Forget the “Gift” of Dialogue
Dialogue is one of those screenwriting topics that many screenwriters drool over, either with awe or aggravation over their inability to master it. The consensus seems to be for many indie filmmakers, that writing great dialogue is a “gift,” reserved to a limited few. The very mention of the word “dialogue” brings to mind filmmakers who write captivating conversations that stand out from the rest; their characters often deliver clever dialogue that borders on the brilliant. A little research will show that every filmmaker who is known for their “gift” spent years inundated in the art and craft of writing dialogue and improved their skill over time.
From Quentin Tarantino, who wrote four scripts before making Reservoir Dogs and spent a big chunk of his youth working at a video rental store, to Aaron Sorkin, who grew up as a theater kid, watching Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at age nine and falling in love with the sound of dialogue. Sorkin wrote several plays before taking A Few Good Men to Broadway, where it piqued the interest of TriStar and became his first feature film. The same goes for David Mamet, who wrote several Broadway shows and served as a drama teacher at Yale before going into the movie business.
So, I suggest you make a conscious effort to erase the word “gift” from your mind because it implies exclusivity to which you have no access. Instead – try to understand that most of the movies you watch and love are not made by these gifted few – but rather, they are created by filmmakers like you, who practiced their craft on a consistent basis and developed their skill with every new project they made. I won’t deny that there are people who appear to have an easier time learning, but all that means to me is that the people who don’t will need to work harder to get to where they want to go... that’s it. If you spend the time trying to improve your dialogue game, you will improve it; it’s that simple. There are some great books about dialogue that you should definitely check out, books such as How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell, and Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee. However, at the end of the day, the best way to master dialogue is to write it, hear it, fix it, and write it again. Practice makes perfect.