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We've talked a lot about who characters are and what characters do, but what about what characters say? Let's turn our focus now to dialogue.
If you're a movie buff, you'll recognize these lines of dialogue:
"I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
"May the Force be with you."
The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, and Star Wars gave us phrases that have entered our collective psyche. Because we love quoting our favorite films, it's tempting to think that good dialogue is the most important part of a movie. But film is a visual medium. As important as good dialogue is to our understanding and enjoyment of the movie, those lines don't stand alone. What we see gives life to what we hear.
I spent several years translating scripts and subtitling films for German companies. The production was sometimes so far behind schedule that I was asked to work from a computer print-out alone. This was one of the most difficult parts of the job. Without the visuals, the dialogue to a movie I had never seen made no sense. I tried to visualize the movie as I worked, but later, when I watched the video, I was always amazed at how wrong I'd been. My experience taught me that dialogue serves the story and not the other way around.
So how does a screenwriter write memorable dialogue that serves the story? By understanding what film dialogue is and isn't.