The Importance of Dialogue

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Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris


Starting out, learning about screenwriting, you will find yourself encountering all sorts of guidance and rules that tell you THE best way to write a script or stress the importance of any of the many elements of scriptwriting.

Dialogue is something that I started off believing was THE most important components of a great script. While it definitely IS one important aspect of writing, is it right to think it is any more important than the other components such as Story, Character and/or Concept?

Everyone remembers and loves great dialogue and quotes from their favourite films. But do we remember those lines more because it is a favourite watched many times or because of the impact of the dialogue? Or maybe it is because the characters themselves are so memorable?

No-one forgets a great character.

Or a fantastic concept.

I got to thinking about this at the weekend after watching Mad Max: Fury Road with my Father-in-Law. It had been sitting waiting for ages on the Blu Ray player so we broke open the seal and popped it in after lunch on Sunday.

Two hours of great concept and great characters.

But not a lot of dialogue.

I think the majority of Max’s dialogue plays out in the first five minutes of the film. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure there is any really “memorable” dialogue in the film; it is definitely a more visual film. Although, perhaps, I will have to watch it again to double check 🙂

The characters are well written and realised on screen. Max and Furiosa exchange very few words, but the way they are portrayed and react to each other, and their situations, explains a lot more in a much more efficient way than simply flooding the audience with unnecessary dialogue.

Visually we are shown Imortan Joe’s world, the kind of guy he is, through scenes showing his control of water, crops and women and his reaction to Furiosa’s escape. The flip side of this shows us Furiosa’s character, her determination to get away and to protect her cargo. Max joins the fight with almost no dialogue, showing that, although he may be mad, Max still has human decency at his heart.

By their actions, we are drawn into those characters and empathise with them – all with the minimum of dialogue. Something silent films did for years.

Personally, I think this works better with actions, as opposed to just words.

If you get it wrong with dialogue, and/or use too much, then you risk losing your audience and the flow of the film, slowing it down… something Fury Road cannot be accused of.

Of course there are lots of other films out there that support the argument that dialogue is not the be all and end all of writing – in the same way there are hundreds that are reliant on heavy dialogue. From The Artist to The Social Network, dialogue has a place to play in every film, just in different ways. If you know your concept and your characters inside out, then the dialogue should be easier to find when you need it.

But don’t get bogged down if dialogue doesn’t come naturally to you (it will, eventually, it’s like anything you’re not good at – practice, practice practice) it’s just part of the process.

I struggle with dialogue myself, really struggle with it, so am working during my edits to develop my skills at writing and rewriting dialogue to reflect my characters as well as cutting it down to help the flow of the story.

So is dialogue THE most important aspects of screenwriting?

No, I don’t think so.

But it is ONE of many important components of screenwriting.

Screenwriting requires mastery of lots of elements, not just skill in one. Develop them all. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and a great concept may be ruined if executed with terrible dialogue and great dialogue might not be enough to save a script that contains weak characters.

So get writing and get practicing. Find yours and your characters’ voices and use their dialogue to bring your characters and concept to life and write the best damn story you can!

How do you use dialogue?

What tools do you use to develop dialogue?

Feel to comment below and share your thought on dialogue.

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Posted on April 28, 2016, in Dialogue, rewriting, Structure, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Rules and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great post Mark. Whilst not a screenwriter, I think its an excellent point about dialogue. Les not forget that ‘silent can be golden’ – look at how successful ‘The Artist’ was. Another good film with limited dialogue is ‘All is lost’ where you get a real sense of man v elements..and a few swear words.
    In terms of ‘Fury Road’ do you think it works because we are familiar with the franchise?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, I think that is probably part of it. But it links in with World-Building as well. Whether you have an established franchise or not, if you build your story-world and resident characters carefully you can make the audience believe they are already familiar with them. But I am sure having seen the original trilogy helps a lot; you know who Max is, you know about his family and what he has been through, so understand his reasons for acting as he does. We don’t know Furiosa though – but we do know the world she inhabits, and that helps a lot.

    Like

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