This is the second step in our 4-part tutorial on “How To Write A Screenplay“
1. Listen. The fastest path to writing great dialogue is to listen to how people talk. Duh! You don’t need to watch a Merchant/Ivory movie or listen to Shakespeare to get it right, just everyday people. It helps if you can somehow eavesdrop on conversations of people that mirror your target characters, but that’s a bit difficult if you are writing a movie set on Mars.
2. Let It Flow. In this step you’ll need to focus on the how, the when & the why. By the time you are going back and really tightening up your dialogue you should have your scenes worked out. What I do is play the scene over and over and over in my mind. I find it helps me hammer out the cadence of each character. My wife is an actress and she told me about an acting trick where you have to act out a scene using fake dialogue. The ideas is to focus on HOW you are saying what you are saying.
3. Cut It Out. Most of the time the best way to improve your dialogue is to get your scalpel out and cut it. It’s a difficult part of the process, but if a piece of dialogue isn’t absolutely essential get rid of it. Your audience will thank you.
4. Test it. Lastly, what i do is first read every part out loud and see what changes I can make based on how awkward then I ask a group of friends or actors to do a table read. The latter is what forces a ton of changes to the dialogue. The key is to do this at the end of the process.
This steps actually the most fun for me. It involves a bit of homework and tweaking, but I find it the most enjoyable.