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Dynamic Dialogue, Part II

Last week, Erynn shared about the importance of natural sounding dialogue. Think like a screenwriter. Every minute of screen time, every word counts. Don't add fluff.

Here's something else you shouldn't add: director commentary. 

Sure, people buy DVDs with bonus footage, but I don't know many people who actually watch the version with the director chatting the whole time--explaining, telling what he wanted from the scene, making himself sound generally witty. (Peter Jackson doesn't count. Of course you watch those.)

Seriously, though. Audiences want the end product. They want to be entertained. They want the scene to play out in their mind. And they don't want to think for one second about the writer behind the scenes--at least the first time.

Here are a few ways to accomplish that.

Use the word "said." Avoid sounding like a thesaurus with your dialogue tags.  No one wants to be wowed with your synonym skills. Statistics show that readers actually skip over the word "said" in their reading. It doesn't even register. All they see is dialogue (which is what you want). 

If your characters are replying, interrupting, cajoling, remarking, and muttering? There's no way people can miss that. 

     "Are you kidding me?" Jen queried. "Just tell me we can undo it," she complained. "What will it take?" 
     "We'll do what we have to do," Will countered.
     "We better," she sniped. "If we lose this account because you dropped the ball--"
     "Relax," he challenged. "Your attitude isn't going to help us win them over."

It can get annoying after a while, right? 

Use action beats about 50% of the time. An action beat is exactly that--a moment filled by the character's action. When it's right next to the dialogue, it's clear who's just spoken. Often, an action beat can do more to convey the emotion than an explanation, with no "said" involved. Isn't that same excerpt better like this?

            "Are you kidding me?" Jen snapped her head to the side. She swallowed, then turned back and locked gazes with Will. "Just tell me we can undo it. What will it take?"
If the characters are taking turns nicely, don't tag every give and take. Sometimes, it's obvious. 

     Will stood a little taller. "We'll do what we have to do."
     "We better. If we lose this account because you dropped the ball--"
     "Relax. Your attitude isn't going to help us win them over."
     Jen rolled her neck and closed her eyes. After a few deep breaths, her shoulders relaxed an inch. She met his gaze once more. "I'll smile, and you dig us out of this hole you got us in."

Make sense? A little goes a long way. 

This weekend, our Get Your Grammar Fix(ed) post will tackle the difference between a compound sentence and a complex sentence and whether a comma is necessary. 
More on Dynamic Dialogue mid-week. Erynn's going to talk about some of our favorite mistakes.

Thanks for swinging by!

Thanks to Vancouver Film School for use of the image.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Because she misspelled a word and couldn't leave it...

  2. So is it a sign of extra-geekiness if you watch with the director commentary? Or sad fan-girliness? Hmmm...
    But, of course, you're right about this. No one watches with the director commentary the FIRST time. It's not until they've been so sucked into the drama - due to exceptional storytelling! - that they might want all the behind the scenes info. Great thoughts. You guys are blowing me away with your mad skilz!

  3. Lynn, it may be either of those, and I fully admit to both on occasion. If a story has the power to pull me in to the degree that it stays and stays with me, then--as an artist--I appreciate the artistRY. And then I shift into full on geekery. Yes, I watched ALL of the extras on the LOTR trilogy set. And I've been known to underline writing that sings to me (but not the first time I read a book). It's definitely okay to be a fan girl.

    You are right on all counts, friend. But wouldn't it stink if you couldn't turn the director commentary OFF? If--before you had a chance to love the artist's work--you got tired of their voice? Bleh. Let's avoid that! RUWithMe?


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