Know Where Your Characters Want to Go

Read most screenplays and you’ll spot the same mistakes. One common mistake is that characters speak dialogue that fails to reveal what their goals might be or what their personality might be. Instead, their dialogue simply responds to the other characters, and they don’t have much purpose either beyond dumping exposition on the reader.

Don’t do that.

The way to make characters feel real while make a scene more interesting is to make sure every character enters a scene with a goal in mind. They want to accomplish something and everything they say reveals that want in some way.

Think of an early scene in “Star Wars” when Luke is talking with his uncle. Luke’s goal is to convince his uncle to let him leave the farm so he can have an adventure. However, his uncle’s goal is to keep Luke on the farm a little longer.

Knowing their motivation, you can see that all their dialogue works towards their separate goals. Luke is trying to convince his uncle that he’s not needed around the farm any more (so he can leave), but his uncle is trying to convince Luke that he’s needed for just one more season (so he can stay).

This conflicting goals makes that simple scene far more memorable and meaningful than if they were just having breakfast and talking about the weather, sports, and the latest news. Far too many novices write scenes in screenplays where the characters in that scene have no clear goal. As a result, that character’s dialogue feels flat, dull, and boring because it is.

Once you know what each character wants in a scene, you know how to write their dialogue to help them get closer to their goal.

For each character in your screenplay, clarify exactly what they want. Then in each scene, jot down what they’re trying to accomplish based on their overall goal. In “Star Wars,” Luke’s overall goal is to have an adventure. His dialogue with his uncle is to achieve a sub-goal of just leaving the farm.

When you know what you characters want, you can write more forceful, impactful dialogue. That will elevate your screenplay beyond the ordinary and keep your story tightly focused on its overall goal.

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