Dialogue Is Not Conversation

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Dialogue Is Not Conversation

In his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting, screenwriting expert Robert McKee states that dialogue should have "the swing of everyday talk, but content well above normal."
If I were to transcribe a conversation with my best friend and put it into a screenplay, the audience would fall asleep within seconds.
"Yeah, I might go out tonight…Dunno, maybe a movie…"
In real life, people ramble, digress, interrupt and repeat themselves. But film dialogue is clear and purposeful. Every word drives the story forward. Good dialogue conveys a maximum of meaning with a minimum of words.
Nevertheless, dialogue still needs to sound like something real people would say. Real people don't speak in full, grammatically perfect sentences or well-composed paragraphs. They use contractions. They drop words. They jump from one thought to another.
Sonny is a nervous bank robber at a bungled hold-up. He's inside the bank with several hostages and Sal, his psychopathic accomplice. Outside, the police have the place surrounded. You may recognize this scenario from Dog Day Afternoon (written by Frank Pierson) starring a young Al Pacino.
Does Sonny say, "Do you want me to give up? Look, Sal is in the back with the girls. He has his gun pointed at them. If anything should happen to me, Sal will shoot them. If you make one move, the girls will die. How can I be sure you will not jump me?"
No, of course not. This is what Sonny says:
You want me to give up, huh? Look, Sal's in back with the girls. Anything happens to me--one move--and Sal gives it to them. Boom boom. How do I know you won't jump me?

Remember, "the swing of everyday talk, but content well above normal."



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