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How Can Dialogue Reveal Character?

As a professional script consultant, I’ve witnessed a common stumbling block for writers: crafting dialogue that effectively reflects a character’s inner world, and a common question that I’m asked by writers is how can dialogue reveal character?  

In this article, we’ll delve into the art of using dialogue to unveil a character’s essence and explore how subtle changes in what characters say can illuminate their personalities.

What Is Bad Dialogue & What Should I Avoid When Writing Dialogue?

Effective dialogue should provide insights into a character’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations.

One common mistake in screenwriting is overly direct and on-the-nose dialogue. When characters express their thoughts and emotions too explicitly, it can feel artificial and lack subtlety. Consider Anakin Skywalker’s conversation with Padmé Amidala in “Star Wars.”

In this scene, both the characters speak in a manner that is so direct, it resembles that of a soap opera. This makes the characters feel rigid, and implausible, which completely takes the audience out of the experience.

It’s essential to avoid this type of dialogue if you want to create characters that feel genuine and multi-dimensional…

Using Subtext To Reveal Character

Subtext is a screenwriter’s best friend when it comes to revealing character. It involves crafting dialogue in which characters say one thing but imply another.

Take this scene in “Sideways”, for example. In this conversation, Miles discusses the Merlot grape, though his words contain subtext that points to his reflections on himself.

His delicate explanation of why he appreciates the grape reveals a deeper layer of his character that he is otherwise resistant to showing. Typically, he’s a man who doesn’t self-reflect or offer vulnerability, though he finds a route to doing this through talking about wine…

Unmasking Facades Through Contradictions in Dialogue

Another effective way to use dialogue to reveal character is by exploring the contradictions and facades your characters might employ.

In other words, what they say about themselves may be a complete fabrication, which is based on the facade they want to present to the audience. 

By detecting their lies, we as an audience find how their dialogue reveals that character’s insecurities or weaknesses that they wish to protect from the world. 

A perfect example of this can be seen in Superbad, as Evan attempts to portray himself as a man of sophistication…

In summary, effective dialogue is a powerful tool for revealing character in your screenplays. Avoid the pitfall of overly direct dialogue and instead explore subtext and contradictions in your characters’ words.

Craft conversations that allow your audience to peek beneath the surface and connect with the complexities of your characters. By doing so, you’ll breathe life into your characters and create a script that resonates with authenticity.

Nick Fore Script Doctor / Script Consultant

Nick Fore is an experienced script consultant who reads screenplays for the British Film Institute.

He has written comprehensive coverage on over 1,000 scripts and has helped screenwriters get their work into development with production companies such as Imagine Entertainment and Screen Ireland. 

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