watch-the-trailer-for-denzel-washingtons-new-film-the-equalizer-01Denzel Washington approves of this screenwriting message!

No review today. Had to remove all of my nudes off iCloud.  I mean technically I’m just wearing a speedo in all of them but you can never be too careful.  Instead, we’re going to talk about every writer’s favorite topic. Say it with me now: DI-A-LOGUE!

Recently, I was giving notes to a young writer (we’ll call him “Nick”), and I asked Nick what he felt was his biggest weakness. “Dialogue!” he said without hesitation. “I can’t seem to get it!” Dialogue is such a tough thing to teach because a lot of it is so instinctual and situation-based. What’s right for dialogue in one scene (be subtle) may not be right for another (get to the point). But when you compare similar dialogue scenes, you start to see patterns in what works and what doesn’t. So that’s what I did for Nick. I took a guy-girl dialogue scene from his script and I compared it to a guy-girl dialogue scene from one of my favorite scripts, The Equalizer (Richard Wenk).

I’ll put Nick’s dialogue first. After you read both scenes and before you read my analysis, I want you to write down what YOU think works and doesn’t work in these two scenes. Go ahead and share those thoughts in the comments section if you have time. The idea here, today, is to learn by helping each other. I can give you my thoughts, but I’m sure there are some obvious things I’ll miss.

Nick’s story takes place in a small town. This is the 8th or 9th scene in the script. In it, 17 year old Mark is in science class, where he’s joined by attractive new girl, Rosie (also 17). Rosie just moved in from the city, and appears to be a rebellious type.

Rosie sits down next to Mark — He taps his pencil nervously.

MARK: You new here?

The abruptness catches her a little off guard.

 Nope been here for years now. You just never noticed.

Mark freezes — Panic runs across his face.

ROSIE: I’m just playing… I’m Rosie.

MARK: Uh… Mark.

The class dumps the RED beaker into the GREEN.

ROSIE: I just moved here from Chicago.

MARK: Cubs or White sox?

Rosie feigns a smile.

ROSIE: Couldn’t care less.

She grabs the Blue beaker and dumps it into the Red beaker — This is why you pay attention. The silence draws out the awkwardness.

MARK: I hear… There’s great shopping up in… Chicago.

Mark’s nerves are getting the best of him — The beaker starts to steam a little.

 Well it’s nothing compared to here… You know, with Wal-mart and Aunt Annie’s boutique.

Mark can tell she hates it here.

MARK: Yeah I guess it’s… Kind of a culture shock.

You could say that… More like landing on another planet.

 In that case, welcome.

Rosie laughs a little, not sure if he’s a dork or just nervous. The rest of the class pours the BLUE beaker slowly.

 So what do you do for fun around here and please don’t say the fair?

Mark draws a blank.

ROSIE: There’s got to be something.

Mark searches the room — He looks down at his backpack, his glove sticking out — Don’t talk about baseball — He looks ahead to the KID in front of him — He’s wearing a CUBS jersey — NO BASEBALL — Finally the window catches his eye.

 I… Like to watch the storms come in.

Now let’s look at the scene from The Equalizer. In this one, McCall, a sort of washed-up former military man, is at a late-night diner he frequents, reading Old Man and The Sea. Teri, a hooker he sometimes sees in the diner, walks up. It’s important to note that the setup for the scene is a little different. Unlike in our previous scene, these two have met before.

TERI (OS): He catch the fish yet?

McCall glances up. Teri THE HOOKER pulling her earphones out. Pretty, late 20s. Few tats peeking out from her dress.

MCCALL: Just hooked it.

TERI: About time.

 It’s a big fish. Don’t know if he can hang on to it though.

TERI (playful): Oh no.

 Tooth and nail right now.

TERI: Maybe he’s too old.

McCall nods. They’re quiet for a while. Teri takes a bite of her apple pie.

 Thought you were going to stop eating all that refined sugar.

(with a mouthful): I am.


TERI: Any day now.

MCCALL: Bad for the vocal cords.

Teri looks away sheepishly.

MCCALL (CONT’D): How’s the singing?

She shrugs.

 Got myself a little machine to do demos. We’ll see.

MCCALL: Bet you’re good.

 What makes you think that?

MCCALL: Intuition.

Teri smiles her first real smile. She shoulders her tote and starts for the door.

 Lemme know what happens next.

The first thing I noticed about Nick’s scene was that the dialogue begins in a way that’s likely to induce on-the-nose conversation. “You new here?” We’re talking about exactly what’s going on. An unknown person just showed up. “You new here?” is too obvious. Now Rosie does follow this up with a sarcastic joke, saying she’s been here for years but he just never noticed, which is good, but the precedent has been set. The next line is Rosie introducing herself (on the nose). He then tells her his name (on the nose). She then says she’s from Chicago. Even if the characters are joking around, livening up this dialogue, it’s still stuck in that “on-the-nose” quicksand that’s hard to pull good dialogue out of.

Now let’s look at The Equalizer. What’s the first line there? “He catch the fish yet?” Ahhhh! Now we have a fun opening line, something for the characters to play with. They’re not talking on-the-nose, even though they easily could’ve. Wenk could’ve started with, “Haven’t seen you here in awhile” or “How you doing?” Both of these lines invite dialogue that will likely devolve into an on-the-nose conversation.  Instead, we’re zipping into a fun subtextual conversation that allows the two to subtly flirt with one another.

One of the reasons The Equalizer dialogue is so good is because it revolves around a subject that has nothing to do with our characters – a book. This allows the characters to talk around the moment instead of about the moment. And I think that’s the big lesson here. When characters are talking about the obviousness of the moment (how they feel, what’s happening, what they’re thinking about, what they want), the dialogue has a very mechanical “move the story forward” feel to it. When you’re talking around the moment though, it just feels like two people talking. And that’s why the “Old Man and The Sea” dialogue reads so much better.

So the question here is, how do we fix Nick’s scene? Well, here’s what I told him. I said to write the entire scene again, but this time, the characters aren’t allowed to ask anything about each other. They’re only allowed to focus on and discuss the experiment. I bet all of you, following this simple advice, could write a pretty good scene (if you want to, go ahead and write your version in the comments). Because now, just like in The Equalizer, the characters aren’t discussing each other. They’re discussing the experiment. And their conversation (what their plan is, how they work together, how they solve problems together) is going to play out in a much more subtle way, which is usually more interesting.

Now I’m not saying this is the end all be all solution to dialogue. Like I said, dialogue is situation-based. What works in one place doesn’t always work in another. And as you can see in The Equalizer scene, McCall and Teri do end up talking a little bit about their lives – “How’s the singing?” – but this is a great way to think about dialogue in general. Avoid writing scenes where characters talk about their feelings, their thoughts, their interests, and the moment at hand. Instead, find something that has nothing to do with any of these things, and force your characters to communicate through that. You’re almost guaranteed to come up with a better scene.

Special thanks to Nick for allowing me to post his scene.  Now I’ll leave it to you guys. Tell me what you think is wrong with the first scene, and what you would do to fix it.

  • FD

    following on from my last post, in which I moaned about how tough it is to know what a reader will understand and what will confuse him: then you write this cool dialogue where nobody addresses anything straight up and it is just totally hip, and the reader writes “what is happening in this scene?” hmmmm.

    • Scott Crawford

      Some scenes, as Carson points out, need straight, on-the-nose dialogue, like exposition. But even exposition can be handled fun. This is how William Goldman (adapting Donald Westlake) handles exposition in The Hot Rock. Dortmunder (Robert Redford) has been hired by an African diplomat to heist a valuable diamond for a guaranteed $100,000:

      It’s good, and it’s bad. There’s a guaranteed return, and that’s good. But the guarantor is Amusa, and Amusa’s a rookie, and that’s bad. But it’s an easily transportable object, and that’s good. Only it’s in a rotten position in the museum, 30 steps to the quickest exit, and that’s bad. And the glass over the stone, that’s bad too, because that’s glass with metal mixed in it, bulletproof, shatterproof. But the locks don’t look impossible, 3, maybe 5 tumblers. But there’s no alarm system, and that’s the worst, because that means no one’s going to get lazy watching, knowing the alarm will pick up their mistakes. Which means the whole thing has got to be a diversion job, and that’s good and that’s bad, because if the diversion’s too big, it’ll draw pedestrians, and if the diversion’s not big enough, it won’t draw that watchman.

      Dortmunder, I don’t know where the hell you are, or what the hell you’re saying. Just tell me, will you plan the job?

      (pauses, then smiles)
      It’s what I do.

      • brenkilco

        The best verbal bit in the movie. Not the best scene. That’s the elevator shaft. (” Am I right Chicken?) And it’s not really a dialogue. It’s a soliloquy. And it’s all exposition. But look how Goldman handles it. Redford is having a dialogue with himself. We want to know if the job is doable. And this nicely rhythmed riff is a contradictory seesaw that goes back and forth on the question we want answered with the comic good, bad, good and bad hook. It’s funny. It’s jazzy. And Redford- not my favorite actor- for once nails the delivery. This sort of thing can’t be taught and it can’t be learned. More’s the pity.

        • Scott Crawford

          It’s a great film, more people should watch it. And it’s a great story, and because Goldman knows what the story is (you could almost say he OUTLINED it), he knows what needs to be done in each scene, each character’s POV, and so on. A ROOKIE writer tackling the same scenes, it would be all back-and-forth dialogue.

          How many steps are there to the main exit?


          That’s not good. The glass is bulletproof too. Could you pick the lock?

          Maybe. There are only three or four tumblers.

          Apart from anything else, such dialogue fills up pages in their story-thin screenplay.

          And I agree, there’s no way to really LEARN dialogue, aside maybe from reading scripts and listening to how people speak.

          • filmklassik

            It’s funny. All my life I’ve heard the axiom that you can’t really “learn” how to write good dialogue. That it’s like musical or athletic ability — you either have it or you don’t. But that of course raises the obvious question of, What aspects of screenwriting CAN be learned?

            Can you really “learn” how to come up with a compelling hook or inventive plot twist? Is what Ira Levin or Agatha Christie were doing really any more “learnable” than what Aaron Sorkin does?

            Because my gut tells me “No.”

            What’s more, I tend to see many more examples of first-rate dialogue than I do of knock-my-socks-off inventive plotting.

            My two cents.

          • Scott Crawford

            You can teach people to write better. You can show them the mistakes that 98% of people submitting screenplays to Hollywood make; that’s what this website is mostly about. You can teach people to write a better-than-average screenplay. Can you teach them to write an outstanding screenplay?

            Look at outstanding movies in the genre for which you are writing and see what it is that is good about them. I, personally, don’t think that quality writing (assuming a writer has a certain innate talent for writing) is quite as elusive as some people make out. Tens of thousands of novels, short stories, plays, movies, TV shows are made every year, which means that there is plenty of above-average writing out there, and some outstanding writing too.

          • filmklassik

            I agree. Aspects of the craft can definitely be learned, and maybe even mastered. My point, though, is that writing strong dialogue is the only aspect of screenwriting that many people insist CANNOT be learned.

            “You either have an ear for dialogue or you don’t.” How many times have we heard or read that “truism” over the years? Or variations of it? A million?

            And I maintain that other aspects of the craft are equally elusive, and just as innate — a knack for clever and intricate plotting, for example.

            In other words, one can no more “teach” someone to write THE STING or WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION than one can “teach” them to write THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

      • Guest

        African is not a nationality.

        • Scott Crawford

          What country is Amusa from? I can’t remember; I wouldn’t be surprised if Westlake made one up.

          Is that all you got from that scene, guest?

          • Guest

            I knew I would be asked that question.
            Like talk radio in the morning — I’m listening.

        • filmklassik

          No, and “European” isn’t one either, but the phrase “European diplomat” is perfectly acceptable, right? So is “South American diplomat.”

          So why carp about “African diplomat”?

  • Malibo Jackk

    DW likes dialogue where he’s in control.
    My guess is that audiences will also like those characters
    and that those scene will therefore be easier to write.

    Mark just isn’t interesting.
    He’s a tougher sell. Awkward, not smart, boring.
    May have to use comedy or create sympathy by having him do
    something really stupid. Or have him teach her something about
    using a Bunsen burner. (Show that he has some smarts.)

    • Scott Crawford

      It just seems to me like a long, long scene that keeps going on. That’s another danger; the writer MAY be trying to fill up pages. This is the 8th or 9th scene, but I doubt it’s on the 8th or 9th page.

      Pilar Allesandra has some good advice; if a character says “And another thing” it’s a POSSIBLE sign the scene has hone on too long.

      Mind you, if the story is great, dialogue is one of the more fixable elements of a screenplay.

  • Dale T

    First thing I noticed about Nick’s scene was that he had a description per dialogue line.

    MARK: I hear… There’s great shopping up in… Chicago.

    Mark’s nerves are getting the best of him — The beaker starts to steam a little.

 Well it’s nothing compared to here… You know, with Wal-mart and Aunt Annie’s boutique.

    Mark can tell she hates it here.

    Those descriptions are redundant and bogs down the scene. Whereas in the Equailizer there’s hardly any description passages, it’s just two people talking.

    And description like this:

    Rosie laughs a little, not sure if he’s a dork or just nervous.

    It’s told in third person but it might as well be in first person. Not sure if he’s a dork or just nervous is a thought process that can’t be conveyed on the screen.

    I reread Nick’s scene while skipping the description and I thought it flowed much better. Still needed work but it’s a step up.

    • fantasticintheory

      Agreed. The descriptions are a bigger problem than the dialogue. They often tell the reader something that the dialogue already conveys. To be fair, I didn’t really love the Equalizer scene either. Maybe that’s just cause I’ve seen enough angsting action heroes though. :)

  • mondog

    Mark glances at Rosie, hesitates and then makes the leap.

    Mark: Did he say Red into Green or the other way around?
    Rosie: You think it matters?

    First strike and little too hard, Mark regroups and Rosie sees. She lets the ice melt, a little.

    Rosie: I think it was Red into Green.

    Rosie picks up the Red beaker. Even thought it’s close enough for her, Mark hurries the Green beaker up and spills a little on Rosie’s jeans.

    Mark: Shit, sorry. I don’t think it’ll do anything to-

    Rosie sits silent, stares at the splash.

    Rosie: I can’t believe you just ruined my favourite jeans. These were the last pair I bought with my mom, before she, passed away.

    Mark is stunned and distraught. Rosie, sees that her aim was a little too good –

    Rosie: I’m just messing with you! Come on. It’s just a little bit of, what is this stuff?

    Relief turns to a chuckle.

    Mark: I have no idea, but maybe you should handle the hazardous materials from now on.

    Rosie picks up the blue beaker and offers it to Mark to do the honours.

    • carsonreeves1

      not bad!

    • J_Stuart

      A little too British for my tastes

    • charliesb

      I like that this doesn’t change the personalities of the characters from the original scene. Nice work.

  • Scott Crawford

    I though Carson might talk about Brilliance so I uploaded the script. Here it is anyway (not sure about the story, but – man! – Koepp can write):

  • Matthew Garry

    I find Nick’s dialogue isn’t all that bad, and Richard’s dialogue doesn’t really stand out for me.

    Teri isn’t a very inspired character: a hooker with a heart of gold. Then there’s Mccall: a quiet intellectual super hero. And the way these aspects are introduced are fairly on-the-nose.

    Mccall sits there reading a book (he must be smart, smart people read books, right?). One of the things that set Mccall apart is that he’s old (for an action-hero anyway), and the book he’s reading is “The old man and the sea.” It works, but again, it’s fairly straight forward.

    Then, to abruptly change the subject, he’s a dietist, only to be able to introduce Teri’s singing talent.
    And almost at the end, the line the conversation has been working up to: “Intuition”, foreshadowing Mccall’s super-power, which is having a sort of intuition/time-warping ability in hostile situations. But there’s no irony in it; Mccall already knows he has super-intuition. It’s there for the audience only.

    Now Nick’s dialogue has a first conversation between what I assume to be a somewhat dorky guy, and a savvy girl, Mark and Rosie.

    Mark’s first line is relatively straight forward, but it underlines that’s the best he can come up with. He’s not smooth or cool, but he tries to be, since he apparently likes her, or at least wants to give her the impression he’s not what everybody else might think he is (and she’s new, so this is his one shot). Being on-the-nose serves a function here; it underlines the awkwardness.

    What follows is nothing spectacular, some jokes, some more awkwardness, but I don’t know the context, so it’s hard to make any recommendations.

    It also ends in a nice bit of foreshadowing: “I like to watch the storms come in”. Presumably meeting Rosie is going to upset his quiet sunny life in ways he could not even imagine possible, except he has no notion of what he just said (dramatic irony), and, it’s a pretty cool thing to say that will probably score him points with a girl like Rosie(in opposition to when he was actually trying to do that instead of grasping to the first thing that came to mind, irony).

    The main problem I find with Nick’s dialogue is the explicitness and repetition.

    “Rosie feigns a smile” and says” I couldn’t care less.” Either one will convey the message. Have faith in the actors.

    “Mark can tell she hates it”, and so can the reader. Pointing out what can be reasonably deduced from the dialogue reduces the vivaciousness of the read.

    The Equalizer’s scene is trying to avoid being on-the-nose so hard it leaves an imprint that precisely outlines what the on-the-nose version would have been, which doesn’t make it sound natural.

    Nick’s dialogue uses the straightforwardness to its advantage. It makes it sound somewhat natural with an unnatural edge, which usually is where you want your dialogue to be. I think the “edge” could be a lot stronger here, but that depends on the story and where the characters are going.

    Neither scene is actually bad, but I don’t feel they’re different enough to clearly compare them as examples.

    • Matthew Garry

      > and what you would do to fix it.

      Teri takes out a pack of cigarettes.

      TERI: Mind if I smoke?

      MCCALL: Yes. Those things will-

      TERI: kill me, yeah yeah.

      MCCAL: wreck your voice.

      That get’s through to Teri, she puts the pack away.

      MCCAL (CONT’D): And they’ll also kill you, yes.

      TERI: You know everything, don’t you?

      MCCAL: Nothing has killed me yet.

      TERI: The dangers of working in a hardware store.

      MCCAL: You really want to get into comparing the dangers of various professions?

      TERI: Now you’re being judgemental.

      MCCAL: No, I’m…Yes. I’m sorry. I have no right to…

      Teri smiles.

      TERI: You’re okay, for an old man.


      That would at least take away some of Teri’s sheepishness. As it is she’s just this coy, vulnerable girl with big dreams that needs a strong good guy to protect her, but she’s also a prostitute for tacked-on grit. She really should talk back as a character, have a back-and-forth as a person, instead of functioning as a simple plot device put in the scene to explore Mccall’s character and motivation.

      • kenglo

        LOL you’re supposed to fix the first scene, not the Equalizer scene!! If you hadn’t read the script, the book plays out in the film, something he had to do in honor of his deceased wife. And for McCall to say, “I’m sorry, I had no right to….” plays against ‘his’ character. He’s not very apologetic throughout the story. Kills a lot. A LOT.

        Sorry…I LOVE THE EQUALIZER. It actually changed the way I write.

        As for the first scene, it is banter, and as some folks have mentioned, had nothing do do with the story. Giving background of “I’m new, where ya from, I hate baseball”, has no subtext whatsoever. I think that is the point Carson was making. And I don’t like the way he breaks up the dialogue by putting in an action line here and there. If it’s ‘banter’, it should be bam-bam-bam all talk. they should interrupt each other, talk over each other, get miffed that she deplores baseball, show his nervousness by dropping a test tube, or something, don’t ‘tell us’ he’s nervous, since they are talking, show through telling, flub a line, speak tongues, I don’t know.

        The last line of the scene – AWESOME.

        K fired up again, gotta go write…

        • filmklassik

          Kenglo: You’re not alone. There’s a lot of love on these boards for Wenk’s EQUALIZER script.

          Personally, I felt the writing was smooth and professional but I quibbled with the idea of a hero who is just this side of omnipotent and for all intents and purposes, infallible. Not once in 106 pages do you feel McCall is in any kind of jeopardy.

          The whole thing felt like a well-written if faintly predictable variation of BAMBI VS. GODZILLA — with McCall as Godzilla. And I much prefer watching my heroes having to sweat a little on their way to the finish line.

          But once again, I’m in the minority on this one. More people agree with you than with me, and the movie itself is playing incredibly well with preview audiences.

          I’d be curious to know how exactly the screenplay changed the way you write. Thanks.



          • kenglo

            I don’t mind my heroes wading through everyone, since I’m an old Hong Kong Kung-Fooey lover….in the ENTER THE DRAGON, other than Han slicing him with the claws, Bruce got hit once in the whole film…..

            As far as changing my writing style, I read this script maybe two years ago, and since then adapted that ‘sparse’ writing style. Still working on it, but I think I have improved. Sometimes, so I am told, I write so sparse the reader doesn’t even know what the heck I’m talking about!!!

          • filmklassik

            Glad you found his style so helpful. I agree that Wenk is a good writer with a style that’s breezy, clear and readable.

            Everyone has their influences. Maybe it’s a function of age, but most of mine have been old-school guys like Robert Towne, Richard Price, William Goldman and Walter Hill.

            And as far as not minding heroes “wading through everyone”, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

            I can stand a bit of “wading” in the early going… up to the Semi Finals, let’s say… but when it gets down to the Finals I wanna see a close game — a real nail-biter — and not a rout.

      • leitskev

        I applaud the effort. But not the result. Your alternate dialogue is fine, but it does not serve the story goal. I get that you are hinting at his secret former life, and that’s clever. But this is a critical scene that establishes the bond between these two characters, and it is that bond which ultimately sets his actions in motion. Your dialogue sounds like two characters jousting. None of it reflects the existence of a bond between the two characters.

        The actual dialogue in the script might be a little to familiar for some people’s tastes, but it works, which is what is most important. It’s important that we get the sense that both characters are lonely and are thus seeking connection in the world; and that this bond has been slowly growing before we meet them. Can we tell from your version that they are lonely? Nope. Do we sense any need for human connection? Nope.

        Conflict is not, contrary to much opinion, essential to every scene. Story is the world of set ups and pay offs, and often an effective set up does not involve conflict in the scene. Conflict will evolve later from the set up. The strength of the set up should not be diluted for the sake of the scene conflict.

        So it’s not that your dialogue here is poor, it’s just that it does not serve the story goal. It doesn’t tell us much of anything about the characters and their needs.

        Also, IMO people should guard against excessive fear of tropes. Tropes are effective and useful because they eliminate the need for exposition, the real enemy in film. The hooker with heart…yeah, it’s a trope. But this is an action movie, not a character study. By using the trope we don’t have to have lengthy dialogue about who this character is, why she is lonely, what her dreams are. You could give her another profession, but unless it too is tropish, it will require exposition to establish these things. For example, you could maybe make her the struggling waitress or the shy librarian. But these are tropes too. You could make her an accountant who took seven years to pass her CPA exam who really wants to be a singer and is lonely because her high school sweetheart ran away with the mailwoman and she has no family because she converted from Mormonism and they disowned her…you see my point? Exposition. Film critics have become so overly sensitized to the dreaded “familiar” that films influenced by this thinking become meandering, wordy, and void of any emotional power.

        • Matthew Garry

          The existing bond shines through their conversation about the book, which I didn’t touch (maybe that wasn’t clear, it’s only supposed to replace the pie and “vocal cords” bit, not the whole encounter).

          The problem is not the trope, it’s the bad execution of the trope. The girl has no character; she’s talking furniture whose only purpose is to get in trouble so the hero can rescue her.

          And the same goes for the chubby security guard, and the Russian crime boss, and his henchmen, and ultimately, the hero himself.

          The story has a lot of drive, but not a lot of heart, even for an action movie. I’m happy to see they fixed some of that in the production script.

    • Magga

      The first scene was the best

  • Scott Crawford

    From The Big Sleep with Bogart and Bacall. They’re not talking about horses!:

    Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them workout a little first, see if they’re front runners or come from behind, find out what their whole card is, what makes them run.

    Find out mine?

    I think so.

    Go ahead.

    I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.

    You don’t like to be rated yourself.

    I haven’t met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?

    Well, I can’t tell till I’ve seen you over a distance of ground. You’ve got a touch of class, but I don’t know how, how far you can go.

    A lot depends on who’s in the saddle.

    • brenkilco

      And they got this by the censors in ’46.

      Mars: Is that any of your business?
      Marlowe: I could make it my business.
      Mars: I could make your business mine.
      Marlowe: You wouldn’t like it. The pays too small.

      Don’t write em like that anymore. Screenplay by William faulkner. Based on a the novel by Raymond Chandler. You don’t see credits like that anymore either.

      • Scott Crawford

        … and Leigh Brackett who has a credit on Empire Strike Back, although apparently very little of what she wrote made it to the final script.

        But, yeah, talk AROUND the subject.

        • brenkilco

          And she wrote Rio Bravo and The Long Goodbye. Hawks supposedly hired her assuming she was a guy.

          • Scott Crawford

            I think that Lucas didn’t know about her Hawks connection when he hired her; he just liked her sci-fi stuff.

          • walker

            I am working on a script that is based on Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13, and I have come to greatly respect Leigh Brackett.

    • Nicholas J

      Subtext as subtle as a brick to the face.

      Good for the time period, but if I saw that in a film today it’d be a bit cringeworthy. Unless it’s in the context of a Bond film or something.

      • brenkilco

        Have the sense you haven’t seen this. And if you’re interested in dialogue and want to have criteria for judging movie dialogue you really, really need to see this movie.

        • Nicholas J

          I have and I have an appreciation for these old films even though noir is reeeeeally not my thing. I understand why they wrote things the way the did with production codes the way they were.

          But to me, examples like that are good for teaching subtext because it is so blatant, not because it is great subtext. Unless you’re writing something throwback like Body Heat, I’d avoid it. Even then it comes across as borderline parody. It is a very wink wink nudge nudge type of dialogue IMO. That’s why it was so great to use back then — because everyone in the audience could understand what the characters were really talking about.

          It’d be interesting to see what type of dialogue writers and directors like Hawks and Wilder would be coming up with had they been making films in today’s era.

          • Scott Crawford

            Something like this, perhaps, courtesy of Ted Griffin:

        • Scott Crawford

          How do you like your brandy, sir?

          In a glass.

          I could see that dialogue working today.

      • Scott Crawford

        It isn’t that subtle, you’re right. If I’m honest I’m struggling to think of a scene where they’re discussing something but they mean something else. Not sex, perhaps. If you think of an example of writing AROUND the subject, please put it down here so we can all look at it.

        • Nicholas J
          • Scott Crawford

            It’s good, but it’s more of a man comparing his life to wine – mentioning both in the same dialogue. If the scene was just about WINE, and it was clear they were talking about something else without talking about that. In other words, it’s not on-the-nose, but it isn’t total subtext either. This isn’t exactly what I mean, more of a parody, really, about how we don’t always mean what we say:

          • Nicholas J

            I’ve always considered that scene to be more their inner dialogue than the subtext of the lines.

          • Scott Crawford

            I’m still looking for the perfect example!!!! I’m still wracking my brain.

          • Franchise Blueprints


        • brenkilco

          Hm, seems like there should be a lot. But having trouble coming up with a great example. Hawks, of course, always preferred all his dialogue to be indirect, what he called three cornered.

          Feathers: I thought you’d never say it.
          Chance: What?
          Feathers: That you love me.
          Chance: I said I’d arrest you.
          Feathers: It means the same thing.

          One scene that I think fits the bill is the last scene of the comedy/tearjerker An Affair to Remember where Cary Grant is bantering to conceal the fact that Deborah Kerr has broken his heart while trying to get Deborah Kerr to reveal why, while she is bantering to prevent him from learning that she has been paralyzed. It’s that kind of movie and not at all my kind of movie, but awfully expert.

          • filmklassik

            Watch just about any Sydney Pollack movie. Pollack’s movie’s are full of dialogue that is pregnant with subtext and hidden meanings, yet — in the hands of Pollack and his screenwriters — almost never becomes maudlin or pretentious or — God help us all — self-consciously precious and “indie” sounding.

            And above all it is invariably smart and entertaining.

            Pollack’s favorite screenwriter — the brilliant David Rayfiel — was responsible for most of these elliptical exchanges and although he reworked the dialogue on virtually every Pollack movie except THE YAKUZA and TOOTSIE, he almost never received screen credit.

            Check out one of Rayfiel’s exchanges from THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR:

          • brenkilco

            Always thought Dunaway was cosmically miscast as a sweet, naive character. No matter how many times I see this I still expect her to pull out a gun at some point and try to kill Redford. And honestly some of her scenes with Redford are a bit much for me. (“Sometimes I take a picture that isn’t like me but I took it so it is like me,”) Whatever. But I love the conversation at the end between Redford and killer Von Sydow(“The fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation.”)

            I find Pollack’s movies a mixed bag. Have never managed to get all the way through Out of Africa in one sitting. And in general don’t care for Redford. Still there are well written scenes I like even in movies of his I don’t much care for. For instance that little voiceover coda at the end of the mostly misguided Havana(“This is hurricane country.”) Nice dialogue exchanges do abound in his stuff. And being an ex-actor he was attentive to subtext.

          • filmklassik

            Ha! I find myself agreeing with you on SO many points brenkilco (in fact one reply you wrote to me on these boards — which amounted to an impromptu treatise on what constitutes a great twist-ending — is something I have actually printed out and re-read many times since).

            That being said, we have very different opinions about Robert Redford, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, and Sydney Pollack.

            Re: CONDOR — Never thought of Dunaway’s character as being naive, exactly. Timid, perhaps. Guarded, definitely. And emotionally more than a bit shut-off and wary. But never naive. I actually thought Dunaway did some of her finest work as that character, in what was essentially a supporting role.

            Then again, I’m a little biased here. You are talking to a card-carrying Sydney Pollack disciple and a huge fan of Robert Redford’s, and the dialogue in the movies those guys made together is some of the smartest I have heard anywhere.

            And speaking of Redford’s V.O at the end of HAVANA (my all-time favorite movie, by the way. And no, that is not a typo, and yes, I have seen CITIZEN KANE, CHINATOWN, the first two GODFATHER movies and CASABLANCA. All of them brilliant, but HAVANA trumps them all)… Pollack’s go-to guy David Rayfiel composed that speech and I agree that’s it’s exquisite.

            In fact, here it is in its entirety:

            “I do this sometimes, drive down from Miami. It isn’t that I expect her. The ferry doesn’t run anymore. But it happens sometimes, I see a boat offshore and something… goes faster in me. Hope, I guess.

            What the hell, Fidel Castro was on the Jack Parr Show, so anything can happen. I even read the newspapers now. Not just for the point spread or the odds or the morning line. Human interest, that’s why I read it. A dozen lines about what happened on a street corner in Indianapolis. Or identical twins meet after thirty years and smoke the same brand of cigarettes, and both married to somebody named Shirley. Like that.

            Somebody came out of Havana, told me Baby Hernandez was the big winner that night. Lives in New Jersey now. And I got a postcard from Joe Volpi, postmarked Santo Domingo. So I guess he’s still doing it: Running things for Meyer.

            It’s a new decade, things are different. We got your own revolution going. I’m doing OK these days. I’m way ahead. But it’s not the same. I sit with my back to the wall, watch the entrance. You never know who’s gonna walk in. Somebody blown off course… This is Hurricane Country.”

  • andyjaxfl

    “You can write this shit, but you can’t say it.” – Harrison Ford.

    What I take away from this classic quote to George Lucas on the set of the original Star Wars is that it’s beneficial to read the dialogue out loud. If it sounds unnatural and on-the-nose, it probably is.

    Speaking of dialogue, David Mamet’s excellent SPARTAN is back on HBO Go. I’m on vacation this week and I’m trying to trim my streaming Netflix down by watching only movies I’ve never seen before, but I couldn’t resist watching it.

    • Scott Crawford

      Well there’s a great example on the “Empire of Dreams” documentary: Harrison Ford, in his audition, has dialogue that goes something like

      The entire starfleet couldn’t destroy the whole planet. It’d take a thousand ships with more fire power than I’ve ever seen. I would have heard about it.

      It goes on a bit longer than that. Final script?:

      The entire starfleet couldn’t destroy the whole planet. It’d take a thousand
      ships with more fire power than I’ve…

      A signal starts flashing on the control panel and a muffled alarm starts humming.

      Cut the dialogue. First Blood, 1981, they cut the dialogue. Steve McQueen cut his own dialogue, so did Kevin Costner. In fact, McQueen told Chuck Norris not to use so much dialogue in his films after watching The Good Guys Wear Black; that way, when you speak, the audience will REALLY want to listen.

    • Nicholas J

      But watching movies you’ve seen before is the best way to learn!

      • Scott Crawford

        And I’ve found it’s cheaper than watching new movies. But also breaking down movies you’ve watched, listing the scenes in them. I’ve done that for a while. I thought I was a freak until I heard Simon Kinberg did the same thing when he was starting out.

  • brenkilco

    Neither scene is going to set the world on fire. I find the second marginally superior, but really only because it is professionally terse. Getting to know you scenes are the worst. Hollywood has always known it. That’s why it invented the meet cute. “Hi, where are you from?” “Well, Newark originally. But then we moved to Perth Amboy.” God, kill me now. So instead they’re in a store shopping. But he only needs pajama bottoms and she only needs pajama tops. This is actually the introductory bit from some old comedy. Don’t remember which. The point is to get the couple- or in the case of the Equalizer the pair we need to have emotionally bond- immediately interacting, get them doing something together, preferably amusing, let them reveal themselves through action and let the personal details fall into place incidentally.

    A subtler method might be to simply have one character tell the other something interesting. We like learning things. Not something personal but something personally revealing in context, something the conversation can key off of. There’s a great scene in Sea of Love- a movie filled with terrific dialogue- where Pacino and Barkin are walking down a street and he’s pointing out all the surrounding locations he’s familiar with. Only he’s describing them in terms of the the terrible crimes that happened there. And his beaten down spirit is revealed.

    • davejc

      The old comedy was Shop Around The Corner, a Lubitsch classic.

      • brenkilco

        Just did some googling. It is a Lubisch scene. But from the less fondly remembered Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife. Sounds like a Billy Wilder bit and in fact he wrote the script.

        • davejc

          expect you’re right, because even though I saw both films I can’t
          remember what either was about. But I remember an interview where
          Billy Wilder talks about that scene and his idol Lubitsch and meet
          cute. His point was these boy-meets-girl scenes are really hard to

  • Logic Ninja

    ROSIE: You’re Mark, right?
    MARK: Mm-hm.
    ROSIE: I’m practicing this life strategy: whenever I’m new somewhere, I seek out the loneliest guy in the room, like, a real outcast. Goofy looking’s a plus, but I really like socially awkward, some future burger flipper who cries himself to sleep at night. And I come up to that guy and say, hi, you’re blank, right? And then I give him this speech and see what he says.

    Mark looks at her, thrown. She cracks a big grin. The class pours the RED beaker into the GREEN beaker.

    He leans in, whispers:

    MARK: Cubs fan, huh?
    ROSIE: It’s bad.
    MARK: Sounds terminal.
    ROSIE: What’re you doing this weekend?
    MARK: Besides crying myself to sleep?
    ROSIE: Besides helping me with chemistry.
    MARK: So that’s what they’re calling it these days.
    ROSIE: Scratch that. You’ll be crying yourself to sleep.

  • jw

    I think it largely depends on what “Nick” wants from the scene. It’s fairly easy to rewrite this scene as a comedy, but if that’s not what “Nick” is going for then that won’t help. My advice would be to look at what “Nick” wants to get out of the scene and then flip it on its head. And, it needs to be relevant. Are the Cubs & Sox relevant here? Look at it and ask yourself how you can have the conversation these two want to have without actually having that direct conversation. Remember, everyone has a secret and no one says what they mean. Use that to your advantage.

    • Scott Crawford

      Is the scene even necessary? Probably, but it’s hard to tell. Maybe there’s a better way of having these guys meet.

      Problems with dialogue can SOMETIMES mean a problem with story.

      • jw

        Very true. Sometimes the problem can even be location. Asking the question, “where does the scene work best” is likely to be another help. And, I have to give some advice that was given to me by a gentleman who will remain nameless, but someone you all know, and it was this — “think of the first 3 ways you’d write a scene and then throw them all away because they’ve been done before.” Basically, what he was saying was that subconsciously we’re going to pull from our own experiences and what we’ve seen. And, when we do that we pull from a place that is less original.

      • brenkilco

        Think the first question to ask if the scene isn’t working is Can I get rid of it?

  • Cuesta

    Y’all are trying to make the dialog fun and pro, but to me, most important is, what’s the deal? She interested on him or what? Because if not, she’d probably don’t answer him at all, ignoring him, giving him a cold shoulder, etc as he babbles uncomfortably. She’d only notice him is she needs him, to know what to do with the beakers for example.

    And if she’s interested she’d take the lead but to make fun of him, to lower his value and compensate her interest, establishing her value on top again.
    Especially if she’s the rebellious kind, a common euphemism to bitch.

  • Andre M. Williams

    Anyone here has the Equalizer script I can borrow? Plz help Thank You

    • Craig Mack

      Will you return it when you are done?

    • Scott Crawford


  • ximan

    Dialogue is one of those things that should come from real life. I can’t remember who said it first, but the best dialogue-writers are usually amazing LISTENERS.

    For example, one night I was at a bar at the Grove waiting for a friend. An older couple walked up with a small child. The Bartender, an unusually attractive dude, watched them closely as they approached.

    Man: What are you gonna do?
    Woman (seats the child in the bar stool): We’ll wait for you here.

    The man looked at the bartender, who looked dubious.

    Man: Is that…?

    The woman follows his eyes to the bartender.

    Woman: Can he sit here?

    Bartender: The rule is children are only allowed to sit at one of the tables, not at the bar.

    The Grove was packed as usual and LOUD, so the husband could barely hear him. Plus the bartender answered quickly, almost as if he was reciting his answer.

    Man: What’d he say?

    Woman (removing the child): Nevermind. We gotta lawyer over here.

    I burst out laughing on the inside! Even the bartender smiled as they walked away.

    What I took from this was: 1) Eavesdrop, Eavesdrop, eavesdrop! It’s not creepy or voyeuristic. You’re a writer. EVERYTHING deserves your attention. 2) Interesting dialogue comes from interesting people. Find these people, even if you don’t really like them. LISTEN to them. Life is often much more entertaining than movies.

    • Linkthis83

      Oh man, this is a week of comebacks! I’m loving this! Welcome back, sir.

      • ximan

        Lol, whattup Link! I know I’ve been MIA (writing my ASS off). I finished not one, but TWO scripts and revised my Dark Matter script. But I have been reading the blog regularly, just not commenting (saved all of my words for the scripts). Anyway, how’s Tommy Tucker??

        • Linkthis83

          He’s riding the pine right now. Working on a horror script currently. Great to hear about the two scripts and DARK MATTER. Let me know if you need a read.

  • ElectricDreamer

    Dialogue comes very fashionably late to the writing party for me. I’m a “situation guy.”
    The GOALS of my characters determine how they talk in the environments I craft for them.
    All I really need to know is what they want and the PSYCHOLOGY they use to get it.

    Without that data, writing dialogue for me is like shoveling shit from one hole into another.

  • Linkthis83

    I like to ask the story questions. So if I were given this scene to improve, then there are things I’d want to know first:

    -What’s the purpose of this scene?

    -What’s the goal?

    -What’s the tone of the movie (genre)

    -How does this scene affect the scenes after it?

    -What does Mark want in this moment?

    -What does Rosie want?

    I’ve also recently decided on an approach to creating dialogue:

    Know the character’s personality and their paradigm.

    By knowing what type of character your have, and knowing their worldview, you already have the base from which that character will react to or interpret the situations they encounter. And depending on where you are at in the story, decide to which degree (intensity) they will do this.

    In regards to Nick’s scene, to me, they sound like high school kids, so the words themselves are acceptable to me. I like that the scene is basically all surface conversation mixed with some personality, and at the end of it, Mark reveals something personal. That’s Mark making himself vulnerable in that moment. It’s easy to tell people what team you root for, but he shared something personal. And that specific line is great too. It could simply be something Mark likes, or it could hint at the great depth of the story to come. In fact, Rosie is probably the STORM that’s just come in. If that is the case, then yeah, the lines leading up to it should enhance this moment. But yet again, they are just kids.

    Based on Carson’s set up blurb, and only using the elements in the scene, I will assume the answers to my questions above:

    -Is Mark good at Chemistry or does he suck at it? = this could be his jumping off point with Rosie

    -What’s the purpose of this scene? = Rosie and Mark first meet.

    -What’s the goal? = To start their relationship – put the story into motion

    -What’s the tone of the movie (genre) = Rebel city-girl moves to small town, meet’s Baseball Mark…no idea what genre this is.

    -How does this scene affect the scenes after it? = it’s the relationship the story is built on

    -What does Mark want in this moment (what does he want overall in life)? = I’m assuming he’s aware of the new girl, has seen her, immediately has a thing for her, wants to get to know her

    -What does Rosie want in this moment (what does she want overall in life)? = to go back to the city. To be left alone. Or maybe to stir up some shit in this small town (I really don’t know – maybe she doesn’t either – not yet anyway)

    I very much like Carson’s approach to improving the scene. I especially like them discussing the chemistry experiment. Because that is what Mark is ACTUALLY doing here. He’s conducting a chemistry experiment between he and Rosie. And what would be great, is if the literal chemistry experiment goes bad.

    In order to write a more effective scene, the actual elements of the moment need to be utilized more. Since I don’t really know what Mark’s goal is, it’s hard to know how to start this scene. If he just wants to befriend her, or wants her to fall in love with him, or he wants her to have sex with him, or sex with his friend, or rob the town bank – these are things I would need to know to help make suggestions. Because by making attempts to enhance this scene, it’s going to affect the ones before it and the ones after.

    So what do we know: Mark likes baseball, has a glove in his backpack, but we don’t know if he’s good at baseball. I don’t know what Mark’s social status at school is. I’d need to know that too. Is he popular? What’s his reputation? And on and on and on.

    Based on the scene that’s provided, Mark attempts to start the conversation, Rosie makes a smart ass comment, and Mark just shuts up. But Rosie lets him off the hook and then offers her name and then where she’s from. Mark replies with what he knows which is baseball. We learn she doesn’t like baseball at all. Desperate to make a connection, Mark mentions shopping (girl stuff). Rosie sarcastically acknowledges the local shopping. Mark shows empathy by understanding the drastic change for her. She acknowledges by referencing a new planet. Mark acts as a welcoming being of said planet. This gets a genuine reaction from Rosie who then follows up with a question about what there is to do for fun (again letting Mark off the hook). Challenged to find something that isn’t lame like the fair, and that isn’t what he likes but she doesnt, he mentions that he likes to watch storms come in (which is a great moment – or rather, had the potential to be a great moment and precursor of things to come).

    Depending on the purpose of this scene, don’t let Mark off the hook by having Rosie chime in. Make Mark earn it. Unless this scene is really about Rosie and her rebel attitude. She doesn’t feel like a rebel in this scene. Unless Carson misrepresented her in the set up. If she’s unhappy about moving to this small town where the fair is lame, then she wouldn’t be so easy to chat up. And she wouldn’t be so forthcoming either, in my opinion. That is your conflict for this scene. That’s where the drama is. What she wants versus what he wants with the complication of the chemistry experiment in the background. Something they are supposed to be working on together). Plus even that felt too rushed. New girl sits down and Mark lays a line on her and oh by the way, they are supposed to be doing an experiment right now. That feels clunky. And does chemistry class play a bigger role in the whole thing? That’s another question to ask. Maybe this isn’t the right place for them to meet first.


    Normally I like the challenge of coming up with answers and/or trying to improve the scene. However, I don’t know enough about the story to do it any relevant justice. So I will abstain.

  • mulesandmud

    I like the school setting and class experiment meet cute of Nick’s scene – it’s great for both subtext (chemistry!) and suspense (will it blow up because he isn’t paying attention?).

    I’d never presume to judge a script by a single scene, but it seems like the plainness of the dialogue is a direct result of plain characters – Mark is a baseball-loving kid in a small town, Rosie is a new-in-town city girl who doesn’t like baseball. Aside from that, there’s not much dimension; their conversation is mostly just banter, which is why it feels long in relation to its actual content (the excessive action lines don’t help).

    If these characters have more interesting layers beneath the surface that we see here, I hope the writer has a plan for revealing and developing them. Mark’s storm line at the end of the scene, by far the most interesting bit, suggests he might.

    As for The Equalizer scene, you can’t argue that it’s professionally rendered, and the characterizations are strong, but I remember groaning twice on this page. The first groan was when they start talking about Old Man and the Sea, which a pretty standard grope for banter, though to the script’s credit the discussion of literary classics does become a full-fledged motif (if still a very standard one).

    The second groan was at the line “How’s the singing?”, which is ham-fisted exposition if I ever saw it. Part of the reason that line feels so hopelessly expository is because we would understand the situation just fine without it – the lines before and after that one describe Teri’s singing hobby very well; we might need just a bit more detail, but adding such a blunt information dump question from McCall undermines our confidence in the writing. Trust us, man, we get it (and even if we didn’t, it’s irrelevant to the plot, so why underscore it so strongly?).

    And it should also be noted that the scene leaves out several key details about the characters, including McCall’s defining quality – that he’s a stone cold killer. That’s fine; it’s a mistake to try to cram every aspect of your character into every scene. Just make sure you have a strategy; the best part of The Equalizer is the calculated slow-roll of who and what McCall really is.

    • walker

      You are generous to keep your groan-count so low. There is also the hackneyed late night diner setting. And I guess we are supposed to believe that a guy who wakes up, makes his bed, and shaves before his alarm rings at 5:30am, and then makes an elaborately organic smoothie for breakfast, also is a regular at a late night diner. It is not even believable in the on-the-nose universe of this script.

      • mulesandmud

        Heh. If I groaned every time I read DINER in a slugline, the lady next to me at the coffee shop would have called the cops by now.

        • walker

          You know I think the real lesson here is about the double standard that applies to unknowns and pros. Although I am not one of these guys who thinks that there are scores of great undiscovered screenwriters out there, I am frequently appalled by what pros can get away with. I felt The Equalizer was a particularly overrated script in terms of craft, and many of its elements would be excoriated if they were found in an amateur spec.

    • JakeMLB

      The thing is there’s little harm including the bit about the singing and it may actually be wise. Why? Because some readers might in fact miss it. More importantly, some paid readers, studio execs or actors might in fact miss in. And finally, it can always be removed in subsequent drafts, on the day of the shoot or in post-production. But by including it in you make pretty damn sure that everyone understands that one important detail unless they’re really not paying attention. Is it on the nose? Sure. But whether to include it or not is a probably an age-old problem that doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. As long as those truly on-the-nose bits are few and far between you’re probably safe. It’s when on-the-nose bits are strung together in sequence where it becomes problematic.

      • mulesandmud

        The line’s not a disaster, just lazy. An unnaturally pointed question that feels out of place in the nuanced exchange that comes before and after. Sure, being a bit more explicit than “bad for the vocal chords” is a good idea, but Wenk still could have been more tactful.

        If this were a crucial setup for a plot point, I might agree with you, but since Teri’s singing is of absolutely zero relevance to the plot, there would be no harm in a reader missing that detail entirely. I’d prefer if the scene didn’t sacrifice character voice for the sake of exposition, even for a moment.

        • JakeMLB

          I would tend to agree although I’d argue her being a singer is somewhat important (I can’t recall exactly but it does distinguish her as something more than a simple hooker) but I guess the point is that I’m increasingly hesitant to call something lazy. This is a studio-driven action film. It’s not Sideways. Quite often lines like this are written specifically because the writer or someone other than the writer (his representation or management) is afraid that the audience (whoever that may be) needs to be slapped with the exposition. It could probably be more tactful but I’m not sure it’s lazy.

          • mulesandmud

            Absolutely right. Judge the work, not the writer. I retract!

      • Magga

        Would you ask someone who sang “how’s the singing?” if you wanted to know? I would, and so it’s not on the nose, it’s just conversation

        • JakeMLB

          Right. There’s also something to be said for how an actor would deliver the lines. We all read the lines and internally visualize their delivery by some esoteric character in our heads; however, I’m pretty sure Denzel Washington is a better actor than the leading man in my head.

  • Howie428

    After reading the first scene here, I thought it needed sharpening up. Take out some lines, add some edge to a few, but my biggest note would be to get rid of the narrative commentary on the dialogue. Let them talk and let us attach meaning to what they say, rather than slowing things down by doing that for us.

    And after reading the second scene, I feel obliged to point out the slightly unfair nature of this comparison. This second scene is a follow up interaction that plays off a prior meeting, so it has none of the awkwardness of a first meeting. However, it’s snappy, doesn’t over play the interaction, and conveys a good energy between these two characters. They’re talking about apparently obvious things, but actually talking about the stuff going on in the wider story.

  • Nicholas J

    I think a lot can be done just by making Nick’s dialogue sound more natural. Right now it feels sort of… produced. I can tell someone is forcing these characters to say these things.

    So without really changing the content, I went through and changed the following:
    -Redundant lines (Rosie: There’s got to be something.)
    -On-the-nose lines (Rosie: Couldn’t care less)
    -Whittled away some of the excess (Rosie: You could say that…)
    -Added some more color to it (the Vulcan salute)
    -Added showing instead of telling (Mark now IS dorky instead of the writer TELLING us he’s dorky)
    -Removed telling action lines (Mark can tell she hates it here.)

    I think these small changes can go a long way to improving the dialogue and making the characters feel more real, as well as allowing the reader to participate in the scene more since they are not being told everything. Don’t tell us how the relationship is evolving in the scene, let the reader figure it out by using the clues you’ve provided. For example, when Rosie laughs and turns toward Mark at the end, we see that even though he said something dorky, he has stood out to her and made a connection. Much better than writing an action line that says something like “Rose smiles — she’s now interested in what Mark has to say.”

    Here’s what I came up with:

    Rosie sits down next to Mark — He repeatedly taps his pencil.

    MARK: New here?

    The abruptness catches her a little off guard.

 Uh, no.

    Mark freezes — Panic runs across his face.

    ROSIE: Relax, I’m messing with you. I’m Rosie.

    MARK: Oh. Mark.

    The class dumps the RED beaker into the GREEN.

    ROSIE: I just moved here from Chicago.

    MARK: Cubs or White sox?

    ROSIE: You’re like the fifth person to ask me that today. Is there anyone here that doesn’t like baseball?

    She grabs the Blue beaker and dumps it into the Red beaker — This is why you pay attention. The silence draws out the awkwardness.

    MARK: I hear there’s great… shopping… in Chicago.

 Not compared to the QuikTrip and Aunt Annie’s boutique you got here.

    MARK: Yeah I guess it’s… Kind of a culture shock.

More like landing on another planet.

    Mark spits out a laugh and makes a Vulcan salute with his hand.

    MARK (alien voice):
 Take me to your nearest convenience store.


    But after a moment, Rosie laughs. She turns to face Mark.

 So what do you do for fun around here? And please don’t say the fair.

    Mark searches the room — He looks down at his backpack, his glove sticking out — Don’t talk about baseball — He looks ahead to the KID in front of him — He’s wearing a CUBS jersey — NO BASEBALL — Finally the window catches his eye.

 You know there’s nothing like watching a good country storm roll in.

    • carsonreeves1

      I still think the approach to the scene needs to be changed, but for sticking with the setup and keeping most of the same lines, this was solid!

      • Nicholas J

        Thanks. I agree the scene should be changed, but just wanted to show how simple tweaks here and there can do a lot to improve dialogue.

        Being concise goes a long way.

  • Andre M. Williams

    Thank You Scott you the best, I never have time to respond and write to Carson’s gems, but I read ur guys comments all the time — keep up the good work, guys and Carson!!!!

  • JakeBarnes12

    “I like to watch the storms come in” is a good line. Direct, honest; if the rest of the scene were good it would feel earned.

    Why play it out in a classroom? Seen it a million times.

    How about Mark’s in the boy’s bathroom, in a stall? Hears someone enter the next stall, looks down, freaks when he sees girls’ shoes.

    Now you got a whole other scenario going. If she’s the rebellious type, let Rosie start the conversation. If she’s confident and he’s freaked, we’re gonna have something that plays.

    Why’s he in the stall? Not to poop. Maybe he’s dodging class, maybe he’s being chased by bullies, maybe he’s editing storm chasing video on his tablet, whatever we need to know about the character. Why’s she in the stall? Girl’s bathroom full? Kinda dull. Can’t stand the inane chatter in the girls’ bathroom from all the local popular girls? Etc.

    What’s her first line? Outta toilet paper and pssts to ask for some? Too obvious. She’s gotta want something. Hey, you got a… what? Cigarette? Any dope? USB stick? Condom?

    No idea. But we need something specific based on what these kids are doing. And what these kids are doing should be based on who they are.

    Two kids sitting in chemistry class having an obvious conversation is trashcan fodder.

    Bathroom’s just an example. Maybe Mark’s on the roof. Why? Flying planes? Throwing himself off? Watching storms? Waiting for some kids to hurl loogies at them?

    You want interesting dialogue, put your characters in fresh, specific situations, not for the novelty of it, but because those situations represent some aspect of your characters’ wants.

    Spitball, Nick.


    • kenglo

      That is a cool bathroom scene ….

    • Logic Ninja

      This is awesome advice! I nominate thee for comment of the week.

      So often I find myself writing a “default” scene–the first setting, the first scenario, the first exchange of ideas that comes to mind. Which will be the first thing that comes to the audience’s mind. No interest there.

      • Paul Clarke

        It’s good advice, but isn’t this supposed to be about the dialogue, not scene location?

        Maybe there’s a heap of other reasons that the scene has to take place in the classroom. Not sure, I love the more interesting location, just think it’s great advice on the wrong topic.

        The pro scene takes place in a diner which is even more cliched than the classroom.

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          I think there’s a real relation between the two since the location may inspire the dialogue, thus resulting in something less on-the-nose :)
          Agree about the Diner location, though – way too many of those already…

    • Logic Ninja

      Plus, with a bathroom scene like that, you have SO many opportunities to draw out Rosie’s character. Why’s she there? Is it to make a statement about how polarized bathrooms reinforce harmful gender stereotypes? Is it because her dope supplier meets her here, and Mark’s in the dope guy’s stall–and now everyone’s waiting awkwardly for Mark to finish his dump? The possibilites are endless.

    • carsonreeves1

      The bathroom scene is immediately better. I can totally picture it. Love that the characters can’t see each other. Love that a girl is in the boy’s bathroom. Love that there’s a mystery to why she’s there that the scene can draw suspense from. Good stuff!

      • klmn

        And with that segue…

      • JakeBarnes12

        Thanks, man. I introduce my leads to each other in the bathroom in every single script I write. :)

  • kent

    We need to know what the scene is trying to accomplish. I’ll assume it’s just to get the two to meet – he’s awkward and shy and she’s from out of town, out-going, and potentially interested.

    There are tons of open seats, but Rosie plunks down next to Mark. He’s out of his depth. The PROFESSOR drones on…

    PROFESSOR (O.S.): First you’ll notice the red and blue molecules attract each other to make purple…

    MARK (whispers): I hate chemistry.

    ROSIE (sizes him up):
 I don’t know… I kinda believe in it.

    MARK (pours red and GREEN together): It’s stupid.

    The red and green don’t mix at all. She picks up the blue beaker and pours it in. The blue and red make purple and the green stays green.

    ROSIE: What color are you?

    MARK: How did you know it would do that?

    ROSIE: I just transferred here from Chicago. We did this chapter last semester. So, what color are you?

    Another long pause while he studies the multi-colored solution.

    MARK: Ahhhh….

    And that’s when a hand grabs the beaker.

    PROFESSOR: What do we have here?

    Mark BLUSHES A DEEP CRIMSON as the Professor holds up the beaker.

    PROFESSIOR (shows beaker to class): Iron ions stand alone. Mr. Blakely, we’ve been reading

    ROSIE (whispers):
Hi Mr. Blakely. I’m Rosie.

    MARK: Purple?

    ROSIE (touches his cheek): Nope. From now on I’m calling you Red.

  • walker

    I am sorry to say that I don’t find this to be an effective example. Nick’s scene is a little long and a little familiar, but look at the scene from The Equalizer. The dialogue is ok I guess, but the setup is totally on the nose. He is a disaffected ex-military killing machine with strong personal ethics, she is a hooker with dreams of becoming a singer? They both have hearts of gold. On the nose. He is reading an old paperback, The Old Man and the Sea? On the freaking nose! Even the book itself is dreadfully on the nose.

  • jeaux

    Granted, I don’t know the story but I’ll take a crack at this scene utilizing one of Carson’s tips, which is everyone needs a goal. So here Mark’s goal is to get to know Rosie. Rosie’s goal is be left alone.

    And ACTION!

    MARK sits in Biology class, the last table in the back. A dead frog is splayed out in front of him, ready for dissecting. The buzz of the fluorescent lighting battles for dominance over the drone of the teacher’s voice.

    Next to Mark sits ROSIE, hear earbuds blaring loud punk music. She keeps her eyes to the front of the class ignoring Mark.

    Mark looks her over, notices her ‘Articles of Faith’ T-shirt. Mark waves his hand in front of her face. She ignores him. He waves again, closer. She pulls the earbuds out in a huff.

    Rosie – What?

    Mark – Hey.

    Rosie rolls her eyes, looks back toward the front of the classroom.

    Mark – Articles of Faith, huh? Is that a band?

    Rosie – Only the best hardcore band out of Chicago in like, forever.

    Mark – Chicago. That where you from?

    Rosie – What do you want from me? Look at us. We have fuck all in common, Wal-mart, so I know you don’t want to “get to know me”. That said, the only other reason is to get in my pants, is that about right?

    Mark is taken aback, at a loss for words.

    Rosie – If we’re gonna be cell mates for the rest of the year, I ain’t gonna learn shit with you bumping your gums all day about how “opposites attract” and all that happy horse shit.

    Rosie pulls her stool out and gets to her feet.

    Rosie – So let’s get this over with.

    She takes her gum out and sticks it on his forehead, the other hand sneaks her frog from the table. Rosie then disappears underneath the lab table.

    Mark looks around the classroom in shock.

    Rosie beneath the desk, holds the limp frog in her hand

    Rosie – Sorry, Kermit.

    and begins to unzip Mark’s pants.


    Mark jumps as Rosie goes to work. His wide eyes flit back and forth to his classmates. No one is paying attention to Mark and Rosie.

    A strange smile distorts Mark’s face then he jolts upright in his seat. He takes a quick breath. Then another. Finally he grips the table with both hands and rides it out to the finish.

    His head hangs down in a spent stupor when Rosie rises and takes her seat. She removes her gum from his forehead and pops it back into her mouth.

    Rosie – Now, unless you want your nickname to be “Frogjob” for the rest of the year, leave me the fuck alone.

    The BELL RINGS and Rosie gathers her backpack and turns to the door and tosses the DEAD FROG onto the table in front of Mark. He looks down and sees something suspicious leaking from the frog’s gaping mouth.

    TEACHER (O.S.) – OK class, remember, papers are due on Friday. Don’t fuck this up, it’s worth half your grade. Adios.

    Rosie blends in with the rest of the students as they all exit the classroom.

    Mark sits alone, dumbfounded. He takes a furtive glance to the doorway then rises from his stool. He looks at the frog and quickly swipes it into his satchel and scurries out of the room.


    Again, not sure of the character’s overall arc in the story here, but they each have a goal and each are active in achieving said goal.


  • ripleyy

    Wouldn’t it be much better if Rosie and Mark were having the conversation at a bus stop? The next bus is in fifteen minutes or so, and Mark – who has already seen Rosie previously at the science class – is interested in talking to her, but is shy to start the conversation. He only has a few precious minutes.

    Because of this, we can now use Mark making it to the bus stop and thinking he’s late. He’s got no phone, and he’s late for something – he HAS to ask her for the time, which will then allow Mark and Rosie to talk to one another. Also, it doesn’t need to be long, but Mark in this situation allows him to bounce off Rosie in another scene.

    So, for example:

    “Mark arrives at the bus stop, panting after a long run. He notices the cute girl from the science class previously, who is too busy listening to her music on her phone.

    MARK: Excuse me.

    Rosie doesn’t hear him. Mark pretends he didn’t even utter a word, too shy to ask again. Rosie takes her earphones out and looks at him.

    ROSIE: Were you saying something?

    MARK: Oh, I was just wondering if you know the time?

    Rosie checks her phone but instead of saying it, she shows him the time by raising her old, badly scratched phone.

    MARK: Thanks.

    Rosie gives a fleeting smile and puts her earphones back into her ears, but before she can, Mark jumps at the chance —

    MARK: Nice phone. By the way.

    Mark dies inside as she slowly lowers her earphones.

    MARK: It’s fancy.

    ROSIE: I hate bringing it out in public. I have a reputation to uphold.

    MARK: That accent’s far from home.

    ROSIE: So is yours.

    I could go on, but you get the idea – later on, I would add urgency into it and make it clear that she’s got a bus in ten minutes, while he has a lot longer to wait and realizes it’s a perfect opportunity to strike up some sort of conversation.

    Also, in real life, someone strikes up a conversation because there’s something specific they want to know. Names often come later, so for Mark he could want to know where her accent is from, thus placing where she lived previously, or Mark could have noticed she is playing a game on an old Nintendo DS (and because he is such a collector, he’s dying to know what it is!) – it’s little openings like that, that often is the best way to start something like this.

  • Guest

    This exercise also displays how important it is to know your character in order write decent dialogue. In the versions below, Rosie was everything on the scale from shy to rebellious and it showed through what she said… how aggressive or withdrawn she was.

    Dialogue is a great platform for readers to feel out your characters. So if you yourself have only known your character for 10 mins before diving into dialogue that you think will sound funny or “drive the story forward” it might just end up generic… like five Toms talking to each other instead of Tom, Dick and Harry having a conversation. Character makes dialogue. Get good with making great characters first, then dialogue can follow to a point where it’s at least decent.
    Also, do you create a situation THEN throw your characters into them Or does your type of character create the situation themselves?? One of the suggestions was to have the characters in a bathroom stall during class hours. Except if Rosie was an overachiever she would never let her bladder get in the way of one second of her education. Only if you’re a certain type of character (timid, rebellious, what-have-you) would you venture into and remain in the stall without needing to use the toilet. And what follows with the person who bumps into you there would depend on that person’s character.

    • Scott Crawford

      I’ve started writing character biographies, which I haven’t done before, in addition to outlines which I have done before. I always took character seriously, but I realized, if I don’t know these characters and I’m the writer, then who does?

      • Guest

        And that’s exactly it. When the writer is not clear about something – any aspect of the screenplay, it shows. Be it your environment, the purpose of a certain scene etc. and when you havn’t spent time on your character, don’t expect to write great dialogue. If you’re writing a blurry image expecting people to “get it”, it’s a crap shot.
        Once you know your characters, it’s up to you to utilize all that knowledge to create tantalizing dialogue that could only come about with those two (or more) characters.

  • ASAbrams

    I think the first scene’s blandness (it’s not bad–it’s just generic) is a symptom of not knowing the characters and the situation well enough. I know that Mark likes baseball, but I don’t know what his goals are–does baseball figure into that? And Rosie? I know things ABOUT her, but I don’t know her specific viewpoints. She prefers big city Chicago to the po-dunk place she’s in…that’s general and could apply to many people. However, if I know why…what exactly about Chicago that she’s attached to (and not “it has more things to keep one occupied”) and what need does she think won’t be fulfilled in the town she’s moved to. Again, it’s about knowing the character.

    So, maybe Mark sees her and finds an immediate attraction, but he notices something about her that says that they won’t be compatible. Say, she has very intricate nail polish–well, she can’t be that into sports, and specifically baseball if she maintains that. He comments on the interesting nails.

    She laments that she’ll have to get rid of it because there’s no nail salon there that can do them like she wants.

    Oh, what kinds of things are in the place she’s from–Chicago. Does she like to go to games or anything? (He’s fishing to see if she likes baseball.)

    Rosie attacks the town. Chicago has this and that. All they have in this place is Aunt Annie boutiques and baseball fields–nothing in this town is even worth bothering with.

    Mark’s offended–she’s putting down baseball…and indirectly him. So, he defends his town (instead of himself or baseball directly because that would put him in a more vulnerable position). At the same time, they have to keep quiet because their talking is beginning to annoy the teacher. He mentions the few things that the town has to offer.

    Rosie remains unimpressed.

    Mark’s conflicted because he likes her, but she’s indifferent to his dreams (I’m assuming baseball’s a passion). He brings out his trump card. He bets she doesn’t know a good place to watch a storm come in. She gives him that, and maybe that’s an opportunity later in the script. I didn’t give a place for introductions…that can actually happen later. Everyone doesn’t learn other people’s names in the first meeting.

    In the example from the article, I noticed that, while props from the specific setting are used, they don’t affect what happens between Mark and Rosie. My question is, then, why is it in a classroom then? The classroom setting should bring obstacles or raise tension or reveal who the characters are.

    So first, know everything that possibly could be known about the characters and use their specific viewpoints to drive their motivations, goals, and therefore their dialogue. Know everything about the setting and use it to do work in the scenes so everything isn’t resting on the dialogue (that way the “telling” in the action/description lines can be relaxed, too).

  • Andre M. Williams Anyone here interested in next generation gaming—good article.

    • Scott Crawford

      I’m old enough to remember playing a VR arcade game in the early 90s, around the time of Lawnmower Man. I wasn’t allowed to wear my glasses with the thing over my head, and I can’t see shit without my glasses. So I couldn’t fly that virtual reality Harrier jumpjet. Shame.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Methinketh this would make good script material.

  • Franchise Blueprints

    For today’s teenagers it’s typical to refer to each other as bitches (male and female). So if the conversation started off with “hey bitches” a lot of tension would instantly be created. The resulting interplay would play out better.

    SInce this is taking place in a science class the writer forgot about the chemical reaction taking place. The order of the chemical mixture is important, physical consequences should force a greater interaction between the two. (e.g adding acid to water not water to acid) The resulting explosion should result in Mark acting heroic and copping a feel while he’s at it. Rosie should return the favor realizing Mark tried to score a run off an infield bunt. And to cap things off she should hold her two index fingers close together so he gets the point.

    My problem with the second scene starts before the dialogue. Teri THE HOOKER and McCall. Shouldn’t it have been written McCall THE WASHED UP EX-MILITARY. The problem with the second scene is the writer made Teri THE HOOKER with a heart of gold. Only McCall’s sexual innuendo made her crack her first real smile. Most women don’t appreciate a sexual undertone to general conversation. The conversation was less stilted than the first scene and at the same time played into it’s own trope of heart of gold hooker and condescending ex-military man.

  • G.S.

    If we’re going to hold true to the idea that every scene is a tiny movie with a beginning, middle and end, we need to know two very important things first – what’s the purpose (the theme for a movie) and how does it end?

    For this exercise, both are essentially “meet cute” scenes, which gives us a general idea of purpose – introduce a (potentially romantic) character relationship. Those typically end one of three ways: 1) Success! The hero gets the guy/girl; 2) Fail! The hero is rebuffed; 3) To be continued. There’s interest, but who knows where it’s going.

    The second scene is clearly intended to end with number 3. So the ambiguity of the last line “Let me know how it ends” serves this purpose as well as acts as a payoff from the opening line “He catch the fish yet?” The first scene doesn’t appear to actually have an ending in mind, so there’s no opportunity for verbal setups and payoffs or the twists and turns that we see in the second scene. Further, the second scene uses the situation/action as a third participant in the scene. It isn’t just there to give them something to do while they talk, but is drafted in service to the purpose of the scene.

    It also looks like the first scene was trying really hard to emphasize how awkward the main character was, but conceivably, we’ve already had scenes to do this. And while we’ve established this character trait, it works counter to the scene goal of getting the girl interested. If he’s TOO awkward, her interest reads like writer intent rather than character-driven.

    All of this is why the Equalizer scene stands out as superior regardless of cliched
    character archetypes and settings, which are all just window dressing to
    the matter at hand.

    Were I to rewrite Nick’s scene with an eye towards an ambiguous end (#3 leaning towards #1), I’d focus on the experiment and remove a bit of the other fluff.

    Mark and Rosie work on an experiment together in a quiet classroom. Students speak to their lab partners in muted whispers as the teacher patrols.

    Rosie: This is stupid.

    Mark: They didn’t do chemistry in your old school?

    Rosie: Yeah, but at least my old school wasn’t in Snoresville, USA.

    Mark: I know right? This town sucks!

    A little too eager to agree and a little too loud. The teacher gives a stern look.

    Teacher: Shhhhh!

    After an embarrassed silence.

    Mark: Where are you from?

    Rosie: Chicago.

    Mark: Must have been really exciting.

    Rosie: It was just… better…

    She changes subjects quickly and points at the three beakers on the table – RED, GREEN and BLUE.

    Rosie: What are we supposed to be doing here?

    Mark: It doesn’t have to be boring, ya know.

    He picks up the red beaker in his left hand and hovers over the remaining two with his left.

    Mark: You can try to get something going in ‘Snoresville’ (red) with a little baseball or a fair or something (green). But if you combine Snoresville with a bit of ‘Chicago’ (blue)…

    He dumps the blue beaker into the red and it immediately begins to bubble and smoke.

    Mark:… something amazing happens…

    Rosie: That’s kinda cool… So what do you do for fun around here besides chemistry?

    Mark: I dunno. Chemistry’s kind of my favorite thing right now.

  • Randy Williams

    In the Rosie and Mark scene, she’s prefaced as “the rebellious type”
    In a boy meets girl scene, I like one character to notice a trait of the other, flaunting something similar in their own life even though they may be over hyping it just to have something in common.

    For instance Mark notices Rosie is rebellious…

    Mark notices Rosie is starting to pour the chemicals in the beaker in the wrong order.
    MARK – Hey, that’s not the order.
    ROSIE- I’m mixing up a date rape drug.
    MARK- What?
    ROSIE- Don’t worry, I’m not going to use it on my new, extra smart chemistry partner. If I don’t pass this class, I’m back to my aunt’s in Chicago.
    MARK- You from Chicago?

    Mark looks down at his backpack and the baseball glove sticking out. Don’t talk about baseball for god’s sake!

    MARK- I’m not letting you float on my work if that’s what you mean.

    He shows her the correct order.

    MARK- Pay attention, this is the order.
    ROSIE- Are you letting me float?

    Mark can’t help but blush.

    MARK- You don’t need a date rape drug down here, just a car and know the security rotation in the Walmart parking lot.
    ROSIE- That’s lame. You make out in the Walmart parking lot?
    MARK- Hell, no. I just park there, take it all in.
    ROSIE- Pervert.
    MARK- I mean, the storms..

    He looks at her as though she’s a breath of fresh air.

    MARK…they come blowing over us from the north.

  • James Lion

    I think this scenes dies a quick death the moment Rosie tells him she’s from Chicago. That whole thing with him not recognizing if she’s a new arrival or not, and her playful, confident response, is golden IMO. Build on it. He’s the guy who wants her, and he’s been put back a peg as a result of this bungle, so the next line of dialogue should be his, and it should be a struggle for him. Something awkward. The words don’t come. Maybe endearing….

  • Linkthis83

    I hope this does help. I feel I’m good at switching perspectives. One of the things I try to remember is that each character is the hero of their own story.

    If you don’t mind, what type of story is this (genre)? I’m mostly looking for what the tone should be during this scene. If you end up taking another shot at the dialogue in this scene, I’d be interested in seeing the changes you made.

    linkthis83 at yahoo dot com

    • bl2d

      Yeah absolutely it may be a minute but sure… It’s an action/adventure and the theme is ADAPTING which seems a little vague but it’s something I really wanted to explore.

  • Linkthis83

    Also, I’m no expert. I’m as amateur as they get. There’s a lot of value in the comments today. The burden is on you to make the changes :) We have it easy…just sit back and criticize.

  • walker

    Well, I guess in its ham-fisted symbolism, ersatz profundity, and stylistic descent into unwitting self-parody.

  • Malibo Jackk

    A lot of people think Hemingway wrote Moby Dick.
    (Not sure about that.)

    • walker

      Hemingway was out fishing and he CAUGHT Moby Dick.

      • Malibo Jackk

        I stand corrected.

        • walker

          And really you could just shorten that to: Hemingway was a dick.

    • Joe Martinez

      Yeah, I caught my little mixup proofreading after submitting… But, you were reading my comment with a critical eye and I appreciate that!

  • Erica

    This looks like a fun exercise! Here is my go at the ever elusive dialogue.



    Mark, tapping his pencil, scans the room nervously. Perhaps the NEW GIRL he’d seen in the hallway is his class.
    Not seeing her, he begins today’s Science experiment.
    He’s eyes focus on the GREEN beaker as he takes it in his hand.

    ROSIE (O.S.): I wouldn’t put that in there if I were you.

    MARKS eyes slowly shift focus from the GREEN beaker to the voice.

    MARK: That’s what she…

    ROSIE: …Said, I did. Problem with it?

    MARK: Um…No…I though…

    ROSIE: I’m just busting your balls. Relax. It’s Red one first.

    MARK: Sorry, didn’t know it was…you.

    MARK struggles to remain calm.

    ROSIE: The order of the beakers makes a difference. Trust me. I made that mistake before.

    MARK: Okay.

    ROSIE: Not much of a conversationalist are you. Would it be easier if we just texted for this experiment?

    MARK: My mind isn’t really on science…but it’s working out now…

    ROSIE: Put the Red into the Green beaker, unless of course your trying to end class. early. That might not be a bad thing.

    ROSIE smiles at MARK.

    MARK: No, not at all, Red into Green. Got it.

    ROSIE: Not so hard.

    MARK: Nope…

    MARKS face turns Beaker Red.

    ROSIE: Will work on that.

    • Scott Crawford

      That’s exactly what Carson suggested; make the scene about the science. The character comes through the dialogue.

  • tr3i

    I don’t believe dialogue is situation based since characters determine the evolution and outcome of any and all situations. As such I believe dialogue is character based (which is a “moo” point to some but new information to others). Anyway, dialogue is all about character creation. On the nose dialogue is a result of not knowing your characters, which leads to “mechanical” plot pushing lines as opposed to idiosyncratic responses. The first way to beat on the nose dialogue is go back and do the character work. Write those pages of character bios until your eyes bleed. Until saying that character’s name evokes an image and adjectives and memories and “tastes” in your mind. Just like a real person. When you say “mom” you don’t think “mom”, but rather a flood of information waves over your brain and you instantly know who “mom” is. “Mom” is not a list of adjectives and/or quirks, but a real living breathing person. That’s what you need to do with your characters. Get to know them to that point and dialogue will, I promise, no longer be on the nose.

    For the lazies out there there is somewhat of a “shortcut”. First write the scene and have the character say exactly what they want to say. I mean exactly. On the nose and everything. The scene will read like it was written by a lobotomized monkey, but hey, at least you know exactly what is being said. Now go back and rewrite that scene saying the exact same thing, but with other words and phrases, things only those specific characters would use and say. Which I guess ironically leads back to character creation LOL :D

    • Scott Crawford

      But as Carson said, some scenes will feel “like it was written by a lobotomized monkey”; short scenes mainly, where on-the-nose dialogue is more suitable. Scenes that are about briefing the character on their mission. Such scenes aren’t always pretty, and a rookie mistake is to try to make them so, stretching them out to show off how much dialogue you can do.

      Big problems are (but not limited to): Characters not listening to each other; characters reminding characters of things the audience has already seen; characters talking about things they already know, like science stuff; and many more.

      • tr3i

        Well I was mostly talking about “character scenes” and not those “here is the plan” scenes. But I do agree though, sometimes you just have to hold their hands and spoon feed them the information, no way around it. Your best option for those scenes is to just have fun with them. Humor helps. Distractions and/or interruptions and so forth.

        Still, for all intents and purposes let’s all use action instead of dialogue. That way everyone wins :D However if you have to use dialogue, use metaphor, analogies and many other tricks out there to say what you’re saying without saying it. Basically if two people are talking and only the memory part of your brain is involved, you’re not doing your job right :D

    • klmn

      A “moo” point? Are we talking about cow dialogue?

      Try Gary Larson’s The Far Side for that.

      • walker

        I think the technical term for cow dialogue is “catalog”.

  • Nicholas J

    Ha, I just posted that Sideways scene as an example of good subtext in a scene. That moment when he turns the conversation to rieslings is hilariously great. Completely biffs that opportunity.

  • Scott Crawford

    Can’t wait ’til September 26th? Sent!!

    • Dan B

      Oh, damn. Could you send this to me too, Scott? Would really appreciate it.

      • Scott Crawford


  • Scott Crawford

    Carson’s point, and he think he made it well, is that there are more ways of telling someone you like them than telling someone you like them. Doing something nice for them, or just showing an interest, for example. Remember that feeling you get when someone you know a little says “How’s your screenplay coming along?”. They REMEMBERED that you were writing a screenplay – they remembered YOU. Warm glowing feeling, like the feeling Teri has when McCall remembers her singing ambitions.

    Not everything about the scene is perfect, but I’m still excited to see the finished product in three weeks. Adult entertainment, at last! After a summer of kids movies.

  • Scott Crawford

    Like that 145 page early Raiders script the other day, write it all down then CUT it.

    This is from the shooting script of Pretty Woman:

    Do you remember me?

    No, I’m sorry, I don’t.

    I was in here yesterday.

    Vivian slowly raises her middle finger. The recognition starts to dawn in the saleswoman’s eyes. Vivian’s courage begins to return.

    Yeah. That’s right. It’s me. I want you to know something. You made me feel terrible. I wasn’t dressed right and you said I didn’t belong here. Well, I do. You’re the one that was wrong, not me. And I want to tell you something else. I’m never gonna shop here again as long as I live.

    And with that, Vivian turns and walks out.

    The saleswoman is stunned. A beat. The customer thrusts the dress into the saleswoman’s arm as if offended by Vivian’s speech and leaves the store also.

    Final movie:


    Hello, can I help you?


    I was in here yesterday, you wouldn’t wait on me.




    You people work on commission, right?




    Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.

    Same scene, much funnier.

    Or from the shooting script of Die Hard:

    As the crowd panics trying to escape, Karl locks eyes with McClane and levels his gun. McClane throws Holly to the ground and grabs the dumbstruck Robinson’s sidearm.

    But he doesn’t get off a shot — a lone gunshot stops Karl – – knocking him back through the doorway. McClane looks back to see Powell still sighting down the barrel of his .38. His hand is rock steady. He sees McClane’s look.

    You were right. You couldn’t have made it without me.

    Final movie: Powell says nothing. Much better.

  • Logic Ninja

    Yeah, I think you’re right–this scene might read better if we were trying to establish these kids as precocious. Actually, in my opinion, that may be the only (slight) flaw in Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue. His character say what they’d say if they had an hour to think and Aaron Sorkin’s IQ, haha.

    • Scott Crawford

      A thousand bless yous! I’ve felt the same thing about Sorkin, at least his recent stuff, but have been too gutless to say it. All the characters sound like quote-machines, which means they all sound the same. I guess when they’re paying you the big bucks you have to write that stuff. Shame.

      Stephen Sondheim beat up himself up over these lyrics from West Side Story:

      I feel pretty,
      Oh, so pretty,
      I feel pretty and witty and bright!
      And I pity
      Any girl who isn’t me tonight.

      Great stuff, right? Well, the OLDER Sondheim felt it was wrong; the internal rhyme (pretty and witty) suggested a more sophisticated character than Maria was supposed to be. In his rush to be clever, YOUNG Sondheim forgot that the person singing wasn’t supposed to be clever.

  • mulesandmud

    Love the first line of that Birdman scene: “Intimidating, isn’t it?”. Matt is messing with Riggan’s ego before the conversation even properly starts. He’s practically talking about himself; in fact, half a dozen lines later, we realize that he is talking about himself (“I’ve already performed here…”).

    The first line of a conversation is like the first shot of a film: the way you begin leaves a long shadow, and sets the tone for everything that follows. Starting a conversation with “Hello./Hi.” is the surest way to convince someone that everything that follows will be lukewarm. Better to come out guns blazing.

    This is also true for character introductions; we only get to meet someone once, so if they say something, you better make it count.

    Since we’re on the subject of Michael Keaton, his first line in Tim Burton’s BATMAN has always struck me as quietly brilliant.

    Vicki Vale is wandering around a party at Wayne Manor, hoping to score an interview with the elusive Bruce Wayne. People don’t even know what he looks like. She starts asking around, taps one guy on the shoulder. He turns: it’s Bruce Wayne.

    Vicki: Do you know which of these guys is Bruce Wayne?

    Bruce: I’m not sure…

    She thanks him, then leaves to continue the search. He follows her, curious.

    It makes perfect sense that Bruce Wayne would be cagy with her, and the simple irony that we know something Vicki doesn’t makes the scene fun to watch. There’s another layer here, though. BATMAN is a story about a man with serious identity issues, and the first thing that our main character says is that he doesn’t know who Bruce Wayne is.

    Right out of the gate, the movie lets us know exactly what this character is about, and does so with a feather touch and an incredibly simple line. Most viewers won’t even remember it, but the line is doing character work that resonates all the way to the final frame. That’s how good dialogue is done.

    • grendl

      “Birdman” will get nominated for best screenplay Oscar.

      • Jaco


  • Guest

    Insecure High School students (I guess I am assuming High School) aren’t well liked in school for a reason (I knoww this from experience). They are boring and afraid of things (Again, experience). Creating dialog that flies off the screen is going to be difficult for Mark’s character. Denzel’s character is brooding and mystierious and all about using cryptic language.
    It seems like Rosie is going to have to set the dialog on fire and then get Mark evolved to be more clever and interesting. Something like this maybe:

    Rosie sits next to Mark.

    Mark: Hello.
    Rosie: Hi.
    Mark: So. Science.

    Rosie: Yep.

    Mark: Burning Bunsens. You know.

    Rosie: When I walked into this classroom I was hoping I would get a partner with a large scientific knowledge base. You are living up to my expectation.

    Mark: Is that a sarcasm thing?

    Rosie: You don’t have to play shy with me. Burning the Bunsen is a famous past time only known by those from the inner circle of scientific stardom and the genealogies after them. What family line are you in?

    Mark turns away from Rosie and writes something down on his notebook. He rips the notebook and puts the piece of paper on his shirt.

    Mark turns back toward Rosie revealing a hand written “Hello, my name is” sticker that says Mark Bunson.

    Mark: Oh. Did you not see my nametag when you came in? I assumed that’s why you sat here.

    Rosie: Wow. Without the spelling error that was pretty good.

    Mark pauses. The next joke isn’t on his lips or in his brain yet. He stares blankly forward hoping humor will find him.
    Rosie is ready for the momentum of the conversation to continue but it dies awkwardly. She begins listening to the teacher and following along with her classmates.
    Mark and her spend a few moments getting the blue beaker poured into the red beaker when Rosie pauses mid pour.
    Rosie: Do you think
    Mark (interrupting): A spelling error?!. My great grandfather, Jeremiah Bunson would quiver in his grave if he heard such ignorance. Jeremiah left the family in shame after being the first person to split, the, split the
    Mark lost the punch line.
    Rosie: Your great grandfather was the one who split the atom and was shunned by the original Bunsen’s for the violence it caused causing him to drop the E for the O?
    Mark: Sorry. I couldn’t get it out.
    Mark is still holding the blue beaker up in the air.
    Rosie: The joke or the science projet?
    Mark realizes he has been holding the blue beaker and feels dumb.
    Rosie: I’m just messing with you. That joke was going places.
    Rosie and Mark finish their experiment. Mark turns away from Rosie and plays with his phone.
    STEVE, a tiny framed nerdy boy, runs over to Mark and Rosie with his phone in his hand.
    Steve: Mr. Bunson! Mr. Bunson! We have a science thing we need your help with immediately in the bathroom. Come quick!
    Mark turns to Rosie.
    Mark: Sorry maam. My family name leads me to complicated situations. I must leave you now but hope to see you more in the future. Good day.
    Mark and Steve run out of the classroom laughing.
    Rosie stays in the chair perplexed but lets out a smile.

  • Joseph McMahon

    Insecure High School students (I guess I am assuming High School) aren’t well liked in school for a reason (I know this from experience). They are boring and afraid of things (Again, experience). I think you can make Mark insecure but still have him be a little clever. Here is a covert (While at work) attempt.

    Rosie sits next to Mark.

    Mark: Hello.

    Rosie: Hi.

    Mark: So. Science.

    Rosie: Yep.

    Mark: Burning Bunsens. You know.

    Rosie: When I walked into this classroom I was hoping I would get a partner with a large scientific knowledge base. You are living up to my expectation.
    Mark: Is that a sarcasm thing?

    Rosie: You don’t have to play shy with me. Burning the Bunsen is a famous past time only known by those from the inner circle of scientific stardom and the genealogies after them. What family line are you in?

    Mark turns away from Rosie and writes something down on his notebook. He rips the notebook and puts the piece of paper on his shirt.

    Mark turns back toward Rosie revealing a hand written “Hello, my name is” sticker that says Mark Bunson.

    Mark: Oh. Did you not see my nametag when you came in? I assumed that’s why you sat here.

    Rosie: Wow. Without the spelling error that was pretty good.

    Mark pauses. The next joke isn’t on his lips or in his brain yet. He stares blankly forward hoping humor will find him.

    Rosie is ready for the momentum of the conversation to continue but it dies awkwardly. She begins listening to the teacher and following along with her classmates.

    Mark decides to leave the joke alone and work with Rosie to pour one beaker into another. Rosie stops pouring suddenly.

    Rosie: Do you think

    Mark (interrupting): A spelling error?!. My great grandfather, Jeremiah Bunson would quiver in his grave if he heard such ignorance. Jeremiah left the family in shame after being the first person to split, the, split the

    Mark lost the punch line.

    Rosie: Your great grandfather was the one who split the atom and was shunned by the original Bunsen’s for the violence it caused causing him to drop the E for the O?

    Mark: Sorry. I couldn’t get it out.

    Mark is still holding the blue beaker up in the air.

    Rosie: The joke or the science projet?

    Mark realizes he has been holding the blue beaker and feels dumb.

    Rosie: I’m just messing with you. That joke was going places.

    Rosie and Mark finish their experiment. Mark turns away from Rosie and plays with his phone.

    STEVE, a tiny framed nerdy boy, runs over to Mark and Rosie with his phone in his hand.

    Steve: Mr. Bunson! Mr. Bunson! We have a science thing we need your help with immediately in the bathroom. Come quick!

    Mark turns to Rosie.

    Mark: Sorry maam. My family name leads me to complicated situations. I must leave you now but hope to see you more in the future. Good day.

    Mark and Steve run out of the classroom laughing.

    Rosie stays in the chair perplexed but lets out a smile.

  • JakeMLB


    I recall an interview on SS a few years back where Tanya Bhattacharya discussed several different mechanics of dialogue. It’s a bit technical but it’s important to learn these techniques (and then forget them): tangents, parallel construction, reversals, unexpected response, comeback zingers, exposition, subtext, character interruptions, echoing, similes, character on own track, response implying answer, set ups and pay offs, comic contrasts etc…

    Others have already pointed out the questions that need to be asked of character and scene so outside of that, I think grendl is bang on in terms of there needing greater specificity in what’s happening outside of the dialogue. Red beaker into green is cartoonish and not specific enough and will ultimately make for bland dialogue.

    Not only that but in Nick’s script there are far too many asides and all of them relate to unnecessary character reactions/responses (as apart from character action) that ultimately interrupt flow. It’s been said before but good dialogue will almost always invoke the mental image of how a character might react without needing it be stated so descriptive text is usually limited to specific actions not reactions. Particularly when working within dialogue, you need to strip the action text down to the absolute bare minimum keeping only what’s needed to effectively visualize the action. Less is almost always more here.

  • klmn

    The Equalizer scene is definitely better. I’m not sure Nick should rewrite his scene. I think he might want to look for a situation with more inherent tension for that first scene. I say scrub it and start over.

  • Craig Mack

    Not sure if any of you are old enough to remember Famous Monsters Filmland, but it was one of my FAVORITE magazines growing up. This issue featured THE DEVIL’S HAMMER. I’m very proud of this accomplishment. Thanks to EVERYONE on this board for all the help. I appreciate it…. oh and we made the quarters at Slamdance today as well. :)

    • klmn


    • walker

      Hey that’s great! Congrats!

    • carsonreeves1

      Wow, nice Craig!

      • Craig Mack

        Thanks Carson! I can’t state enough how IMPORTANT this website is to ‘new’ writers. It gives them confidence, and advice. I take EVERYONE’S advice to heart and act accordingly. SS is an invaluable FREE service. I got offered two options, an agent, and manager from ONE REVIEW… But the real power of this site is all of you… asshole or not. :) thanks.

      • Craig Mack

        Special thanks to ELECTRIC, Mules, Poe and anyone else who went out of their way to help.

    • Poe_Serling

      Having your horror script featured in Famous Monsters of Filmland is quite the unique honor… and the Ghostbusters cover is just the cherry on top!!!

  • Scott Crawford

    I’ll post The Equalizer script here for a while. For educational purposes only:

  • witwoud

    Sheesh, we have homework now? Okay, then…

    MARK: You new here?

    The abruptness catches her a little off guard.

    ROSIE: Nope. Been here for years now. You just never noticed.

    Mark freezes — Panic shows in his face.

    ROSIE: I’m just playing.

    MARK: Oh. Phew. So, er … (Indicating the beakers) Do you want to do the honors?

    Rosie: (Shakes her head.) I’ll watch.

    Mark, still a bit flustered, carefully pours the blue beaker into the red. She watches with amusement.

    Rosie: You’ve got a steady hand.

    MARK: (Flattered) Oh, well, you know…

    ROSIE: Hopefully it won’t matter that everyone else put the green into the blue…

    MARK: Oh, shiiiit…

    ROSIE: Seriously, I like ours better. It’s prettier.

    MARK: I think maybe we’d better … (move away)

    ROSIE: Why? Nothing’s happening. (She puts her head in her hands and stares at the beaker.) Nothing … is … happening. Not a damn thing.

    MARK: Welcome to Birdsburg.

    ROSIE (smiles slightly.) So apart from tipping green stuff into blue stuff, what do people do around here for fun?

    MARK; Well, there’s … I don’t know if you’re…

    ROSIE: Oh, and pleeease don’t say baseball. Every kid I’ve met today is like, baseball, baseball, baseball.

    MARK: You don’t like baseball?

    ROSIE: Why do you think I moved away from Chicago?

    MARK: Oh.

    Awkward pause.

    ROSIE: Go on, then.

    Mark searches the room for inspiration — He looks down at his backpack, his glove sticking out — He looks at the KID in front who’s wearing a CUBS jersey — Finally the window catches his eye.

    MARK: I … Like to watch the storms come in.

  • gonzorama

    Here’s mine:


    Mark, in the back corner of the room, stares out the window. Dark clouds engulf the blue sky. He’s too distracted to notice ROSIE, the new girl in school, walk up behind him.

    ROSIE: What are you doing, way back here?

    MARK: I… like to watch the storms come in.

    He turns, and is stunned by Rosie’s beauty.

    MARK: Uh, hi.

    ROSIE: Oh boy. Some partner they stuck me with.

    MARK: Have you always been in this class?

    ROSIE: Yeah, I’ve been stalking you all year and now I get my chance to sit next to you.

    MARK: Really?

    ROSIE: (laughs) No. I just moved to your exciting burg.

    MARK: Oh – where from?

    ROSIE: You’ve never heard of it. Worldly people call it – Chicago.

    MARK: I’ve heard… oh. I mean, you a Cubs or White Sox fan?

    ROSIE: There’s only one thing I hate worse than baseball, and that’s baseball fans.

    Mark looks down at his backpack, his glove sticking out — Rosie sees it too.

    ROSIE: Don’t worry, kid. Your secret’s safe with me.

    The class dumps the RED beaker into the GREEN.

    MARK: Well, what brings you to here. I mean, our town… this school?

    ROSIE: Chemestry. That’s what it’s all about, right. Positive and Negative. Acid and Base. Boys and Girls…

    She grabs the Blue beaker and dumps it into the Red beaker. The mixture bubbles…

  • walker

    Hey thanks, I was running low on points.

  • Paul Clarke

    I like the Birdman scene because the balance of power goes back and forth. It’s small scale story development. A story within a story.

    Dialogue has so many facets, the voice need to be distinguishable and give us a clue to the personality of the character. They should have an argument technique they use throughout. And it all must remain consistent for the length of the story.

    But if we’re talking a specific dialogue scene (like the above example), it needs to play by the same rules as any scene. It needs a start, a middle, and an end. A setup and a payoff, with the balance of power shifting. That’s why the Birdman scene works so well. And why my favourite dialogue based scene is the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West. Brilliant. It has more power shifts than some feature length amateur scripts.

    (Off the top of my head)
    It opens with a setup that is action: 3 Bad Men armed with guns wait to ambush someone getting off the train. But the train arrives and no one exits. They’re about to leave when the train drives off revealing the Harmonica Man. It’s a great setup because we know they’re there to shoot him, we don’t know if he knows. We fear for his safety.

    Harmonica: You Frank?

    2 words – we now know he doesn’t know what’s going on. We worry, we sympathize, it’s already exciting. The bad guys smile smugly to each other, they have the upper hand.

    Bad Guy: No, Frank sent us.

    Harmonica: You bring a horse for me?

    We can see there are only 3 horses (3 bad guys) – so we understand he does know what’s going on. He’s smart and cunning. We like him even more. Even better he’s not backing down. A tense standoff. The power shifts in his favour.

    Bad Guy: Looks like we’re one horse shy.

    But they smile, because there’s three of them and they’re armed. This guy is no threat. Power back in their favour.

    But Harmonica simply shakes his head: You bought two too many. (one of the best lines in cinema history. 5 words)

    Power now back with Harmonica. In 12 words he has become a total badass and setup the showdown.

    The scene ends with the payoff of the shootout. He shoots all three but is shot in the process.

    While the setup and payoff to the scene are action, the bulk of it is them standing still and talking yet it is absolutely riveting.

    I would advise having a short action line where we see Mark react to Rosie entering the room. He checks his breath or something to establish his intentions. Then have the power go back and forth as they test each other out. And end with him either making a connection of failing. This could be bookended with something like the scene opening with him doing something to make sure no one sits next to him because he likes to work alone, and ends with him doing the opposite and getting her to sit there. Maybe they both sit at separate desks alone. But the teacher says they need to work in pairs. It becomes about them pairing up for this experiment, but the subtext is about them pairing up on a more intimate level.

  • Paul Clarke

    A long day at work, so here’s my attempt:


    Rows of lab benches each with two stools. Mark takes a seat in the back row. Stealthily slides the second stool to the side of the classroom.

    Other STUDENTS file in. Take their seats. Two to a table, Mark remains alone. He relaxes.

    ROSIE enters. Catches his attention instantly. His eyes subconsciously dart to the stool. Too late to move it back. She sits at the bench in front of him. Also alone. Dumps her BAG on the bench, blocking others from sitting there.

    TEACHER: All right, we’re working in teams today so pair up.

    Mark glances around. Everywhere but at Rosie. No other singles. He tries to act non-chalant. Fails.

    She spots his childish behaviour. Shakes her head. Takes a seat next to him, no words spoken.

    MARK: You new here?

    She glares at him. Did he really just say that. He quickly retreats into his shell.

    TEACHER (O.S.): We need to bring our solution to the boil so first thing we need to do is light our burners.

    Mark hesitates. Waits for her to take the lead. She doesn’t. He takes the burner out. Plugs it into the gas.

    MARK: You know how to use one of these?

    More disdain.

    ROSIE: No, they haven’t invented bunsen burners where I come from.

    He swallows hard, not exactly going to plan. He takes out he lighter. The flint SCRATCHES across the metal. But it is old and worn. It doesn’t spark.

    MARK: And where is that, Chicago?

    She doesn’t budge an inch. SCRATCH. SCRATCH. SCRATCH.

    Her hand reaches out. With skill and dexterity she produces an engraved ZIPPO LIGHTER. Sparks it up. The ball of gas ignites. Mark flinches. Rosie doesn’t.

    ROSIE: Something like that.

    They place the beaker on the burner. Wait.

    ROSIE: So what exactly do people do for fun round here?

    He’s about to speak.

    ROSIE: — and don’t say baseball. I hate baseball.

    He deflates. All the wind taken from his sails.

    He scans the room. Baseball paraphernalia everywhere. Nervous, vulnerable, he fidgets. Head hung.

    MARK: I like to watch the storms come in.

    It hangs in the air. He’s afraid to look. The solution boils over. She gives him the once over. He manages an earnest smile.

    She grabs her bag from the vacant table. Moves it to under her seat.

    ROSIE: You ever chased one?

  • carsonreeves1

    IN case someone hasn’t already posted it, here’s the the new trailer for The Equalizer, which starts off, strangely enough, with this very scene. The crazy thing is, look how they totally changed the dialogue! Better? Worse? –

    • charliesb

      I saw this earlier. It’s better.

      It’s more “movie speakish”, but I like how it reinforces exactly what is going to happen in the movie. In a drama it would be too much, but for an action movie (and trailer) it’s perfect.

    • walker

      They had to do away with the sexual banter subtext because they cast Chloe Grace Moretz. He is more like a mentor here, but sorry, it is still OTN.

    • Midnight Luck

      So one of the opening lines in the preview tells you EXACTLY what the central theme of this movie is:

      “gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what.”

      I like it.

    • filmklassik

      Script didn’t exactly work for me (protag wasn’t just skilled, he was PERFECT) but I do like Denzel… but Jesus, strutting in slow-mo away from a fireball? Now? In 2014?

      Come on…

      • charliesb

        Sometimes it’s fun to just watch a bad ass “go to work.” When it’s wrapped in an intriguing story (ie. Eastern Promises) it can be better. But I don’t think that necessarily makes this kind of action movie less entertaining.

        Of course I’ve been burned by Denzel before, I fucking loved the Book of Eli script, and hated the movie.

        These type of movies are the closest we get to real westerns these days (which is unfortunate), I hope it holds up.

        • filmklassik

          Maybe I’m just old school, but I prefer it when the bad ass and the villain are more evenly matched (like in SHANE, for example) or better yet, when the bad ass is actually OVER-matched, (like in the first two TERMINATOR movies or THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR or ROB ROY or an awesome Bond flick like GOLDFINGER). It ratchets up the suspense. Makes it less like BAMBI VS. GODZILLA.

          When the hero is virtually indestructible like Jason Bourne or the Equalizer, well, it all amounts to one big snooze fest. At least to me.
          By the way, if you remember, Viggo definitely had to sweat and bleed for his victory in EASTERN PROMISES. In fact, that epic fight put Viggo in the hospital.

          My two cents, Charlie.

          A lot of people agree with you, A lot of people don’t mind a blow out.

          Me, I prefer a close game.

          • charliesb

            I understand what you’re saying, and I can agree that a more evenly matched villain and hero can make for better story telling. Or even better, when they each have incredible strengths that are nothing alike.

            I read The Equalizer script a long time ago, so I may be remembering some things incorrectly, but it seemed to be more about A) his resistance to doing something he is great at (like William Munny) and B) the idea that the bad things that we think are inevitable can actually be prevented/stopped/avenged if the people who can, step up. Sort of a blending of the original Equalizer and Death Wish.

            The real fight here is not between Denzel and the criminals, it’s between Denzel and himself. If they do that part of the story justice, I don’t think it his near omnipotence in neck crushing and disarming punks will be as unsatisfying.

          • filmklassik

            Yep, I agree with you in part… but that inner conflict you’re referring to (McCall struggling with whether to use his skills to help others or not) is completely resolved by the mid-point. After that it’s kill, baby, kill.

            Also, that solemn, faux-angsty “Hero rejecting the call” stuff always makes me wince a little, because nowadays it comes across as stroking the actor’s c-… er, ego…. in scenes that involve what I call Advertising for the Character.

            Often, this Advertising takes the form of someone else in the movie — in this case McCall’s former handler from his Covert Ops days — giving him a tongue bath by solemnly intoning stuff intended to make him sound like a demi-God… things like, “Jesus Christ, McCall, no one else can do what you can do” and “My God, McCall, you’re like a modern day Sir Galahad,” etc.

            I’m exaggerating of course but only just.

            Then again, there are certain practical realities to consider. William Goldman once said that movie stars don’t play heroes anymore — they play GODS — at least in modern day action movies. So maybe Wenk’s approach was the right one.

      • Erica

        “but Jesus, strutting in slow-mo away from a fireball? Now? In 2014?”
        When that happens I have the movie “The Others Guys” pop up in my head
        Will Ferrel: I call Bull Shit on that. I need an MRI, I need and MRI.

  • charliesb

    This is a great exercise Carson, hope we get more of them.

    I tried to keep the scene as similar to the original as possible, but I really liked JakeBarnes idea of moving it to the bathroom.

    Rosie in a whirlwind sits down next to Mark — He taps his pencil nervously.

    Rosie: Hey.

    Mark: Hey.

    Rosie begins digging around in her backpack, pulling out a binder and a bunch of loose papers.

    Mark: Need a pencil?

    She doesn’t look up.

    Rosie: No, I’m just trying to find the name of the math-lete I’m supposed to partner up with. I think it’s Matt or Marvin.

    Mark clears his throat.

    Mark: It’s uh Mark.

    Jackpot. She finds the paper and scans it quickly.

    Rosie: Yes, Mark.

    She smiles. Sticking a pen in her mouth as she crams everything else back into her bag, she scans the class.

    Rosie: (softly) Please tell me it’s the blonde one up front.

    Mark follows her gaze to the front row of the class room.

    Mark: No, uh, it’s me. I’m Mark.

    He holds out his hand, and Rosie looks at him oddly – it’s a little formal. Embarrassed he puts his hand down.

    Rosie: Rosie.

    She picks up the red beaker and tries to mimic the girl in front of her by dumping it into the green one.

    Mark: So are you a cubs or white sox fan?

    Rosie: Yankees

    Mark: Really?

    Rosie inspects the beaker, and then gives it a bit of a shake.

    Rosie: Yup, got chased out of Chicago over it. Can’t go back on pain of death.

    She puts down the beaker and picks up the blue one.

    Rosie: Broke my father’s heart too. Can’t even mention the b word anymore.

    She eyes him carefully.

    Rosie: (cont’d) None of us really.

    Mark grins.

    Mark: So I guess you’re looking for a new hobby then?

    Rosie: Maybe.

    She holds the blue beaker over the mixture of the other two.

    Rosie: I’m considering trying to grow the worlds largest tomato for the fair.

    Mark laughs out loud, and Rosie smiles.

    Rosie: How about you? Interested in anything besides math and that…

    She motions to the baseball glove sticking out his backpack.

    Rosie: (cont’d) which shall not be named.

    Mark thinks about it for a second and looks out the window.

    Mark: I like to watch the storms come in.

    • carsonreeves1

      I really like this exercise too. I’m thinking of doing an entire week of them.

      • Erica

        More homework…Feels like I’m in this class.

        Rosie, taps away at her keyboard.

        Rosie: Maybe would could call it…Another Breakfast Club.

      • charliesb

        It’s interesting to read the different takes. A lot of these are great, but it seems kinda like the best ones don’t quite match the tone or voice of the original. Obviously I understand that it’s difficult to offer suggestions without the full context of the script and the goals of the scene.

        I think there is more conversation to be had around dialogue and the difference between real speak and movie speak, and why sometimes OTN dialogue can work, etc.

        I hope at some point you can do a whole week just on dialogue.

  • Midnight Luck

    I guess School is official back in, we even have work to do on SS :::


    Mark sits alone at his lab table. Bored.

    He incessantly taps his pencil


    While looking from the teacher to the window.

    ROSIE slips through the doorway, eyes the only empty seat in the classroom next to Mark.

    Winds her way through the desks and

    SLAMS her backpack down on the desk.

    Mark pauses tapping for a second and looks her up and down.

    She’s a mess of black dyed hair, tattered skin tight jeans shorts with black leggings, white “Ramones” tank top over black T-shirt, Doc Martens up to her calves, and a single tattoo of a bleeding cross on her wrist.

    She notices him looking.

    He quickly turns back to the teacher again and

    begins TAP TAP TAPPING.

    She leans toward him.

    He turns and leans in.

    She SLAMS his pencil to the table.

    Shut the FUCK up.

    He BOLTS back from her, shocked.

    She slides the pencil from his fingers and

    SNAPS it in two.

    Drops the pieces onto the floor.


    She puts a finger to her lips


    and smiles.

    Rummages through her bag.

    Pulls out another freshly sharpened pencil

    TAP TAPS it on the table and shakes her head at him.

    Mark laughs.

    She gives him a sly look, then hands him the pencil.

    He grabs it and nods kindly to her

    Then SNAPS it in two.

    Rosie laughs.

    Then scribbles on a piece of paper, crumples it and rolls it over to him.

    He smooths it out.

    I agree.

    crumples it back up, and THROWS it over his shoulder.

    Rebels ARE assholes.
    And so very cool.

    • carsonreeves1

      I really like the opening of this scene, with her stopping the tapping and saying “Shut the fuck up.” It made me realize that part of the problem with the original scene may be that their connection is resolved too quickly. It starts off bad but by the end, there’s a comfort level there. They clearly like each other on some level. Maybe the better option is that Rosie gives Mark nothing . The breaking of his pencil is it. And we leave the scene with Mark in a worse place then where he started. That way there’s still somewhere to go when they meet again. Mark has to earn this girl.

      • Midnight Luck

        Thanks Carson.

        You could be right. I was making the scene a contained scene. So it had a start middle and end. It could end on an up note, a down note, or an open ended note.

        For this exercise I just wanted it to have one or two surprising moments and a circular finish that compliments the pace of the scene and the action.

        For the story as a whole (since we don’t know the rest, nor what it is about, what came before or after the scene, or what the relationship will be for these two) it might be a good idea to end it with either the down ending or open ended so he DOES have to keep working for what he wants. I do agree.

        But, I believe this works well as a single scene.

        • Erica

          This is the joy of writing. I love how we all interrupt the characters differently. What I might see as a Rebel, is different from how another sees Rosie as a rebel. In a lot of the scenes written, show different tones. Some don’t even see the classroom, they moved them right out. Brilliant.

          Cheers all.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Across the lab table from him

    ROSIE (18), the cutest girl in the world. Even cuter with those large lab glasses.
    She’s concentrating on her experiment,

    Doesn’t even know he’s there.

    She turns up the Bunsen burner. Suddenly, her experiment CATCHES FIRE. She panics!

    Yeah, it looks bad. But it’s Mark’s chance to show how cool he is. Cool under pressure, that’s Mark. He leans forward. Blows on the fire.

    Not realizing that he’s adding oxygen, the flames blast towards Rosie like a blowtorch. They catch her dress. She goes up like a candle.

    Mark dashes from the room.


    Mark spots Rosie walking towards him. She’s still wearing bandages

    SUPER: “Three Weeks Later”

    … and in no mood.

    MARK (V.O.): Yeah. Wayyyy super pissed. But hey, she gets herself six or seven weeks of psychotherapy — bound to see me for what I am.

  • klmn

    I’m reminded of an incident from my high school. I’m not sure it should be a scene though, it might give someone ideas

    There was a boy a few years ahead of me, taking chemistry. His father had angina and took nitroglycerine pills.

    So this kid took one of the empty bottles, filled it up with tap water and left it on the chem teacher’s desk.

    The teacher panicked, the school was evacuated, and the kid was arrested. In court the judge gave him the option of incarceration or joining the Marines. He chose the Marines.

    • charliesb

      Wow, that seems a bit extreme. Did he have priors?

      • klmn

        Don’t know. But I think things are more lenient now.

  • K.B. Houston

    First off — THIS IS GREAT! I really like this style of post. Here, we all learn. Why? Because we get to participate. While we all enjoy Carson’s writing, there’s nothing like first-hand experience. Carson, I think I speak for (at least some) people when I say more of these types of exercises would be awesome!

    As for the dialogue, I’m sure this has been said in the comments section numerous times already, but the glaring difference between these two scripts is SUBTEXT! From the opening line of The Equalizer we understand that The Old Man and the Sea is really The Old Man in the Bar. There’s all kinds of ground you can cover when you’re talking about a novel. You can make references, sympathize with the characters, critique it as a whole, and on and on. This allows for the characters in the scene to play a verbal game and it allows the audience to play along with them, just like watching sports on TV.

    Then look at “Nick’s” script. What are they talking about? There’s really no subject at hand. They’re going from one thing to another, drifting, with no real objective in mind, nobody trying to win at the “verbal game,” as was seen in The Equalizer. However, the chemistry class settings has tons of angles you could explore. For example…

    We know Mike is the nervous type and wants to get Rosie’s attention, yet Rosie isn’t easy; she’s rebellious and independent; she wants Mike to somehow prove himself before she gives her time to him. Also, let’s run with the dialogue theme seen in The Equalizer and try to utilize some subtext. Here’s what might follow:


    Mark sits next to Rosie, tapping pencil, jittery, trying to pay attention to the PROFESSOR — a cross between Ben Stein and Super Mario — talking at the front of the classroom but unable to keep his eyes off Rosie.

    PROFESSOR: … and remember, whatever you do, do not pour the blue tube into the red tube as is stated in Table 8.5 on page 119 of your textbooks. This will result in a premature coalition of the compounds and an overflowing of your beakers. Now, let’s get to work!

    Mark turns to Rosie who’s busy sketching in her notebook. She’s clearly not paying attention. He turns to initiate conversation but before he gets in his first word…

    ROSIE: (still drawing) So you think you can handle this?

    MARK: (taken aback) Uh – handle this? – of course, yeah – of course I can handle —

    ROSIE: (interrupting) — because if you gonna cause premature coalition then I’m just gonna find a new partner.

    MARK: No – no – no way. I’m not a premature guy – not a premature coalition guy at all, I —

    ROSIE: — good, then let’s get started. We have to heat up the metal first. Are you good with your hands?

    MARK: My hands?

    ROSIE: You have some right?

    MARK: Have some – hands, you mean?

    Rosie cocks her head, throwing her hair back to reveal her face, which is way prettier than Mark thought, as well as an “Are you kidding me?” look. Mark is now even more choked up than before.

    ROSIE: Just heat it up.

    MARK: Yeah, of course – I’m on it – right away.

    Mark turns to find the metal components but is clearly unnerved. He grabs the small metal pieces and begins working them with his hands but immediately drops one. As he goes to pick it up he bumps heads with Rosie who’s also made an attempt to grab the metal.

    MARK: Oh my god I’m so sorry —

    ROSIE: (simultaneously while clutching her head) Jesus Christ!

    MARK: Are you OK – do you need —

    ROSIE: — just give me the metal.

    Mark hands her the small metal pieces sheepishly.

    ROSIE: … And I was worried about the premature explosion — you can’t even rub metal right before messing up.

    Mark sulks. Rosie realizes she’s been harsh.

    ROSIE: Look, I’m sorry. I’ve had a long day and I’m not exactly exited to be here, ya know? No hard feelings alright?

    MARK: Yeah – no – I know. Definitely. No hard feelings.

    ROSIE: Here, how about this: I’ll heat the metal if you get the beakers set up. Sound good?

    MARK: Yeah, sure. Sounds good.

    As Rosie heats the metal Mark, with a new sense of confidence after Rosie’s apology, begins setting up the beakers, placing them in holders, tightening the screws, etc.

    ROSIE: So… what do you do for fun around here?

    MARK: Fun?

    Rosie just glances at Mark, giving him the same look as before.

    MARK: Well – I dunno. Play sports. Go to the movies. You know, normal stuff.

    ROSIE: Huh. Sounds exciting.

    MARK: It’s alright. I mean, it passes the time.

    ROSIE: Lord knows you need that here. The sooner I get out of his shithole the better.

    MARK: Definitely.

    ROSIE: What about you? You got anything special you do after school, on the weekends?

    MARK: No. Not really… I mean – well… I like outer space…

    ROSIE: Outer space, huh?

    MARK: Yeah, I mean, it’s just something I do – when I have time. I like science, learning about the earth and planets – that sort of thing.

    ROSIE: Huh. Sounds like I got the right partner for this class then huh?

    Mark blushes, smiles. Rosie takes note.

    ROSIE: Hey, could you hold these for a sec?

    MARK: Yeah, of course.

    Mark cups his hands and Rosie pours the metal pieces into his palms, touching his fingers with hers as she goes. She then grabs his hands to make sure the pieces don’t fall out onto the floor and as she does this Mark relishes the moment, touching her skin, glancing up to find her eyes locked with his. The, suddenly…

    PROFESSOR: OK everybody, time to mix those beakers! Remember, the hotter the metal the greater the reaction, so pour away A-S-A-P!

    ROSIE: Quick, mix it up.

    But Mark is still stuck in reverie, frozen, locked into Rosie’s eyes.

    ROSIE: Mark!

    Mark snaps out of it but is preoccupied, woozy. He turns, fumbling the metal and dumps the small fragments into the liquid. He then takes the blue beaker and dumps it into the red beaker — exactly the opposite of what he was supposed to do. Before he knows it an eruption commences, spilling all over his desk and onto his pants.

    MARK: (trying desperately to sweep the liquid from his pants) Holy shit! Holy shit! No! God no!

    His attempts fail. He appears to have visibility pissed his pants. He’s drenched. And as he glaces up to find the entire class in stitches at his expense, he notices Rosie, who’s trying hard not to laugh, but eventually succumbs and joins in with the others. Premature coalition: COMPLETE.

    • Nate

      Out of all the suggestions, I like this one the best. The only thing is it’s a bit too long.
      I’d cut out the second part of the scene (what do you do for fun) and just show them doing the experiment, which ends in a premature coalition and Mark telling Rosie ”I have a problem with that”. They laugh and it shows us that he’s quite funny
      The writer could always have the rest of that scene take place later on in the script.

  • Rick McGovern

    That’s funny…

    I went to Savers here in Denver looking for a duffle bag, which they didn’t have, and walked out with a book with three Hemingway novels inside, instead: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and you guessed it, The Old Man and the Sea (which I started reading at lunch time, because it was the shortest of the novels, at only 72 pages).

    I’ve been having coincidences like this for the past two or three weeks. Not sure what to make of it.

  • Rick McGovern

    Ha, glad to see you’re back

  • Matthew Garry

    Totally different from what was probably intended, character and plot wise, but sometimes characters do whatever they please, and you have no idea where they’ll end up.

    Mark plays with his pencil, as

    ROSIE, the new girl, sits down next to him.

    Mark nods.

    MARK: Mark.

    ROSIE: Where I come from girls actually have girl names. Good guess though.

    MARK: No, I meant-

    ROSIE: That’s so cute. You people haven’t discovered sarcasm yet. Do you have electricity, telephones, au-to-mo-biles ?

    Rosie looks around the room in surprise.

    ROSIE (CONT’D): Is this an alchemy class? Do they teach witchcraft here?

    MARK: You don’t have to be a jerk.

    ROSIE: Bitch.

    MARK: What?

    ROSIE: “Bitch.” “Jerk” is for old people, old people and hicks.

    MARK: Bitch.

    ROSIE: You’re getting it. I like you. Why don’t you take me out on Friday, to a monster truck rally or whatever you people do for fun around here. Using a bad fake ID, you can buy some lukewarm beer from a guy named Earl who wears army surplus stuff and only has one arm. He lost the other one in a wood-chipper accident but tells everybody he lost it in a war.

    Rosie cosies up to him.

    ROSIE (CONT’D): Then we get drunk while the big car crushes all the little cars, and if you’ve been good we’ll park the car somewhere afterwards, and I’ll make you go “Oh Rosie, Oh Rosie” until some frustrated deputy, who’s probably your uncle or something, knocks on the steamed-over window while we’re having wild, steamy, mildly-satisfying sex.

    MARK: Sex?!

    Mark’s pencil breaks, and becomes aware that the whole class, including
    the teacher is now staring at him.

    Rosie looks at Mark, an image of innocence shattered, and SLAPS him in the face. She runs out of the classroom, tears in her eyes.


    Mark sits on a bench in front of the principals office, waiting. He rests his head
    heavily in his hands.

    Someone approaches the bench, sits down next to him.

    Mark looks up, it’s Rosie.

    ROSIE: So there I was, explaining what really happened and who was really responsible; turns out the history-teacher is actually a Jew. Go figure. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? This is supposed to be a democracy, right?

    She looks at Mark and smiles.

    ROSIE (CONT’D): I’m Rosie.

    MARK: I know.

  • fragglewriter

    I think the dialogue needs work but for teen speak, you either have to remember your childhood and use that dialogue or try to eavesdrop on teenage conversation.

  • Eric

    Since this is still up this morning. Submitted for your approval…


    Rosie plops down next to Mark. He sits stock still, as if the slightest movement would scare her away. Finally…

    I’m Mark.

    I’ll bet.

    The end. Mark looks away like a sad puppy. Rosie notices.

    I’m Rosie.

    (perks up)
    You new here?

    Yup. Just sat down ten seconds ago.

    I meant in town.

    I know what you– I’m from Chicago originally.

    The windy city?

    It doesn’t blow half as much as this place, though.

    It’s just different here. It’s not that bad.

    Alright, then. What do you do for fun in this place?

    Mark is stumped. He looks around the room. His eyes fall on the windows.

    I like to watch the storms roll in.

    What, is the paint drying wall taken up?

    It’s actually pretty impressive if you saw it.

    And you do that with your friends on the weekend?

    Mark shakes his head, becoming withdrawn again.

    No, I… I do that alone.

    So – for fun – you like to sit alone and stare into the rain?

    Mark can’t bear to look at her, but then…

    Maybe I’ll join you. It sounds more interesting then
    watching paint dry, at least.


  • astranger2

    The Sideways scene where Maya and Miles talk about “wine” is the ultimate template on how to incorporate subtext into a scene:

    So what gems do you have in your

    Not much of a collection really. I
    haven’t had the wallet for that, so
    I sort of live bottle to bottle. But
    I’ve got a couple things I’m saving.
    I guess the star would be a 1961
    Cheval Blanc.

    You’ve got a ’61 Cheval Blanc that’s
    just sitting there? Go get it.
    (pushing him, playfully
    Right now. Hurry up…

    Miles laughs, fights back a bit.

    Seriously, the ’61s are peaking,
    aren’t they? At least that’s what
    I’ve read.

    Yeah, I know.

    It might be too late already. What
    are you waiting for?

    I don’t know. Special occasion. With
    the right person. It was supposed to
    be for my tenth wedding anniversary.

    Understanding, Maya considers her response.

    The day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc,
    that’s the special occasion.

    Maya is ripe for romance here. Miles, his life stored “sideways” since his divorce, is not coming alive with the moment. He is inert, waiting.

    The conversation isn’t about wine. It’s about life. And their different approaches to how to live.

    Inevitably, at the end of the scene when Miles loses the “carpe diem” moment — a disappointed Maya leaves. She was a person of moments, and the moment was gone…

    (Ultimately Miles ends up drinking the coveted wine from a styrofoam cup at a burger joint while wolfing down a double cheeseburger and fries.)

    It is much like the final moments of Henry James’s Beast in the Jungle, where the protagonist keeps waiting for something great to happen to him — until May, his long-time female companion dies. (The saddest three words in the English language: What might’ve been.)

    Then he sees May WAS the great thing that was to befall him, and collapses on her grave, weeping.

    Maya/May? Coincidence? Regardless, two great pieces of writing.

    Welcome back, grendl!!!