If you only watch the best American films, you’re missing out on quality movies from other countries. By watching foreign films with subtitles, you can actually ignore the spoken dialogue and focus on how much a movie can tell you without relying too heavily on dialogue.
Novice screenwriters often rely so heavily on dialogue to explain everything that characters often sit still during an entire scene with no conflict and simply tell the story. The moment you see any screenplay where two characters do nothing but talk, that’s a clear sign that the rest of the screenplay probably isn’t worth reading because the screenwriter most likely doesn’t know what he or she is doing.
In “Save the Cat” Blake Snyder offers one way around this problem that he calls “The Pope in the Pool.” Basically if two characters have to talk with no visually interesting action they can perform, put the characters in an unusual situation. Blake Snyder’s example had two characters talking to the Pope while he swam in a pool in the Vatican, which is an unusual sight so it keeps our attention long enough to get the information across in the dialogue without us realizing it.
In “Blood Simple,” two characters talk in a strip club so while they’re talking, we can see a woman’s legs with various parts of her clothes dropping to the stage.
A better solution than putting two characters talking in a bizarre setting is to put your characters in action doing something interesting. In “Rocky,” Rocky and Adrian skate together as they talk so you have their dialogue combined with their action. Add conflict and mystery and you can get the opening scene in “Fargo” where the hero is late to meeting with two hit men. So the hit men are mad that he’s late and he’s nervous meeting with the hit men, which creates conflict. Since we don’t know what’s going on initially, we also get a mystery to solve at the same time.
When you watch foreign films with subtitles, you’re forced to focus less on dialogue and more on watching the scene. Also notice that subtitles are often shortened versions of the actual speech since the subtitles have to appear on the screen. This further shows how less dialogue can actually be more beneficial.
If you love writing dialogue, make it extremely interesting like Quentin Tarantino’s scripts, or write stage plays that heavily rely on dialogue. In most cases, less dialogue is better. Watch foreign films with subtitles to show you how much you can tell in a story while using as little dialogue as possible.