Monday, October 11, 2010

Screenwriting Mistake #21: Dialogue on the phone

Like I said in the last post on overhearing, the best way for drama to play out is face-to-face. When characters tell each other critical information or uncomfortable truths, then we get to see how they react to each other. That’s why it’s also better to avoid having your characters talk to each other on the phone. When they exchange information on the phone, you lose the added element of interpersonal reactions and the ability for them to take actions that affect each other. For example, here’s how a conversation might play out over the phone:


Mary, I’m so glad I caught you.

What’s wrong, Arthur?

I just think it would be best for us
to see other people.

What? How could you tell me this over
the phone, you coward?

Doesn’t that actually seem cowardly of Arthur to say something like this to Mary on the phone? Almost like he is trying to avoid drama or any negative reaction? Since you want to maximize the drama in your script, it would be better to write that interaction something like this:


What’s wrong, Arthur? Why did you need
to talk with me right away?

I just think we should see other people.

You call me in the middle of the day, ask
to leave work and drive forty-five minutes
to your house so that you can break up
with me?

There’s no need to make a scene.

A scene? In your apartment?

Mary walks to the fireplace and picks up a picture of them from the mantle.

Why would I make a scene?

Mary pushes the picture against the edge of the mantle until it cracks in half.

You’re overreacting, Mary.

Mary takes a piece of the broken glass and throws the rest of the picture into the fire.

This isn’t an overreaction at all, Arthur.
An overreaction would be if I were to
create a distraction and then use that
momentary confusion to hurt someone.

Mary takes another picture off the mantle and hurls it at Arthur’s big-screen TV.

Arthur screams and runs to his precious TV, kneeling in front of it.

You bitch! Why would you--

Mary slips up behind Arthur and slits his throat with the piece glass.

See? Now you’re ready to send this script to Disney! The point is that Mary can do anything to Arthur when they’re standing in the same room together, and he can also do anything to her. Mary can look at his face and see if he’s serious. She can react violently and so can he. Or she could do something completely unexpected. The possibilities are limitless. When your characters are on the phone, the possibilities are limited at best. Unless you invent a cool new iPhone app that can make the other person's phone explode in his hand. Yeah, that would be cool.

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