Jennifer Bozell

Want to know one of the most common notes I’ve given writers over the years? “Your dialogue needs work. Your characters all sound the same.”

We all know that having fresh, sharp & snappy dialogue is an essential element of a great script. In fact, it’s impossible to develop truly unique, interesting characters without terrific dialogue. The two go hand in hand. But if you find that your characters sound the same, how do you differentiate them? Especially if on the surface, they are similar - like if you’re writing something like “Pitch Perfect” and most of your characters are college girls?

Well, let me try to help. First, I'd make sure you really know your characters. What they look like, where they grew up, what their world view is, their strengths and their flaws. Is this character a gentle, innocent soul, or a tough, no-nonsense person whose guard is up? An optimist or a pessimist? Someone who is passive and afraid of conflict, or a bull in a china shop? All of these little details add up to rich, nuanced characters, who can reveal themselves in their dialogue.

Second, create a character - then turn that character on his or her head. Avoid stereotypes like the plague. We’ve all seen so many stock characters in movies and TV over the years. The dumb jock, the dumb blonde, the sweet little old lady, etc. If you’ve done your work creating a detail-rich character, you can then add a personality quirk or twist that’s really going to make the character stand out as unique and memorable. Let that quirk reveal itself through the character’s dialogue.

Third, remember that dialogue should not only reveal character, but also should expose the emotion of each scene. This is how you create character arcs and drama. If two characters in a scene are having a flight, here is your chance to show who each person is by what they say as they fight. Who screams and cries? Who refuses to admit he or she is wrong? Each scene has an emotion that drives it. How does your dialogue express each character’s emotion?

It takes work to really hone in on who your characters are and carefully consider how they would express themselves. But if you can do this, the end result will doubtless add a richness and complexity to your script.

Categories: Writing Tips

About The Author

Jennifer Bozell is a former ABC Studios executive & was Head of Development for actor Taye Diggs’ production company.

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