Movie Dialogue vs. Naturalistic Dialogue

When I had my first screenwriting class, the teacher would lock the doors at class time. If you were late, you came back the next week. Lots of banging on the door that first class. After that, no one was late. I have been DYING to do that with my students, but the doors don’t have locks!

I still remember turning in my first set of pages. Naturally, he’d bled red ink all over them… much like a set of pages I give back to my students. He scratched through tons and tons of my dialogue… my fantastic dialogue that I’d labored over for so long. He said it was “naturalistic.” Like it was a disease.

I said, naively, “But isn’t that the way people talk?”
“Not in movies.”

And wow, was he right.
It’s hard to explain, though.
You want it to SOUND like people talk in real life (Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgins being two of my favorites in the world of novels) but you want to to move on at an incredible clip. Leaving out anything that is not essential to yanking the plot forward…
You can’t shilly shally around with yakking back and forth like people do in real life, wasting pages and pages with talking like people really talk.
This is a bit complex, and requires a bit of study.

I do have an example that will make sense to everybody.


Everybody has seen a wedding in a movie. They ALL go something like this.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together to unite this man and this woman in holy matrimony.
(to groom)
David, do you solemnly swear to take Eloise to have and to hold from this day forward, for as long as you both shall live?

I do.

Eloise, do you solemnly swear to take David to have and to hold from this day forward, for as long as you both shall live?

I do.

If there is any person here who feels these two people should not be joined together, speak now or forever hold thy peace.

Long pause.

I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.

And, in a movie, they’re married! Zip, zip, zip.

If you’ve ever been to a Catholic wedding with a full mass, you know it doesn’t go zip, zip, zip. John Paul I was Pope less time than some Catholic weddings.
A real wedding has lots and lots of stuff that I left out. Movie dialogue is shorthand for the real thing, but it gets the point across and helps move the story from A to B in the scene.

Just because real people take 45 minutes (or two hours) to get married, doesn’t mean your wedding scene has to last five pages.


1 Comment

Filed under Dialogue, Rewriting, Screenwriting

One response to “Movie Dialogue vs. Naturalistic Dialogue

  1. Pingback: Our Sunday Best : Most Have Their Norgays (Dialogue Edition) « Bluebird Blvd.

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