How To Write Great Dialogue


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How To Write Great Dialogue



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What makes great dialogue? In this video essay I talk about subtext, purpose, and realism. The three pillars of what makes great dialogue.

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38 Comments

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  1. the err umm advice section is accurate but also not accurate. Often times in dialogue they say unrealistic things and have more mmph to them and have more iconic punchlines then real life. Conversation does not equal dialogue like u said but err umm oh and like all have to be used in at times in order to drive home the character or to make conversation more real feeling.

  2. Whatever Hans Landa said in IB about rats is not unrelated to the conversation! Rats, parasites, disease. These are motives the Nazis used in their propagando to dehumanize jews and opposite politicians. Please be sensitive when people use this language to describe humans. Nazis used this language to manipulate our old tribal fears. Enhance and directed xenophobia.

  3. What blows my mind about Tarantino is that he can have his characters talking about seemingly mundane things and yet the scene and dialogue will still be so engrossing.

    Pulp Fiction's Royale with Cheese and Reservoir Dog's Tipping scenes for example.

  4. Thanks for the video! I'm an amateur novelist (I'm italian, sorry for my bad english), and I feel that most academic lessons about writing should serve the purpose of… explaining why you're doing it right, instead of teaching you something from scratch. What I mean is, if you need someone to tell you the principles about dialogue that you covered in this video, then you're in a world of trouble. If you have good taste and some talent, every good book you've read already gave you hundreds of lessons about writing (that's the real writing school); then I guarantee you were already applying everything that's covered in this video, even if you were doing it by mere instinct. If you say "wow, I was writing dialogue like Tommy Wiseau, next time I'll try to use subtext", you probably should choose another hobby. It sounds harsh, but that's the way I see it.

  5. I think dialogue moves from subtext to context. In the first two acts, the characters are holding back and not saying what's truly important to them. Maybe they themselves don't even know what that is. The subtext suggests what they really think and where they're headed. By the final act, the characters have been through so much, have had to sacrifice all but what's really important to them, that now they shout/splutter/blubber their truths. But that "on the nose" dialogue now works because it's laden with the context of everything we've seen them go through.

  6. A great analysis of this is done by Brandon Sanderson in his online lectures (for example, he comments on Whedon dialogue being very engaging, while being extremely unnatural… people are far too witty etc. yet it works…)

  7. The part about show dont tell made me realize my one attempt at creative writing is pretty awkward… it wasn’t dialogue per se, but I show inner thoughts and just flat out explain why this character is on a manhunt to kill some others
    “How dare they do that to x! And what they did to y?!”
    Geez, thanks for the tips!

  8. i dont agree with this opinion, the narration is annoying too. you can definitely add meaningless conversations and authentic way of blabbering in everyday life and still make a great movie, it's just depends on who are you listening to.

  9. I strongly disagree about the interstellar line. At that point it is fairly obvious to all (including the dead) that the sci-fi genre has been only a scenery to deliver that completely pathetic message.

  10. The beauty of Tarantino's films is the dialogue. Yes people like the blood and gore for what ever reason just like they like horror movies. I once thought with Friday the 13th the gorrier the better but what he hits upon is the "banality of evil." It's hit men talking about hamburgers and foot messages on the way to kill a bunch of people. Killing is nothing to them. Like flipping a hamburger on a grill. Society says it's wrong but deep down in so many people is that murderer. That destructive force we don't like to look at. The dialogue let's us relate to those characters and frees us from constraints.

  11. bruh Anakin is literally a 19 year old virgin who was taken away from his slave mother to be an energy monk and has only had one crush on a queen his whole life…best written character in history. What would you say if you were an ex slave turned wizard altar boy and you were chilling with Natalie Portman in space Italy.

  12. Was with you until you cited the line from ‘I N T E R S T E L L A R’.

    You obviously have no idea what you’re talking about.

    That line is a red herring. It’s intentionally quasi-groan-worthy so you as the audience are thrown off the scent and side with Cooper’s decision to go to Mann’s planet. This is emphasized by the fact Cooper essentially has been making the exact same calculus as Brand the entire film but keeps it close to his vest, whereas she is blatant about it. And ultimately, they end up needing each other (both for their new found loneliness and to ensure Brand doesn’t go all “Mann-ish” and sabotage arriving humanity due to the nihilism she must be feeling when she gets to Wolf’s planet). It also demonstrates human hypocrisy and bias. There are so many things, semi-overt and subtextual that are going on with Brand’s line about love.

    Nolan is showing through the subsequent actions and plot that large mistakes can be made for wrong, often tiny, prejudices but they are necessary (another huge theme of the film) for the ultimate good and/or benefit to be won. Everything must happen, even the mistakes, even the bad, for the day to be won.

    A major theme in this film is love, yes. But another is *necessity*. That everything, even the smallest thing matters in the grand scheme of a battle for survival and existence itself.

    ‘I N T E R S T E L L A R’ may be my favorite Nolan film, but even if it weren’t it is essentially a perfect film.

    This channel has no idea about the principles it’s talking about to miss such a blatant use of red herring, such a blatant use of misdirection.

  13. For the Darth Vader line, I'd argue that it's a great moment but it's not great *dialogue*. The impact is in the information being revealed, not in the line itself. Notice how incredibly often this line is misquoted (as "Luke, I am your father"); it gets misquoted because the specific wording is not relevant to our enjoyment of the moment.

    It's not a problem that it's not great dialogue, though, because the dialogue isn't the point in that moment. The same way not every image or piece of the score or costume in a movie needs to be transcendent, because sometimes they're not the point of what's currently happening.

  14. Give Anakin a break man! He's a teenage Jesus being raised by emotionless monks and in love with a grown woman who holds the power of a queen to an entire planet. I think Hayden Christiansen did a pretty good job getting that level of intense frustration across.