Dialogue is, without a doubt, the most important component of any script. You can have the best idea in the world – hit your act breaks perfect, and the pull the rug out from under your protagonist in the freshest, coolest way possible – and still bomb your screenplay if the dialogue feels flat or uninspired. Conversely, a screenplay with truly gripping dialogue can overcome weaknesses of plot and characters. Just look at Superbad! What the hell is that movie about? Three friends who set out to bring alcohol to a party—and finally do? Yuck. If you pitched that to a development exec they’ve stare at you like a Kentucky tourist who wandered off the studio walk ‘n talk and somehow managed to land across their desk… But that movie is amazing! (Come on—you know it is.) It overwhelms its tiny plot with spicy, energized dialogue that pulls you in to the characters, and keeps you laughing and surprised from start to finish. That is what good dialogue should do…
Dialogue will be an issue that this blog returns to often, but for today, I want to suggest a quick and easy method for ‘spicing up’ dialogue that is often used but almost never written about.
It’s a method I call FLIPPING THE SCRIPT.
Flipping the script is a technique in which one character says a line, and then another character responds with an altered version of the very same line.
It’s a common device used by professional screenwriters, and very easy to do—but for some reason it always comes off as witty and authentic.
Take the following example in which the character JIM is telling the character DAN about his recent wedding:
This is a perfectly fine scene, but lacks the sizzle of good movie dialogue.
Now, consider the exact same scene employing the method of FLIPPING THE SCRIPT. When possible, each character will repeat the line used before, but with a TWIST:
How much better is that? The characters not only come off as better listeners, they also seem smarter. And the scene feels fresher and funnier.
I don’t know why this works, but it always does.
The next time you watch a movie, observe how REGULARLY this technique is used to infuse humor and intelligence into its characters. And why you don’t want to become overly reliant on this device, it’s sure a quick and easy way to get your screenplay SOUNDING like a movie, and to get your people talking like the slightly-wittier-than-real-life characters we all expect to see in films.