Dialogue Help: Professional screenwriter will help your dialogue sound natural [Open]

Hey everyone,

I’m an award-winning script and screenwriter with over ten years experience in live theatre and film. All of my stuff on WP is prose, but I have a knack for authentic-sounding dialogue. I have an improv background and have been brought in to do punch-up and doctoring work on many projects, including an Dora Award-winning play. (The Dora’s are like Canada’s Tony’s.)

If you’re looking to improve your characters’ communication, if you know you should be “showing but not telling”, if you want the people who are so real in your head to sound real on the page, I can help!

Not looking for anything in return, just trying to get my name out there.

If you want help on a specific passage, feel free to paste it in a reply. If you want help with a chapter in a story, shoot me a link. If you want general advice, feel free to ask!

Give me as much context as possible. I at least need to know who these characters are and what they want from each other.

Looking forward to reading some dialogue!

EDIT A few people have asked for links to my work which, yeah, fair enough!

House Sitter
The Cat, The Message, and The Date all have some good dialogue scenes

Descent
The very end of Part 1 has a quick dialogue

On the Shores of a Methane Sea
“Foreman” has an interrogation scene that illustrates how to incorporate character thought and manipulation into a conversation

(This is the first one of these I’ve done so please let me know if this doesn’t fit the rules or if there’s anything I can fix for next time.)

Hey, I’ve been told that dialogue is a real weakness of mine. There’s a specific chapter in my book that I’ve been told could do with a lot of work.
Link: https://www.wattpad.com/794605740-lapping-waves-chapter-5
This conversation takes place between a 14 year old girl and her dad. They’ve recently moved away from their town after a shooting at her school to try and recover on the coast. She hasn’t been back to school since the shooting, and it’s been a few months and her dad wants to try to get her to give going back a try. I want her to come across sad, quiet and finding it hard to talk about how she feels and open up because she feels like her parents won’t understand. Her dad is just tying to do the best for her, but he doesn’t want to force her into anything. He needs to come across understanding, but unsure of how to really help.
If you could just take a look, that would be really helpful, as I know how bad this dialogue is!
Also any general tips would be appreciated.
Thank you.

Hey Dazzie,

This is a really difficult subject to write about and I applaud you for the attempt. You’ve put the reader right inside Maia’s head and her confusion comes across really clearly.

My suggestion would be to let the character’s body language speak for themselves. People rarely say exactly what they’re feeling or thinking, even in a situation like this where Maia’s father is sitting her down to have a talk. Actor’s always think of something called “the moment before”: what was happening, and what was I doing, right before this scene started? For Maia and her Dad, the moment before is highly charged: Her mother, his wife, was so upset she was crying at the dinner table and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her. This is very unusual behaviour and it puts immense pressure on both Maia’s father, who now has to navigate this conversation alone, and on Maia herself.

Let’s take a look at what hints you are giving the audience (your readers) that maybe you’re not even aware of. Dad says “We need to talk to you” (emphasis mine): this says a lot, since his wife isn’t participating in the conversation at all. This tells us Maia’s dad is resolute, he’s going to go through with this with his wife’s support or not, and that gives us a hint at some tension between him and his wife.

You’re spending a lot of time explaining how people are feeling about what they’re saying. Instead, try to show us what they’re doing while they’re talking. What is their body language like? Is Maia’s dad looking her in the eye while he’s talking or is he focused on something else, an object on the table or hanging on the wall? Is he holding her hand or playing with his napkin? Are his shoulder’s slumped? Is his forehead creased with worry? Tell us what we can see and let us decide for ourselves what it all means.

Maia’s dad might have trouble finding the right words, he may clear his throat or stammer or take big, deep breaths between sentences. He may try to rephrase something that she takes the wrong way.

Ask yourself: Does Maia want to have this conversation? Why does she engage with him at all? Would she shut down? Would she even listen to him? Maybe she’s looking for an excuse not to talk about this and pounces on something her dad says so she can get angry with him and storm off.

Scripts are broken into scenes, which often means two or more characters will interact in some way. While prose tends to be broken into chapters, those chapters will often have discreet scenes within them. This is definitely a scene, and the only thing a scene needs to be successful is for every character who participates to have 1) an objective and 2) stakes

So, if you choose to rewrite this scene, think to yourself: What does Maia want and how does she get it from her Dad? Do the same for her Dad. Being very clear in your wants, and finding interesting ways to frustrate those wants, is the key to authentic dialogue.

Thanks for your trust! Good luck!

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Wow, thank you for the help! Honestly there’s so much more detail here than I imagined you would give me and thanks for the quick response. I’m going to listen to everything you’ve said, as your the first person who’s actually told me how to improve my dialogue, rather than just tell me it needs improving like most people. Thank you so much!

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I always have trouble with casual conversation! I have high-functioning autism so dialogue can be difficult…even though people have said I am a refined writer.

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You’re welcome!

I really believe anyone who takes the risk of putting their work out there deserves as much care and attention from those who read it as it was given by the creator.

Let me know if you have any more questions

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I do have a very general question. I often struggle making my characters sound different from each other in conversation without it sounding really forced. I want them to have their own ways of talking to make them unique but it usually comes out sounding fake. How do you suggest are good ways of getting individuality into speech?

I can’t speak to your specific challenge since I have no experience with it myself, but it may be helpful to think of conversations like a puzzle.

As I said to Dazzie, every conversation in prose is a scene, just like a scene of dialogue in a play or movie. In every scene, each character needs to get something from every other character. What does Character A do to Character B to get what they want? These an be physical, a key or $100, or they can be emotional, like love or validation.

Actors use tactics to vary how they speak their lines, and most playwrights do the same thing. In scripts, you’ll sometimes see hints from the writer before the lines, like this:
COLIN: (Shyly) Hi there

You want your tactics to be active, energetic. You don’t speak to someone, you push them, you punch your words to them, you softly kiss a compliment or shove an insult. Step back form your computer and physicalize your conversation.

You mention that you have trouble with casual conversation, but even small talk has weight behind it. You don’t talk to people for no reason–even if it sounds like airy bullshit to a passive listener. Two people just chatting on a bus may be talking because they’re attracted to each other, or lonely, or maybe one of them is trying out a tactic in an argument they’ll try later on their spouse. Every time you open your mouth, you’re trying to get something from someone else. I know that sounds kind of icky and transactional, but it’s true!

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Yeah, I noticed that in the piece you shared. Specifically, you have Dad use the word “'cause” instead of “because” which strikes me as a little juvenile for an older man.

In these cases, think of someone in your life who you can substitute for this character. You don’t want to slam your own father into your story whole-cloth, but you can borrow behaviours from the people in your life. It can be helpful to use surrogates you’re familiar with, like characters from other stories you know well, or actors you like.

I don’t mean make Maia’s Dad literally Dumbledore, but think about why Dumbledore is such a beloved father figure in literature. How would he handle this conversation? Would he keep himself at a distance or lower himself to Maia’s level? Would he be direct, or use a metaphor? Would he be gruff or kind? Would it be easy for him, or very hard?

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Thank you for this. It’s really helpful. I’m definitely going to go rewrite that scene (and probably other dialogue scenes) using all your tips.

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Cool! Shoot me a DM when it’s done, I’d love to read it

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Hey everyone, I had someone DM me for some help. With their permission, I’m going to C&P one thing I told them you all may find useful:

So, I love just letting dialogue flow back and forth like this with no character names or interruptions, but it’s not something you can start with. We need a little context as to who is speaking and where they are and where they’re going.

Here’s an example from one of my stories on how little context you need to get into that quick back-and-forth flow:
(For context, Tommy has just woken up from a nightmare. This is the first time you meet these characters)

Tommy Carleson sat bolt upright in bed and yelled “What the fuck?” at the same time his mother was depositing a plate of buttered toast on his bedside table. She froze, half bent over, one hand still holding the edge of the yellow plate, and they met each others’ eyes.
“Oh.” She said.
“Uh.” He managed, his heart pounding.
“I’ve never heard you…uhm.”
“Why are you in here?”
“I brought you some toast-”
“Thanks.”
“I didn’t know you were saying those things.”
“Please don’t come in here-”
“Of course,”
“Without, uh, asking, or-”
“Yes, yeah, you’re right.”
“Just, like, not when I’m asleep.”
“I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine.”
By now she had retreated to the door and was working her way out into the hallway.
“So, there you go.” She said, gesturing to the toast.
“What time is it?”
“Uh, I don’t, uh, time to get up.”
“Okay.”
“Okay!” The second syllable was punctuated by a sharp rise in her pitch, like she was clapping with her voice.
They stared at each other while she hung onto the knob. Tommy felt he should say something, and settled on:
“Sorry I-”
“No!”
“-swore it’s just-”
“You’re growing.”
“Right.”

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So see how, at the beginning, I clearly state who’s speaking, where they are, and what their relationship is? I also give a physical context: Tommy is sitting up in bed, having just had a nightmare, and his mom has just brought him toast.

When one of the dialogue pieces is just “I brought you some toast…” this reminds the reader that this is Mom speaking, since we know she is the one who brought the toast in. It’s a different way of saying “Mom said” after a line.

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Hello Colin!!!

Bookmarking this thread so I can come back to it tonight and really take a look at all of your advice. Thank you for doing this and sharing your expertise. It is much appreciated :slight_smile:

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You’re welcome! Happy to answer any questions or follow ups

And I was hoping to read some of your dialogues to learn something new! Your prose are great though. It’s an amazing find on WP!

Thanks! Unfortunately, I don’t have the full rights to any of my scripts, so I don’t think I can legally post them anywhere.

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Write a new on for us then :slight_smile:

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Hah, sure, my rates are…

:wink: