To make your characters memorable, make every line worth quoting in the future. Here’s a list of the top ten movie quotes of all time.
One of the best ways to make each character seem real is to give them dialogue that only they could say at that particular time. Many novice screenwriters wind up creating characters that all sound the same because their only purpose in life is to advance the plot. Remember, every character has their own goals, even if it’s just a bit part. That character has a goal of his own too, so make sure the dialogue reflects that goal.
In a cut scene from “Blood Simple,” the main character was supposed to check into a cheap motel where the couple running the motel keeps trying to charge him extra for a TV. Although this couple is only in the story for this one scene, they have goals too, which is to try to extract the most money out of the main character without doing much work.
When writing dialogue for your characters, don’t make them sound like real people, but make them sound like the illusion of real people. In real life, we talk in tangents, pause a lot, talk about irrelevant stuff, and rarely have a point to our conversation other than to say hi or amuse ourselves. Screenplay dialogue is different because it must serve a purpose.
Here’s one way to write a screenplay. First, try to tell a story without using any dialogue at all. Rather than have characters tell each other things, have them show us. So if one character is trying to get back at another one, don’t have him say to the other character, “I’m going to get back at you.” That’s too direct and boring. Instead, show this character sabotaging the other character’s clothes by switching the dirty clothes with the clean ones or deliberately putting the other character’s keys in a place where they don’t belong, just to tick off the other character. Such action let’s us see the conflict and the character’s feelings without wasting time telling us.
Use dialogue only when you can’t show an action. Even then, use something called subtext where characters are saying one thing, but actually meaning another.
In a classic scene in “Casablanca,” Humphrey Bogart is in a market, talking to Ingrid Bergman. Although on the surface they seem to be talking about the stuff in the market, they’re really talking about their own relationship with each other. That makes their dialogue more interesting because the audience gets to participate and make sense of the dialogue.
Just make sure you use dialogue to advance the story and not just go for a cheap laugh. In the horrible sequel, “The Lost World,” some characters are dangling from a cable, about to plunge into an abyss. When another character tries to save them, these other characters make a joke and ask for a cheeseburger and fries as if they’re ordering at a fast food restaurant window. Having the characters scream for help would be too direct, but having them act as if nothing’s wrong also comes across as stupid and unrealistic. A better solution would be to have the characters say something flippant, but really has the subtext of screaming for help.
Dialogue should sum up that character’s point of view, such as in “Apocalypse Now” when the Army general says, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” or Dirty Harry says, “Make my day.” Dialogue is a powerful tool when used correctly. Use dialogue to advance the plot and reveal a character. When in doubt, don’t let your characters speak. Use dialogue only when there is no other option and then your dialogue will be meaningful and memorable.
Top Ten Movie Quotes
- “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” — “Gone With the Wind”
- “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” — “The Godfather”
- “You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” — “On the Waterfront”
- “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” — “The Wizard of Oz”
- “Here’s looking at you, kid.” — “Casablanca”
- “Go ahead, make my day.” — “Sudden Impact”
- “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.” — “Sunset Blvd.”
- “May the Force be with you.” — “Star Wars”
- “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” — “All About Eve”
- “You talking to me?” — “Taxi Driver”