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One Tweak for Better Dialogue, Scene, and Character

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by Naomi Write + Co. in dialogue, screenwriting

Getting rid of Q&A dialogue is a quick way to improve not only the dialogue and the scene, but the character as well.

But, wait – what is Q&A dialogue?

There’s a type of scene you find in a lot of beginner screenplays that looks something like this:

JANE: Hey, how did your date go?
AMELIA: I don’t know. I thought we hit it off but he hasn’t called.
JANE: How long has it been?
AMELIA: Three days.
JANE: What are you going to do?
AMELIA: All I can do is sit by the phone…
JANE: Why don’t you call him?
AMELIA: That’s the thing, I kind of accidentally deleted his number.
JANE: Don’t you have any other way of reaching him?
AMELIA: If he wanted to see me again, he would’ve called by now.

And so on. There’s no energy to the scene. No conflict. It’s boring.

In other words, Q&A dialogue is the kind of dialogue that goes on in a question-and-answer pattern without a real reason for it. Sometimes Q&A is a deliberate choice for the scene, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Our topic today is Q&A dialogue that isn’t purposeful, and why it’s so bad for your script.

Q&A dialogue is a common pitfall. Because when we’re writing the scene for the first time, it’s easy to be so focused on what the scene needs to accomplish that we write the most straightforward version.

First draft scenes are often boring

And that’s okay! Done is better than perfect.

Since Q&A dialogue is a convenient way to dump exposition onto the audience, it’s easy to see why it might show up in those first draft scenes. But it can make the scene feel tedious and unengaging.

So when the first draft is done, remember to rewrite it and make it better. Meaning, get rid of that Q&A dialogue. Because Q&A dialogue isn’t just boring dialogue, it actually weakens the scene and the character.

Q&A dialogue makes for boring scenes

Q&A dialogue tends to be monotonous. Because it’s so evenly back-and-forth, it doesn’t get a chance to dance or sparkle. Which means the reader has to slog through it just to get the information you’re trying to impart, making them lose interest in the conversation and the characters. Better dialogue holds our interest because it’s lively, varied, and emotionally resonant.

And scenes need conflict and stakes, just like stories do as a whole. But, as you may have noticed from the example I started with, Q&A dialogue doesn’t usually contain much conflict. Or subtext, for that matter.

And that’s because Q&A dialogue almost always takes one character out of the equation…

Q&A dialogue makes one character a mindless, soulless shell of a person

That might be overstating it a little, but not much. When you put one character in the position of only asking questions meant to elicit information (that you think the audience needs), that character ceases to be a real character.

They have no other purpose or agenda of their own (for the duration of the conversation, at least). They become a device, rather than a character. Q&A dialogue steals the life from them.

Instead of simply asking and answering questions, characters should express their thoughts, feelings, and motivations through their dialogue.

So how do you fix Q&A dialogue?

The first step is determining whether you have Q&A dialogue that needs to be rewritten. If you spot a scene that contains one character asking question after question in a conversation, make sure to ask: “Why are they asking those questions?”

What is the character trying to accomplish? If you can’t answer that, then the character – and their dialogue – needs work.

Make sure the Q-ing character has their own agenda and motivations. When a character wants something specific, they’re less likely to be reduced to an information-gleaning device.

But once you know what they want in the scene, you also have to make sure their dialogue is a form of action and reaction, allowing each character to show their emotions and intentions through their behavior. This will add depth and dimension to the conversation.


This is #12 in the Tweak + Polish series! You can find the other tips for polishing your screenplay linked here.

WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT GET NOTICED AND OPEN DOORS

Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.

Subscribe