Dialogue in Character Development: Rules of Engagement Screenplay pt. 3
Last week, we met Ikenna – the bitter, egoist who is ready to take Alice on a merry go round she has no idea she is about to go on. In her mind, she is about to get this job done, earn some cash and stop her mother from destroying her life. In Ikenna’s mind, he will let her tag along if only to get his annoyingly persuasive brother off his back, maybe the poke-nosy board of his company too, and his little sister…in fact, the whole world needs to get off his back!
How does he say it? Or not say it?
You know when they say, silence is golden. In screenwriting, it really is.
Mastering when to talk and when to stay silence will save you embarrassing scenes that are flat and one-dimensional. Let me whisper a secret into your ear: most times, you can tell a new writer by the length of the dialogue and how wordy the script is. Less is more. Really.
In fact, like in all forms of storytelling, the golden rule is SHOW, DO NOT TELL.
What does this mean? It means that in certain scenes, you can get away with characters that say nothing, but do a lot of things. Consider this scene:
She opened the door, a big, confident smile plastered on her face and met… Two perfectly dressed gentlemen on the ground, one astride the other, tackling each other with fists. She cleared her throat and they both turned – the one on top with his fisted hand poised, ready to deliver a blow on the other Ones face. THE MAN ON TOP Out. She cocked her eyebrow, folded her arms and let her handbag drop to the floor. The man on top rolled his eyes, stood up and reluctantly pulled the other man up on his feet. She watched patiently as both of them straightened their clothes.
THE MAN BELOW
(dusting himself) And you are?
ALICE Alice. Alice Eno Henshaw.
From this short scene, you see more of drama; you get an idea of the characters of the three people in the scene. There is no need for Alice to scream at them or tell them who she was. By her actions, they would know . We know.
How can I show an audience that a man is blind without showing the blind man’s shut eyes? How can you show an audience that a woman was sexually abused as a child without her talking at all? How can you show an audience who is the boss in a room full of ten people without an introduction? There are several other instances where your characters must talk, but this is where creativity comes in. Must they sound alike? Certainly not.