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I had a script doctor review one of my screenplays, and one of the criteria that was evaluated was the magical "four line minimum" in dialogue. I found this intrusive and unnatural to have to break up dialgue by inserting questions, or statements from other characters. How important is this taboo do you think?
I have to admit, Curt, I never heard that one. Maybe it's because, when you have good above-the-nose dialogue--you don't have long dialogue paragraphs. Otherwise, the GOOD dialogue gets buried.
Think of Clint Eastwood. When he gets a script, he takes a pencil and crosses all the "shit" out. I think that's why he always has such great lines in movies.
The only time I do see long dialogue is if it's necessary in an opening V.O. narrative or the character is someone who's supposed to talk a lot and it's part of their "distinctive voice."
Are you sure he wasn't talking about ACTION? I never go over 4 Action lines.
There are times in my scripts when dialogue will run over 4 lines. But, these are usually when characters are giving a speech, talking to a crowd, or telling a poignant story. In other words, not conversational dialogue. And even then, depending on the circumstance, I'll insert a blank line or multiple blank lines) directly in the dialogue to break it up -- makes it easier to read and it doesn't appear too difficult to tackle by the reader.
Blank line? You mean a (pause) or (beat)?
In our descriptive paragraphs, we're not supposed to go past three lines, preferrably two. But when you're writing an Historical Epic, I see nothing wrong with four lines so you can "squish" your script so it's not 150-170 pages. Hey, sometimes, it's necessary to CHEAT. It's not like it's the "bad" kind of CHEAT. LOL!
No, I mean a blank line. In one screenplay, I have a character giving a reading of a screenplay. I formatted the dialogue to be "similiar" to the standard screenplay format. In other words, blank lines between action (description) and dialogue -- even though it is all contained within dialogue.
I liked the way it read this way, so much smoother.
Maybe I'm blonder than I thought.
I'm still confused by the "blank lines." Are you saying you have "blank lines" within the dialogue of the same character without any action, etc.? You just skip a line, then put the character's identity above the next dialogue and start again? See? I told you I was CONFUSED!
Let me try to give an example -- though I'm having lousy luck with formatting on this board. Remember, this is a character in a screenplay giving a reading of his screenplay. It starts with an action line within the MAIN screenplay
------- BILL is squirming in the rickity chair -- to the delight of the crowd before him. He continues with his reading.
BILL Carrie throws open the bathroom door and sashays into the bedroom. She's only wearing a necktie wrapped around her sensuously nude body.
CARRIE: Happy birthday! I hope you like it.
A devilish smile is plastered across Bill’s face.
BILL: I've never been so glad to get a necktie in my life.
--------- If it formatted right, you get the idea
It didn't. Oh, well.
I think at some point, that the only thing they'll find acceptable is no dialog and no description. This will solve so many problems, such as typos, too many pages, and stories that require more than 10 pages of reading. In fact, why should there be any need for anything more than a hot Log line and brief synopsis, since all this troubling screenplay symantics stuff only gets in the way of sure fire, air tight marketing strategies that make for good meetings about what the story could - and should be - in terms of numbers - and more goods meetings - and lunch...
Robert Mckee's, new bible: " LOG LINE "
I've heard a four line MAXIMUM for dialogue...but not anything relating to minimum in screenwriting. I remember when I first started, being admonished that 'screen speak' is not like real people speak. People speak in short sentences and quicker expressed thoughts...hence the four line maximum, but not a minimum.
It seems like every time you turn around, someone is chopping something from a script, recommending you do less of something else or suggesting you remove characters or scenes.
So ultimately it's hard to think of any type of 'minimum' in screenwriting. I think it would be prudent to err on the side of caution and assume maximums and not minimums.
I write technothrillers, and have dialogue frequently in a lecture, or meeting format, so yeah, a lot of "explainin'" going on. I do have areas of VO also, letters being read, that can't be done any other way. I have also gone through and "cut out all the shit" ... because it was adapted from a book, and one tends to be less brief in a novel. Thanks for the comments ...
Morris...sorry for the confusion. You are right, it should be "four line max." I took it off of her sheet, and that's how she referred to it. Anything OVER four lines is frowned upon. I don't think there is such a thing as a minimum. How can you get any more minimum than:
JOHN Bugger off.
I'm with Terri on this one. I think it is 4 lines of action description.
A line space between dialogue without a wrylie of some sort (which are frowned upon when used excessively - you know - that is the director's domain - not our's - another one of those director things) can be very confusing to the reader and disrupt the rythmn of the reading.
I have read for a number of contests and if I saw a dialogue broken up with a blank line space, I would assume that there was editing of the dialogue, or a typo or something - and any assumption I would make would not transfer as anything positive. I might overlook it as a glitch - but if it was regular occurance my suspicions would be aroused and an unnecessary red flag would be raised. Don't get me wrong - arousement is a good thing - but not with blank line dialogue.
This is just one person's opinion.
If it were me - I would break up that dialogue with something more conventional.
Going against convention is always a risk. I know I take that risk whenever I do it. Granted, I don't do it that often, but when I do it's because I feel it makes for a better, more enjoyable read.
Now, what the reader thinks... Hmm, that can vary greatly. Even using (beat) seems to drive some readers crazy. They start seeing (beat) and stop seeing the story. SOME readers simply can't see the forest for the trees. And these are the gatekeepers, bless their hearts.
Knowing that, I still take the risk -- trying never to distract from the story as I occasionally detract from convention. As long as it's my spec, and there is no consistent feedback that dislikes my infrequent forays from convention, I'll keep writing to try to please both myself and the reader, and always the eventual audience.
But, I'm not a martyr. If my unconventional excursion is getting in the way, I'll change it back to something the reader finds more conventional.
RON: I think you're on to something there.
"How can you get any more minimum than:
What do I win if I answer correctly?
2) Non-verbal dialogue moments.
Remember: A LOT CAN BE SAID WHEN NOTHING IS SAID!
Terri, I agree with you that silence can be very effective, but I think this falls into the realm of the director and may be up to interpretation. A "beat" after all is simply that...silence.
Have you ever thought about directing...? I have... But, how does one breath life into all of that profound, most important white space that writers have such a problem with. White space if for the nimble sensivity of the director. Writers should never try to tell a director how to use his/her white space with all of this unnessary description and dialog,. Goodnesss......
Robert Mckee's " WHITE SPACE "
R (I've left the rest of my name out simply because it would clutter up the white space with unnessary writer imput that doesn't move the name along.)
If you want to see a great non-verbal dialogue moment, watch the beginning of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID.
It's in the script!
I don't think there's any rule here but it sounds to me like a way to get writers who write dialogue that's too lengthy to get to the point.
If I'm working with a student writer I may give them an exercise just like this to get them out of a bad habit (overwriting) and to teach word efficiency.
Similar to working with an actor who moves too much. You tell them, "You can only move twice during this speech. Make it count."
The other thing I think this script doctor is trying to do is make their job easier at your expense. It very simple to say to someone "4 line maximum," but very difficult and time consuming to give them an example of such by editing 4 or 5 pages of their ms. It a lazy way of making a point that is over generalizing about a specific technique.
There's no shortcuts in teaching or learning technique-- and besides grammar, spelling, and format-- it's the only other part of writing you can teach.
Simple question to ask about your dialogue. Go through every sentence and ask... what does this do and if it is merely expository... it is a problem. It has to be active or an actor can't play it and a director can't direct it.
Then go through every word of every sentence and ask yourself... "do I really need all those words? Can it be said more succintly?"
Best of luck,
For every one of the no no's that these "so called" experts tell writers NOT to do, there's been a dozen very successful movies made that do them and sometimes to the extreme.
Four lines of dialog? Someone forgot to tell that to Al Pacino in "DEVIL'S ADVOCATE" when he had several long speeches, and one went on for about 5 minutes. What's that, about five pages of dialog?
It's just like the thread about FLASHBACKS, and how they're a no no. Many, successful movie have FLASHBACKS. If they're so bad then why were those movies made?
Did you ever think that maybe these people are telling you these things because they DON'T want you to succeed?
If you want my opinion, write the way you write intead of the way someone else wants you to write.
Did you ever think that maybe these people are telling you these things because they DON'T want you to succeed?
Sorry, and I hate to put too fine a point on it, but that's downright silly. Rules--it doesn't matter what kind of writing you're doing--are GENERAL, not specific. But here's the key point: Very few people are able to break the rules effectively without FIRST learning what the rules ARE and WHY the rules are. And there's the flaw in "I'm gonna do it my way come hell or high water and nobody's gonna tell me different!"
Finally, it couldn't possibly be any more irrelevant than to say, "but this movie did this" or "that movie did that" in an effort to prove a point. ESTABLISHED, PROVEN writers can get away with a thousand things that we cannot. That's reality. Thinking otherwise is like a novelist saying, "What do you mean, I can't switch POV in mid-paragraph? Grisham did!" Grisham could turn in a manuscript written on brown paper sacks and get paid big money for it. Which has exactly and absolutely NOTHING to do with the unpublished novelist trying to break into the game.
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