We looked at some screenplays that had been rewritten. In the clip (above) from the movie Five Easy Pieces, the Nicholson character really wanted some wheat toast. The earlier version of the script had wheat toast buried in the middle of the dialogue line--in several dialogue lines. It was revised to end with "wheat toast" each time.
* Put what is most important at the end or at the beginning. The weakest part of the dialogue line is in the middle.
However, if you have a character that is weak (lacks confidence, for example), have them say the most important part in the middle of their line.
Think about it. If Rhett Butler had said, "My dear, I don't give a damn, and I'm telling you as frankly as I possibly can," that doesn't have the same impact as the line he does hurl at Scarlett.
When your character is talking, as a writer, you should be very clear what each character wants, even if they're not openly sharing that with others.
Every character should want something... even if it's only a glass of water.
* Why would a character ask directly for what they want? Why wouldn't they?
Consider the text and the subtext. What is getting in the way of a character getting what they want? What are they willing to do in order to get what they want?
* What is not said has huge meaning.
Here is a bit of dialogue I
"I love these cookies. They remind me of the cookies my mother baked, but of course, she's been dead since I was thirteen, when she died in a fiery car crash caused by a man who was stalking her. I really shouldn't eat so many of these cookies, because my verbally abusive husband will denigrate me when I get home, but of course I cannot control my eating because I've got an addictive personality. It used to be booze...then it was meth. Now, it's mashed potatoes, which I gobble by the bowlful to comfort myself after giving birth to conjoined twins a year ago," Maggie said sobbingly.
* Don't use dialogue as an information dump.
* If you feel the need to explain how a character is saying something, the dialogue is not strong enough. Avoid taglines.
And make sure each character has a distinct voice. Consider their word choice, choice of phrases and sentence structure. Each of the characters should not sound like a carbon copy of you. (This is something I struggle with.)
* Let go. Let the characters speak through you. Not as you.
What are some dialogue lines from movies, television shows, books or your own writing that is memorable? Stealin' Sioux wants to know...