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Cut Redundant Dialogue

Tweak + Polish Tip No. 1

WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT GET NOTICED AND OPEN DOORS

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by Naomi in rewriting, screenwriting
dialogue screenwriting article

In that last stage of writing your screenplay – after you’ve done the inventing and the story breaking and the outlining and the character creation and the plotting and the scene construction, and even written the dialogue needed to tell the story…

(Yes, you’ve done a lot. Good, necessary work, all of it.)

After all that, there are still a number of “easy” passes you can do to polish the screenplay and improve the experience of the read itself.

Writing a screenplay happens in layers

This series of Tweak + Polish tips will focus on some of the last layers to consider. These tips can make a big difference, but are relatively simple or easy things to implement. So, a caveat:

Don’t be tempted by the siren song of the Tweak + Polish.

Meaning, don’t think these easy fixes can improve issues in the foundation of your story. You still have to do all of that good, necessary work first.

Tweak + Polish tips don’t address load-bearing walls. We’re talking about things like the style and functionality of the cabinet hardware.

Okay, back to the tip of the day.

Cut redundant dialogue

Redundant dialogue probably occurs because when we’re writing, often we have an idea of what we’re trying to say but we’re not sure of the best way to say it. So we put it all in there juuuuuust to make sure our point is made.

In the screenplays I read for contests or clients, I often see dialogue like this:

          CAPTAIN
He won’t be noticed. He’s too good
to leave any tracks. Don’t worry.
He’ll be fine.

While this dialogue does get its point across, repeating that point actually lessens the impact of the character’s dialogue. In this scene, the Captain character is being authoritative and reassuring. But this rambling way of conveying his point undercuts the confidence we’re supposed to believe the character has.

Plus, it bores the reader.

It’s like when someone’s telling you a story and they keep making the same point. Repeating themselves. Like, they say it one way and then say it again another way. They’ll tell you exactly what they mean and then tell you again using different words, almost like they think you don’t speak their language. But it’s less for you and more because they’re working it out in their own head. But you get to hear the same thing several times because they’re not thinking about you, the listener. They’re only thinking about what point they’re trying to make. So they tell you again and again.

Annoying, right? You probably tuned out after the second sentence in that paragraph and I don’t blame you at all.

What’s my point?

Edit.

Ask what the purpose of this dialogue is. Accomplish that purpose. Drop the mic.

How do you know the purpose of dialogue?

Dialogue – good dialogue – serves a story in three main areas:

  • Plot
  • Character
  • Relationships

So when you’re vetting your own dialogue like the snippet above, you can evaluate it in these three areas.

Ask yourself things like:

  • What point does this dialogue need to make?
  • Is it contributing to the plot, character, or relationship?
  • Do I need to hit this point hard because it’s a vital plot point?
  • Is the phrasing of the dialogue indicative of a character’s defining trait?
  • Is it indicative of the situation? Meaning, the character’s emotional state is revealed in the phrasing of this response?
  • What’s the bare minimum I need to accomplish the purpose?
  • How can I make the bare minimum still sound true to the character?

Again – this is a late-stage consideration. When you’re writing, let it flow. When you’re rewriting, take the more analytical approach.

It sounds like a no-brainer but redundant dialogue is extremely common. Lucky for us, it’s very easy to fix.

At the risk of repeating myself:

  • Determine what the dialogue needs to accomplish.
  • Accomplish that purpose in the most powerful way possible.
  • Cut the rest.

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