking like he just got caught with his hand in a cookie jar.
                
                GIRL
                Iâ€TMm not much of one for starting conversations either, but can we at least be honest that we want to talk to each other?
                
                   Alexâ€TMs mouth opens, but no words are forthcoming.
                
                             GIRL
                Would you at least come and sit where we can talk?
                 
                   Alex hesitates.
                
                             ALEX
                I, uh… been on the road a while. Donâ€TMt think you want to smell me…
                
                             GIRL
                (amused)
                Donâ€TMt worry about it, I donâ€TMt smell of roses myself.
                
                   With a slight shrug, he awkwardly moves to the seat across from her, sits down, sets his pack on the seat beside him.
                
                   …
                
                             GIRL
                So whatâ€TMs your name?
                
                   Alex.
                
                   She extends her hand.
                
                             GIRL
                Evelyn Hunt. Eve, to keep it simple.
                
                   Alex hesitates, then lightly shakes her hand.
                
                   Eve gives him a miffed look.
                
                   …
                
                             EVE
                Do you know why people shake hands?
                
                   He looks at her quizzically.
                
                             EVE
                To show that weâ€TMre unarmed. I donâ€TMt bite either, so you can stop being so nervous.
                
                Alex smiles, relaxes a little.
                


                Bleargh, this thing chewed it up and spat it out bass ackwards. Sorry...
                Last edited by Empath; 06-13-2005, 10:32 AM.

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                • #9
                  Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

                  Originally posted by Empath
                  As to writing a novel, I don't quite have the patience to spend a year focusing on a single story.
                  Actually, surprisingly, it doesn't take that long to write a novel. Similarly, there are people who can and do spend a year working on a single script.

                  The best thing is to have direction where you're going in either medium. If you do enough prep work you can crank out a novel (and especially a screenplay) fairly quickly. My current record is a bit over a month for a novel and a week for a screenplay. (Both based on the same idea)

                  If you're not working by an outline then just purge it all onto the page. Don't worry about structure or the "rules" as much as discovering the story you want to tell. Your first draft of your first script is going to work like an outline anyway. Get it all out, then you can worry about trimming the fat later. Go ahead and write those eight pages of sparkling dialogue - just know that when you go through it again you will probably cut it down to two pages and not lose one thing.

                  Dialogue is great, and if you're good at it the tendency will be strong to depend on your strength. I know. This is a problem I'm very familiar with. But I can tell you the best feeling in the world is to get to that point where no words are needed in a scene at all. Better than a drug, I tellya.
                  "So I guess big parts of our youth are supposed to suck. Otherwise we'd get too attached and wake up one day trapped on a hamster wheel that used to look like a merri-go-round." - Hal Sparks

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

                    Originally posted by Ravenlocks
                    You could also consider changing locations while they're talking. Their conversation could start at a restaurant, pick up in the car, continue in a back alley and end as one character knifes the other and dumps him in a dumpster. You don't have to show them getting from one place to another, and you can keep the conversation flowing unbroken as you switch locations, even though in real life it wouldn't do that. But you're not writing real life or real dialogue, you're writing the illusion of real life and dialogue.
                    I absolutely hate this convention. It is mostly used in film adaptations of plays, and it rarely ever works.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

                      Emp,

                      It feels like from your sample that you're overwriting things. You don't need to know every little nuance a character makes in response to every line of dialogue. Just let it rip.

                      And if you have to ask
                      how much is too much
                      ... it's too much....

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                      • #12
                        Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

                        Thanks Geevie! I really wish I was one of those crazy fast writer people, and I might manage such feats if I drank coffee by the barrelful and did nothing else but write. As it is, I'm on a month break between semesters, and am trying to relax a little before diving back into coursework.

                        As to prep work, I've done quite a bit of brain wracking, research, scribbling out of ideas (I've written about fifteen pages of mostly random stuff related to the story), rethinking, and have the basic plot structure together. I've started writing bits of scenes I know will be part of the final rough draft, but if it can really be that easy to barrel through it, I think I should probably go back and work more on the outlining...


                        Odrift, I wasn't certain how much exposition is necessary, some scripts I've read I had a hard time following for lack of detail. I've been including as much detail as I would want to read, likely I'm just too used to books.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

                          I've been including as much detail as I would want to read, likely I'm just too used to books. http://scriptsales.com/boards/images/smilies/tongue.gif
                          Yes but you won't be the one reading it....

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                          • #14
                            Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

                            Originally posted by odriftwood
                            Yes but you won't be the one reading it....
                            Excellent point.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Dialogue - How much is too much?

                              In screenplays people only talk becuse thay want something.
                              "I am the story itself; its source, its voice, its music."
                              - Clive Barker, Galilee

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