How to Study Subtitles to Write Better Dialogue

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Today's guest post is by Andrew J. Stillman. Andrew is a fantasy author, freelance writer, and travel blogger who encourages people to reach for the stars. He can be found making up stories and studying writing at andrewjstillman.com, hired at andrewjwrites.com, or traveling the world at andrewjtravels.com.

What if I told you that you can become a better writer and watch your favorite shows and movies at the same time—and all you have to do is turn on the subtitles?

How to Study Subtitles to Write Better Dialogue

Most writers agree that we should learn from watching film. How can we, as writers, study it to create more fluid and in-depth scenes?

We can start with the dialogue.

How Film Can Teach You to Write Great Dialogue

Many writers struggle with dialogue. We wonder how to make it real, make it believable, and make it stand out.

Of course, the words characters speak are vital. But as we get lost in finding our voice, we sometimes forget that it’s not only what characters say that matters: how they say it is just as important.

One of the great advantages of film is that the delivery is built right into the dialogue. Studying movies with the subtitles on can help you learn how to write powerful words and engaging scenes.

Try it yourself: choose one of your favorite television shows or movies and throw on the subtitles. As the scene progresses, pay attention to the intonation, tones, and expressions the actors use to convey their lines.

The subtitles alone often look boring or bland, but paying attention to the way the lines are delivered can help you fine-tune dialogue of your own.

3 Steps to Practice Writing Great Dialogue

Let’s try an example together using the show Gilmore Girls (expected to re-launch on Netflix before the end of the year, just in case you didn’t know), which is known for its clever dialogue.

Check out this scene from the episode “Eight O’Clock at the Oasis,” the fifth episode of the third season. As you read the subtitles, watch how quickly the lines come and go, how much information is delivered, and how casually the characters make it flow. Afterward, let’s see how the dialogue helps us paint the entire scene.

1. Transcribe the Conversation

For this example, let’s assume the reader is already familiar with the characters and setting (although you could always add detailed descriptions of each). Focus only on crafting the scene around the dialogue. Let’s take a look at the scene's transcription, with no added detail, starting from the time Lorelei and Rory sit at Luke’s counter to discuss the parents (0:44 seconds in):

“Man, it’s packed in here.”

“I guess we counter it.”

“I guess we do.”

“What?”

“What do you know? Your face really can freeze that way.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m great. It’s a big, fat, happy sunshine day for me.”

“Business looks good.”

“Yeah, the place is packed.”

“Sure, it’s been taken over by the J. Crew catalog.”

“Oh, look, babies!”

“I never wanna hear that come outta your mouth again.”

“Bob, the yellow ball.”

“Yellow ball, yellow ball, yellow ball . . . Ah, yellow duck.”

“Ball.”

“Yellow ball, yellow ball, yellow ball . . .”

“Every weekend, the same stupid group comes in here and take up all my tables and every chair they can get their sticky hands on. And they do that. They sit, they stand. One person holds a kid, another person holds a kid.”

“I’ve got choo-choo Joe.”

The lines tell a story of their own. But without any added character actions or dialogue assignments, this reads as mindless, incoherent babble.

Intonation, facial expressions, and body language are an integral part of making the dialogue convincing and real.

2. Add the Action

With that, let’s take a look at the scene again. This time, describe the events as they occur (using the present tense) to help flesh out the scene. Remember, the audience already knows where we are and who we’re with.

Lorelei opens the door to Luke’s, where a large group of parents have taken over the small diner. “Man, it’s packed in here.”

“I guess we counter it,” says Rory.

“I guess we do.”

They both make way to the counter, where a very aggravated Luke greets them with a, “What?”

As he sets coffee mugs in front of them, Lorelei says, “What do you know? Your face really can freeze that way.”

“Are you okay?” asks Rory.

While Luke pours them each a coffee, he sarcastically says, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m great. It’s a big, fat, happy sunshine day for me.”

Lorelei looks around. “Business looks good.”

“Yeah, the place is packed,” says Rory.

“Sure, it’s been taken over by the J. Crew catalog.”

Rory’s voice gets higher as she says, “Oh, look, babies!”

Lorelei immediately turns to her and says, “I never wanna hear that come outta your mouth again.”

One of the mothers stands holding her child in the corner by the window. She looks down at her husband and says, “Bob, the yellow ball.”

Bob, sitting at the table, goes through the bag in his lap. “Yellow ball, yellow ball, yellow ball . . .” He pulls out a rubber duck and squeaks it. “Ah, yellow duck.”

With a glare, the woman snaps, “Ball.”

Looking back to the bag, Bob continues, “Yellow ball, yellow ball, yellow ball . . .”

Luke lowers his own gaze, glaring. “Every weekend, the same stupid group comes in here and takes up all my tables and every chair they can get their sticky hands on, and they do that! They sit, they stand. One person holds a kid, another person holds a kid.”

Another father approaches his wife with a toy train, and says, “I’ve got choo-choo Joe,” as he kneels down next to her and the baby.

3. Complete the Scene

The scene is filling in nicely, but writing in the present tense—especially in a third person narrative—isn’t a common choice. While you can edit what you’ve already done in the present tense, let’s take a look at how this might be written if it were a scene in a book:

When they arrived at Luke’s, Lorelei opened the door to see that a large group of parents had overtaken the small diner. “Man, it’s packed in here.”

“I guess we counter it,” said Rory.

“I guess we do.”

They both made their way to the counter, where a very aggravated Luke greeted them with a, “What?”

As he set coffee mugs in front of them, Lorelei said, “What do you know? Your face really can freeze that way.”

“Are you okay?” asked Rory.

While Luke poured them each a coffee, there was no masking his sarcasm as he said, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m great. It’s a big, fat, happy sunshine day for me.”

Lorelei looked around. “Business looks good.”

“Yeah, the place is packed,” said Rory.

“Sure, it’s been taken over by the J. Crew catalog.”

The pitch in Rory’s voice rose as she said, “Oh, look, babies!”

Lorelei immediately turned to her and said, “I never wanna hear that come outta your mouth again.”

A mother stood standing in the corner by the window, cradling her child. She looked down at her husband, who sat at the table, and said, “Bob, the yellow ball.”

Bob dug through the bag muttering, “Yellow ball, yellow ball, yellow ball . . .” He pulled out a rubber duck and squeaked it. “Ah, yellow duck.”

With a glare, the woman snapped, “Ball.”

Looking back to the bag, Bob continued, “Yellow ball, yellow ball, yellow ball . . .”

Luke lowered his gaze in a glare. “Every weekend, the same stupid group comes in here to take up all my tables and every chair they can get their sticky hands on, and they do that! They sit, they stand. One person holds a kid, another person holds a kid.”

Another father approached his wife with a toy train. She held the baby, and he cooed, “I’ve got choo-choo Joe,” as he knelt down next to them.

Now the dialogue has become a full scene with believable words and vivid description. By breaking apart the scene and then building it up again, we see how the dialogue impacts the story on its own, and also understand how to craft the scene as a whole around it.

To Write Great Dialogue, Capture Your Characters’ Delivery

The next time you write a scene that’s heavily driven by dialogue, remember to use it only as a basis for what’s going on. If you build around how the characters deliver their lines, you can write a vibrant, full, and comprehensive progression of the events as they occur.

Is dialogue a roadblock for you? What other methods do you use to polish it? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Choose one of these practice exercises and take fifteen minutes to write.

Take a look at this scene from Friends, or feel free to choose your own. Write out the subtitles as they appear throughout the scene on your first watch, giving no character descriptions or dialogue assignments. Watch the scene a second time and fill out what’s happening around the dialogue. Then, fine-tune it as if it were a scene from a novel or short story.

OR:

Take a scene from your current work in progress and rewrite it with only the dialogue. Think about the way your characters are behaving as you reread the dialogue. If it were a film, what would you be seeing? Flesh out the scene from there.

Share your practice in the comments below. And if you share, please remember to leave feedback for your fellow authors!

This article is by a guest blogger. Would you like to write for The Write Practice? Check out our guest post guidelines.

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42 Comments

  1. deb palmer

    Thanks for a helpful, easily understood lesson on dialogue.

    Reply
    • Andrew J. Stillman

      Hi Deb!

      You are so welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed 🙂

      Reply
  2. Valerie J Runyan

    Hi Andrew-
    This suggestion is pure genius! I have been a movie buff all my life but I only used the subtitles when I watched Foreign movies. I learned to write dialogue by reading dialogue heavy novels, logically I thought if I want to write it I should read it! I watch movies for pure entertainment and when I am writing as white noise, still this tactic of yours if just awesome!

    Reply
    • Andrew J. Stillman

      Hey Valerie!

      Thank you so much! Movies as white noise is also great — it can provide a good soundtrack depending on what’s on ;). I’m glad you enjoyed!

      Reply
  3. Kobe

    We watch PBS a lot – subtitles needed at times to catch British and Scottish dialog & dialect. Using this as a writing dialog tool had never occurred to me. Brilliant!! LOVE it. Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • Andrew J. Stillman

      Hey Kobe!

      Thank you so much, you are very welcome :). I hope you try it out sometime!

      Reply
  4. Amy Isaman

    This is such a great suggestion – sub-titles are usually distracting to me, but I think this could be so helpful. I’ll definitely be trying it out. I really like the process too. The first one without any context made no sense at all. It’s so interesting that adding those details makes it come to life. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Andrew J. Stillman

      Aw, thanks Amy! I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      Reply
  5. E. J. Godwin

    Awesome idea, I’ve got to try this out. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Andrew J. Stillman

      Thanks, E.J.!

      Reply
  6. Heather Galadriel McNamara

    That was fun! If nobody minds, I’d like to share what I did here. I hope you all like it!

    Everyone was gathered around the kitchen table drinking coffee when Joey burst into the apartment. “Hey!” he called out. They all greeted him likewise.

    Joey approached the table. From the way he was walking, he looked as if he’d gotten some really good news. “So I just talked to one of the DOUL writers—“

    “What is DOUL?” Monica interrupted.

    “’Days of Our Lives,’” said Joey matter-of-factly. Everyone at the table grimaced.

    Joey went on, excitement rippling into his voice as he spoke. “Anyway, you are not gonna believe it.” His face broke out in a huge grin as he announced, “My character is coming out of his coma!”

    The friends all congratulated Joey with cheers and claps. “And not only that,” he went on, “I’m getting a new brain!”

    “So great things are happening in your work AND in your personal life!” Chandler beamed, satisfied with his own wittiness.

    “Wait, what do you mean you’re getting a new brain?” Rachel asked.

    “Well,” Joey started, gesticulating wildly with his hands like an excited child, “They’re killing off one on the characters on the show, and when she dies, her brain is being transplanted into MY body!”

    “Wh-what?” Ross turned around in his chair, absolute disbelief written all over his face. “A brain transplant?” he asked incredulously, then dismissed the idea with a cutting motion of his hand. “It’s ridiculous!”

    Joey tossed a glare at Ross. “Well, I think it’s ridiculous that you haven’t had sex in three and a half months.”

    Chandler and Monica glanced at Ross with knowing expressions. Ross slinked over in his chair, looking like a deflated balloon. “It’s winter,” he muttered in explanation. “There are fewer people on the streets.”

    Monica straightened in her chair and turned her attention back to Joey. “Who are they killing off?”

    “Cecilia Monroe,” said Joey. “She plays Jessica Lockhart—“

    “NO!!” Rachel and Monica snapped upright in shock at once. “She is so good at throwing drinks in people’s faces,” gushed Rachel. “I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her finish a beverage!”

    “The way she slaps people all the time!” Monica enthused. “I would love to do that just once!” With that, she raised her arm as if she intended to slap Chandler, who cut her off with a sharp “Don’t do it!”

    “And she’s been on the show forever,” said Joey. “It’s gonna be really hard to fill her shoes.” He shoved his hands in his pockets wistfully.

    “Yeah, yeah,” said Ross, dismissing this obviously unimportant point. “Help me out here. When you come out of the—“ he raised his fingers to form quotation marks—‘brain transplant’, YOU are going to be HER?”

    “Yes,” said Joey patiently, “but in Drake Lamore’s body.”

    “This is…” Having given up even trying to comprehend, Ross covered his face with his hand.

    Joey stared at Ross. “Why is this so hard for you to get? I thought you were a scientist.”

    Reply
    • Andrew J. Stillman

      Heather, that was so awesome! I did this one for fun myself, and I must say, I think yours came out better! That was very well done, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing!

      Reply
    • Jason

      This is awesome! Should put into your books. Winks*

      Reply
    • Alice Sudlow

      This is great! I can visualize the scene clearly, and you conveyed the personalities of all the characters so well I’d know them even if I hadn’t seen the show.

      I’d suggest tightening it just a little; there are places you could trim things down so the words and actions can speak for themselves. For example, “he muttered in explanation” could be simply “he muttered,” or “Chandler beamed, satisfied with his own wittiness” could be “Chandler beamed.”

      Overall, though, this is very well done, and very fun to read!

      Reply
  7. Theresa Jacobs

    Well I hope this fits, this was something that I was saving to create a full story around later. Thoughts are welcome……thanks Theresa

    “My hands look like my mothers,” Sara mumbled as she turned her hands to the light.

    “Hmm.” Mel concentrated on the traffic ahead not really listening. “What?” He flashed his eyes quickly in her direction. “What are you talking about?”

    “They do,” Sara continued,” I never it noticed it before. I don’t think they used to. It just kind of happened, perhaps it’s an age thing,” she nodded watching the store fronts float past the window, not seeing anything, looking inwards. “I always saw my mom’s hands, you know – when I was little I’d watch her; cooking, doing her hair or makeup; helping me with my homework. They were…” she hummed to herself reminiscing, “just visible. You know?” She turned to Mel, now seeking some form of acknowledgment.

    “No. I have no clue what you are going on about.” He wasn’t angry or even annoyed by his wife’s rambling, most times he enjoyed hearing her quirky thoughts, she was the love of his life and a truly intelligent person. Today he was just concerned for her, she had been different lately, not upbeat like normal, not chatty or bugging him to take her out. Today this topic was different, he sensed, perhaps she was depressed, was that even right? “How could your hands look like your mothers? She’s 80 for god’s sake!”

    Sara sighed, “No, not that they look old and wrinkled with age spots! I have her exact hands, the shape, size, nails … Everything! It’s kinda.,” she hesitated, “creepy.” She frown looking down at her hands.

    “And this is important why?” Mel asked.

    “Just an observation.” Sara shrugged.

    “Ok well we’re here; can we just go have a nice dinner?” He parked the car and gave her hand a pat. “Come on hon.”

    Reply
    • Andrew J. Stillman

      I like it a lot! We get to know the characters a lot in a short amount of space, and I think it has every potential of holding the reader’s attention throughout a full story!

      Reply
    • Theresa Jacobs

      Thank you Andrew, I appreciate the feedback and glad it was interesting enough to continue with 🙂

      Reply
    • Alice Sudlow

      I love your opening line of this piece. It’s not alarming, but it’s a bit mysterious, leading me in to wonder what the drama will be. I think it could be the start of a great story.

      I also love the way you’ve written the dialogue, especially Sara’s words. It sounds just on the cusp of stream-of-consciousness, that kind of slightly choppy sentence structure that’s honestly the way people talk. Ex. “I always saw my mom’s hands, you know — when I was little I’d watch her; cooking, doing her hair or makeup; helping me with my homework. They were . . .”

      In the fourth paragraph, there’s a lot of telling and extensive exposition. If you expand this, I suggest moving a lot of that information from this section and letting us discover it gradually in the next few paragraphs. Some things you might simply state later on; other things, like Mel’s concern, you might show us—through his words, his actions, his mannerisms, etc. (There are some great tips on “show, don’t tell” on The Write Practice.)

      In the second paragraph, “He flashed his eyes quickly in her direction” sounds to me urgent and alarmed, not like someone who’s not really listening. Perhaps “glanced” would work better?

      I’m engaged and curious to know what’s going on with Sara and how Mel will respond to it. I think this has potential to be a great story!

      Reply
  8. RevDr. Robert Foster, AbC, EfG

    Hope this works:

    Sera folded her legs under her on the large chair. “I don’t get it. What is your endgame with Carter? What was the point of getting him to infect himself with Tianarri Moss?”

    “What do you know about the Walker of Worlds and what he does?” Belial spoke without turning from the map spread over the long table.

    She shrugged. “Not much. I know Drago is afraid of him, and Lucas wants his power.” She folded her hands over her knee. “As far as to what he can actually do, I’ve not seen much.”

    The half-demon made a mark on the chart. “The Walker of Worlds is capable of fighting, and defeating, gods. He – or she – can kill, or banish them if need be.”

    “How is this possible?”

    “It’s how they were created. Other than that, I don’t have a clue.”

    “If Carter is able of fighting gods…”

    “Why do I put myself as his opponent?”

    “Yes.”

    “You’ve met him. Fought him. What do you think?” He turned and faced her, leaning against the table with his arms folded over his barrel chest.

    “He seemed like any other man.”

    “Go on.”

    “Is he only a threat to gods?”

    “You saw his performance in the arena. Do you think he’s only a threat to them?”

    Sera ducked her head, resting her mouth on her wrist, deep in thought. Belial waited. He knew she would get it. After several moments, she raised her head. “He got better with each fight. The arena was to train him, then?”

    “It was to test and assess. As you say, he improved with each battle. Though Carter is untrained as Walker, he is still a deadly threat.”

    “Then why not kill him outright?”

    “Think about it. When you realize the answer to that question, you’ll also learn the reason for the infection.”

    “You want to control him.” She rose from her seat and crossed to the table. Glancing at the map, she noticed Belial seemed to be creating a path. She tapped the freshest mark. “Is this where he is?”

    “Yes.”

    “Shall I gather an army and take him?”

    Reply
    • Andrew J. Stillman

      That was awesome! Now I’m just curious as to what happens next 😉

      Reply
      • RevDr. Robert Foster, AbC, EfG

        Thank you. A bit more happens next. 😉 This is the sequel to my first book. One day, I’ll stop procrastinating after work and seriously finish it.

        Reply
        • Andrew J. Stillman

          I definitely know how that goes, trust me!

          Reply
    • Alice Sudlow

      This is excellent—great dialogue that effectively characterizes both Sera and Belial; a good balance of exposition that helps us understand what’s happening in this scene and, I’m guessing, in the story at large; and a neat sprinkle of description and action so the scene comes alive.

      Sera says, “If Carter is able of fighting gods…” Is “is able of” a stylistic choice for Sera’s voice or a typo?

      The line, “When you realize the answer to that question, you’ll also learn the reason for the infection” didn’t quite work for me—of all the dialogue, this is the one line that doesn’t sound quite realistic. Mostly, I think the verbs “realize” and “learn” sound odd to me.

      But my comments are minor ones. Overall, this is great, very polished, and has me curious and wanting to read more. Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
      • RevDr. Robert Foster, AbC, EfG

        I’m glad you liked it. That should have been “capable of fighting gods.” Thanks for that catch.

        As for the other line, it kind of bugs me, too. I’m wrestling with how to rewrite it and keep the tone of him being condescending…

        Reply
  9. Danushka

    He found her standing in front of a phone desk, hastily flipping through what appeared to be a phone book, the hand of her wounded arm shoved in her shorts pocket for support.

    “What are you doing?” He asked with a look of uncertainty, but she ignored him.

    “What are you doing?” He repeated louder.

    “Phoning the police.” She responded traumatized.

    “What for!” He shrieked. She stopped paging and glared at him, stunned.

    “What do you mean what for? There’s a dead man lying in the bushes just up the road from my house!”

    His mind reeled from shock; she saw that his face stiffened instantly at her words but turned away regardless.

    “Dead?” He struggled, unable to believe her words.

    “Yes, dead! A man in a white shirt and black pants, short black hair, glasses –but I assume you knew that –knew him. Or am I wrong in thinking you’re connected to what happened here today?” She snatched up the receiver, studying a particular page.

    She started dialing with one trembling hand. The adrenalin had worn off and both were about to hit a harsh and unpleasant reality. The man was staring at her, his mouth agape.

    “You can’t call the cops!” He blurted out.

    “Watch me!”

    The man suddenly lunged for her, grabbing the receiver out of her hand and slammed it down.

    “What the hell?” She backed up a pace, frightened.

    “I can’t let you do that!” He stated firmly.

    “Why the hell not?” She now regretted bringing him to her home.

    “I am the police!”

    Her eyes narrowed with doubt, “Get your hand off that phone.” She warned slowly.

    “Jesus Christ!” He shoved his hand into his jeans pocket, “There!” He slammed his wallet on the desk and walked back to the doorway. She flipped the wallet open and studied his photograph inside and the serial number. Printed in bold letters was C.I.D.

    “Why are you so far from home ground?” She glared at him, her tone calmer.

    “Where’s your first aid kit?”

    She frowned, flustered, “What’s going on here!”

    He could tell he was pushing all the wrong buttons with this girl, but he was nearing the end of his rope pretty damn fast as well.

    “Just get me you kit so long, I’ll explain later or we can stand here and bleed to death in the meantime.” He gave a frustrated sigh, looking down.

    “Look, I don’t mean to yell at you.” He held up his hands, “I understand your need for answers and you have every right to, but we’re well on our way to serious blood loss here. My back feels wet –just take a look at the floor by your feet!” He pointed in surprise. She looked. There was blood on the floor from her leg and her arm, and her right sock was nearly soaked in it. Her face grew pale and she stared at him with a silent plead for his help in her eyes. Shock was setting in, he saw. With frayed nerves himself, he knew he had to take the lead.

    Reply
    • RevDr. Robert Foster, AbC, EfG

      This is pretty good, but there’s a lot of telling. Try showing us, instead. For example, in the beginning, try something like this:

      A page ripped as she flipped them. Her stiff body vibrated as she searched. Her breathing was short, and rapid.
      “What are you doing?” Another page ripped, falling to the floor. “What are you doing?” His voice was louder, this time.
      She jumped, startled. She faced him, eyes wide, face pale. “C-calling th-the p-p-police.”

      What do you think?

      Reply
      • Danushka

        Wow, that certainly add a lot more emotion to the piece. Bravo, I sure do like it and will take your advice by showing more. Thanks for the input 🙂

        Reply
        • RevDr. Robert Foster, AbC, EfG

          You’re welcome. I’m glad you found my advice useful. If I may add a bit more, nab this book . (I hope I linked correctly)

          Reply
          • Andrew J. Stillman

            That’s an amazing book and an amazing resource, I highly recommend that to anyone!

          • RevDr. Robert Foster, AbC, EfG

            Indeed. Me, too.

    • Alice Sudlow

      This is great—it’s clearly a very intense scene, and I can feel that in the dialogue, the sparse, scattered description, the slow discovery (learning near the end that he’s police; learning even later that they’re both seriously wounded), and the brief paragraphs and short, to-the-point sentences.

      Jumping into this story at the beginning of this scene, I’ll admit I’m a bit confused. Maybe I would understand this better if the scene were in a larger context, but in this segment, I have trouble imagining the setting. After rereading it a few times, I’ve decided they’re in her house, and she’s standing at the phone table, maybe near the kitchen, calling from the landline. You might consider helping us experience the scene visually by adding an occasional descriptor, something like, “She backed up a pace, bumping against the doorway to the kitchen.” If you do add such descriptors, though, be careful not to add too much—they’ll be easy to overdo.

      In this scene, we get information from both his and her point of view (ex. “He struggled, unable to believe her words”; “She now regretted bringing him to her home”). Personally, I found it a little jarring to switch between both. Are you using third person omniscient point of view? You might want to check out this post on point of view for some tips.

      On a different note, I love the line, “He could tell he was pushing all the wrong buttons with this girl, . . .” It captures his voice and character very well.

      You’ve got me curious, wondering how the man and woman know each other, why there’s a body in the bushes and how they discovered it, and of course, why they’re both bleeding profusely. Nicely done!

      Reply
  10. LaCresha Lawson

    Okay. I think I can….I think I can……

    Reply
  11. Pratik Pandey

    She delicately sat beside me on the bike, putting her soft arms around and started speaking out the list of what were inside the bag. I adjusted the rear view. She looked adorable; a soft benign face lying delicately on my shoulder, beautiful eyes, pleasant talking lips and softy lifted hairs. I might exaggerate but that’s what love is all about; seeing something that no one else can, she was an angel.

    “Where are we going, by the way?” That was a stupid question. She knew that I wasn’t going to tell her anything.

    “That’s a surprise. You already know that what a surprise means.”

    “Okay” She casually said. “Even I got a surprise for you.” She winked.

    “What is it?”

    “You already know that what a surprise means.” It was her turn.

    “Leave!!” I pretended though I was curious to know.

    “Did you eat something before leaving?” She asked looking for something in her bag, the next moment.

    “No, I didn’t. I told granny that I was going into the seminar.”

    “Liar” She said scornfully. “I got it for you.” She got a piece of sandwich that she sweetly put into my mouth.

    That was the best moment of the world, I tell you.

    “Where did you get the sandwich from?” My mouth half filled with it.

    “From the mess. I ate half and saved a half for you.”

    “Tanie…” I gently said. “I love you dear…”

    “I love you too.”

    Any suggestions for it?

    Reply
    • Alice Sudlow

      This is great! The dialogue sounds very realistic to me; I can definitely imagine people speaking it naturally. And I like how you’ve given just enough dialogue tags and description to help us follow who’s speaking and what they’re doing without overwhelming us with description on every line. It can be a difficult balance, but you’ve walked it well.

      I’d suggest using fewer adverbs (delicately, casually, scornfully, gently, etc.). The dialogue and the actions give us enough information to understand how these characters are interacting. Adverbs can actually over-inform and clutter things up. (And yes, I know I’ve used several in this comment . . . do as I say, not as I do. 🙂 )

      I can tell these characters are very much in love, and I’m curious where they’re going. Well done!

      Reply
  12. LISA RAINEY

    He remained standing up and slowly took two steps towards his parents, struggling with the news, ‘You lied to me all these years! Lies!’

    Maureen was sitting next to Frank on the couch surrounded by little cushions. Maureen released the cushion she was clutching, held up her hands and started to sob. ‘We’re so sorry Mark!’

    ‘What gave you the right to decide?’

    Maureen turned to Frank who had steadily kept his eyes on Mark. Frank replied ‘I thought it was for the best…’

    Holding his hand up, he shouted ‘ I could have looked for her! Met her!’ Angrily poking himself in the chest. ‘Found out who I am!’

    Noting how his outburst had visibly upset his mother – ‘Maureen, not mother’ he thought – he forced himself to take a deep breath and started to turn away from them.

    ‘You’re our son!’ was the last thing he heard as he walked out of the room.

    Reply
    • Diamond Fox

      Very awesome scene.

      Reply
      • LISA RAINEY

        Thank you!

        Reply
  13. Kelsey D Glass

    Here’s a scene I’ve been working on, but can’t quite get the action and scene and the dialogue on the same page:

    Cody and Linda are sitting in a
    lovely bistro in Little Italy, enjoying the midday sun. The server has just
    walked away with their menus, when Cody leans over to grab Linda’s hand
    emphatically, “It’s not every day you waltz past the love of your life.”

    Linda’s raised eyebrow gave away
    all her skepticism, “She was NOT the love of your life, Cody.”

    Settling back into his wrought iron throne, he replied just
    as fervently, “Yes she WAS.”

    Sipping her water patiently, “No she was not.”

    “How do you know?”

    Settling back, as if addressing one
    of her clients, laid out upon her chaise lounge in her office, “Let me guess
    Cody, she was 5’10”, striking brunette, pencil skirt, and heels as tall as her
    purse?”

    His arms crossed, she noted the
    defense, “Yeah, so?”

    “So, you fell in love with the exact same woman yesterday.”

    “No, that wasn’t her.”

    Sighing, Linda’s patience oozing, “Face
    it Cody, you have a type.”

    His defensiveness didn’t ease, “What’s
    so wrong with having a type?”

    Leaning forward for her strike, “It
    means you are going to burn yourself out on these tall chic brunettes and end
    up with a woman whose not your type at all. Then ten years later you’re gonna
    look at her over little Jeffrey and Jamie-“

    Cody held up his finger, “-I would
    never name my kids Jeffrey and Jamie.”

    Linda gestured half heartedly, “-and
    she’s gonna smile at you, and you’re gonna realize: this isn’t what you wanted,
    this isn’t what you signed up for. But you have to get Jeffrey to Little League,
    and Jamie to ballet-“

    Cody’s face was blank as his eyes
    held mock concern, “-You’ve thought this through.”

    “-so you don’t have time to bask in the fact that you
    settled for someone and something that wasn’t what you wanted from life.”
    Sitting back, enjoying her inevitable scene.

    Cody lifted a hand to his chest mockingly,
    “I’m touched.”

    She shrugged, “It’s just the facts,
    Cody.”

    Turning the tables, he proclaimed, “You
    know what I think?”

    “Nobody knows what you think.” She
    replied dryly

    “I think you’re bitter.” He stated
    matter-of-factly.

    She sat forward, shocked, “Bitter?!”

    Cody shrugged nonchalantly, stating
    facts, “Wes left you, Hank didn’t want to move in together, and Jeff is getting
    married- you’re bitter.”

    “I am not bitter.”

    Cody quirked an eyebrow, “You need to
    stop dating monosyllable named men.”

    She muttered a little less
    indignantly, “I’m not.”

    His voice held an annoying chipper,
    “Bitter. Like that burnt Seattle’s Best-“’

    Linda interrupted, “-that stuff is
    awful-“

    He continued unperturbed, “- that
    you get at the car dealership.”

    “They always burn it.” She muttered
    behind her water glass.

    His hand sliced through the air
    exclaiming, “Exactly- you’re burnt.”

    An unladylike snort escaped her, “Burnt
    out, maybe.”

    Sitting back, having made his
    point, Cody shrugged again, “Burnt, bitter, either way you aren’t a delightful
    flavor at the moment.”

    Linda sighed, setting down her
    water. “So, you’re in love.”

    Cody shook his head determinedly, “Undoubtedly.”

    Linda’s smirk was back, “Great,
    what’s her name?”

    Cody’s face went
    uncharacteristically blank, “What?”

    “Her name, Cody…” Her ever present
    patience slipping.

    “You know, you use my name an awful lot lately. I don’t like
    when you do that. You sound like my mother when you do that.” He sipped his
    water.

    She waited for his reply.

    Realizing she wasn’t going to drop
    it, he set down his glass with such focused care, “I don’t know her name.”

    Her amusement was back. “You didn’t
    even get her name.”

    He spoke quickly, to correct her
    amusement. “She was walking on a very clipped path- very impressive in those
    heels, let me tell you- and she was on the phone. I didn’t want to be rude.”

    Nodding her head understanding, “Of
    course, don’t want the love of your life to think you were rude.”

    He spoke distractedly, “Terrible
    first impression.”

    “So, how are you ever going to see
    her again?” The skeptic’s tongue ringing
    the question Cody himself had been trying to answer.

    “Serendipity.” He spoke with a
    confidence he did not feel.

    “What?” There was that damned
    patience, Cody’s head ached from that infernal patience.

    “You heard me, serendipity will
    take care of our undeniable love.”

    She rolled her eyes, “You’re an
    idiot.”

    He had the gall to act indignant, “Why’s
    that!?”

    Her voice emphatic and incredulous,
    “Because no woman prancing around Chicago in 4inch heels and a pencil skirt has
    time for serendipity.”

    “Judgmental much? She’s the EXACT woman
    to believe in serendipity: Surviving in a man’s world, harboring all those
    hopeless romantic dreams…” His eyes looked far away into his true loves
    unspoken dreams.

    Linda snapped her fingers in front
    of him, “No, these are facts, Cody.”

    He shook his head at Linda, “You
    know, this fact finder of yours must be on-call all the time, or is he just on
    retainer?”

    The server had arrived with their
    salads, setting down Cody’s as Linda replied with fake chagrin, “Face it, Cody,
    you’ve lost the love of your life, because of your manners.”

    “Damn Social Etiquette.” Stabbing
    into his arugula and strawberries.

    “Which is why I dismiss it altogether. Thank you…” She
    smiled at the server as she walked away.

    Writer’s Notes: So I can either write dialogue like this, where there’s so much description and action missing, or I write a flourish of description and suck at dialogue. Basically, I think I just suck at doing part 3. Someone help! I’m stuck 🙁 BTW- Copyright Kelsey D. Glass 2016.

    Reply
  14. Cherrie Smith-Andersen

    This is a great exercise. I’ve been doing this exercise for over a year and it has really helped my writing. I have more steps though:

    1. Write down the dialogue.
    2. Now rewind, watch again and just observe who said what and how they said it. Write down your observations about how the words were spoken. Speed=>Fast or slow or normal. Attitude=>Genuine, sarcastic, seductive, belittling? Quality=>Slurred, crisp, clear, accented? Volume? Pitch=>High or low? Lilting?
    3. Next pass notice just the faces of the actors. Write down your observations in a clinical way=> The corner of Rory’s lip raised one centimeter. Then write what you think that means.
    4. Final pass write down any actions the actors take and body language.
    5. Now read what you have. Rewrite your observations as though you were writing this as a scene for a novel. Add internal dialogue or thoughts as needed. Spice up the language to make your clinic observations more interesting and impart meaning to the character’s actions.

    Reply
  15. Stella

    “Who was that?”

    He hadn’t realized she’d been hiding in his yard again. “A friend.”

    “He looked angry,” she observed. “He doesn’t look like a very nice friend.”

    Eric had been thinking the same thing for years, ever since prep school. So why did he feel the sudden urge to defend Wes? “Alice, sometimes grown-ups just…get angry, you know? I’m not saying that’s right, just…”

    “Grown-ups get angry too?”

    He was startled into an honest response. “All the time.” Just ask Wes.

    “My mommy makes me stand in the corner and count to a hundred when I get angry.”

    This was why he didn’t like children; you never knew where talking to them would take you. “Your mommy is very smart. And you’re a good girl if you do as she says.”

    His attempt to pacify her had the opposite effect. She stomped her foot. “But mommy gets angry too. She yells at me when I stay up past my bedtime. And she doesn’t have to stand in the corner.”

    She paused for a moment as though in deep contemplation. Then she bounced up. “I know! You could make her stand in the corner when she yells at me.”

    His head was starting to hurt again. First the argument with Wes, then trying to make conversation with an eight-year-old. Who was now asking him to make Kim – his feelings for whom he still didn’t understand – stand in a corner.

    “I… don’t think I could make your mommy do anything she doesn’t want to do.” How to get out of this conversation? He had no energy left for anything other than honesty. “Alice, I need to go to work.”

    No immediate explosion. Cautiously he went on. “I know you might not be too happy with your mommy right now, but…just remember that she loves you. She wants you to do the right thing, even if she doesn’t always do it herself.”

    “That’s stupid.” For a girl who’d flared up when he tried to calm her just seconds earlier, she was amazingly tranquil at his clumsy ending of the conversation. “If grown-ups get angry too, they shouldn’t make me stand in a corner. They’re stupid.”

    Eric privately agreed. “Stupid” would perfectly describe the way he’d behaved towards Wes.

    Suddenly her arms were around his waist. A thrill of panic ran up his spine from where her body made contact with his. She looked up at him. “I won’t be that kind of grown-up. I’ll be like you.”

    After a lifetime of pushing everyone away, this child had somehow gotten in.

    He was terrified.

    Reply
  16. Diamond Fox

    Newman Galecky set off in his yacht around the Malibu area. He snorted some coke and drank Martinis with Xanax. It was a miracle he didn’t overdose.
    Gayle Tomlin, a sexy model lay around his yacht like a bass in the heat. Newman hated his life and nursed the toilet. He vomited and had a case of diarrhea.
    He vowed to get his life together and kicked Gayle out He decided to go to Malibu Pathways, a rich people rehab center. He made an appointment for a consultation and that was that.

    “Newman, wanna party at Peewee’s? He got a dope lineup.” Newman’s friend, Arch asked over lunch at In and Out Burger.
    “Naw, I am going to be staying at Pathways and I won’t come back until I am clean. I got to get myself together. My life is shit and I can’t go another day.”
    “Where’s Gayle?”
    “Dumped the leeching ho. I got to clear my head. I want to get a steady job and be human again. I got so sick the other day. I am not a drug addict. I am not a lifer. No, I gotta get real.”
    “Yeah, I dig.”
    “Living off Mom and Dad’s money and stuff has finally taken a toll on me. I gotta chill and get real.”
    “I am going to get sober as hell and do the right thing. I don’t need Gayle. She just lounged on my yacht and bitched about simple shit all day. She wouldn’t get off her butt to even talk to me decent. I don’t need that in my life. The maids are nicer to me than her.”
    “Totally. I hope you the best, bro.” Arch said.

    Reply
  17. Capital Captions

    I run a subtitling and closed captioning company, http://www.capitalcaptions.com, and know that especially in an age where high quality writing is being [4gotten!!], subtitles can play a huge role in helping to improve literacy. Too often, closed captions and subtitles are thought of as being only for the deaf and hard of hearing or foreign speakers. So much work goes into transcribing professional subtitles. It’s an art form and is so undervalued.

    Subtitling has so many benefits for all audiences.
    http://www.capitalcaptions.com/subtitles-and-captioning/the-benefits-of-using-subtitles-or-closed-captioning/

    Reply

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