Here’s a great scene from Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring that I think says a huge amount about how not to write movie dialogue. It’s the sort of forced, totally unnatural piece of dialogue that only makes sense in a script, where the writer wants to tell us something but doesn’t know how to succinctly show it. Looking at it on paper, it might not seem that bad. It apparently worked for everyone involved in making the film. But if you read a little between the lines, it’s a textbook example of how not to write dialogue.
Any student of English language is, at some point, taught that sentence fragments should be avoided. A sentence needs a verb, or a verb needs a subject, and the lack of one or the other means the sentence makes no sense. But take a look at any half-competent screenplay and you’ll find it full of clipped sentences, which still make sense. This is because screenwriting is about communicating a plan of action, a blueprint, not a full-bodied description or a fortress of flawless grammar. Grammar does matter, but the English language is flexible – the question you have to ask is when is it okay to bend the rules? Continue reading