Skip to main content

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft

Lesson 14 of 18

Add Color to the Scene: Dialouge

Hal Ackerman

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft

Hal Ackerman

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

14. Add Color to the Scene: Dialouge

Lesson Info

Add Color to the Scene: Dialouge

Let us go on tio to step number eight which is adding color to our scenes this is something that is also has many, many different little task eths uh that are attached to it and ah, a great deal of um how shall I put this a great deal of skill sets that we can use okay number one is writing good dialogue dialogue is an extremely extremely important uh element of course, but it also could be drastically miss used in theater where dialogue is really king dialogue is just I mean, there there's some scenes of course that have physical action in them but the physical action on stage is much, much harder to generate effectively then on screen because this way we could have we have thousands of technicians all over the place special effects if it doesn't work the first time we can take two take three take forward take five we have lots of ways to go about it until it really works well live theater you don't really have that option nearly so the use of action though it certainly it certainly e...

yes use very often but it is used less of course and dialogue becomes very much a storytelling technique in film actually this is important to understand in film action is the storytelling device so that dialogue can have characters talking to each other. There are many ways in which bad dialogue manifest itself there's a quote that I like which is that bad dialogue tells you everything about the writer and good dialogue tells you everything about the characters what does that mean? It means that sometimes writers will show off writers will try to have characters be to articulate even if they're not meant to be articulate so the writer herself or himself khun sound really smart sometimes dialogue will sound the same from every single character um uh sometimes characters would just talk too much there's a sort of a famous moment when I forget which movie is one of the one of the earlier clint eastwood movies I think madam in one of the dirty harry movies and somebody says tell me about your you know what was your childhood like and in the hands of a bad writer there were the next his responses that could be something like that might take place in a shrink's office and it might go for you know a page or two his response was it was short so that is that you know that's that's good writing its terse somebody wants ah described writing dialogue as writing headlines and movie dialogue is very much like that sometimes writers think that the mohr dialogue a character is given the stronger that character becomes once again that is a false supposition very often the way in which you make way which you can effectively differentiate in a scene between who's stronger is have one character have a lot of a lot of talk. Any other characters undercut it with a word, and that becomes the stronger character it's kind of counterintuitive, but but it is true what else can we say about dialogue among, among other mistakes, that we make about dialogue, the idea of of dollars being cataclysm? I'm not catholic, but I know what a cataclysm is. It is that maybe some of you know what it is, but it is kind of a wrote question and answer. It's, a way of of indoctrinating young kids who are taught there cataclysm in school about the precepts of the religion, and so eh, question is posited and an answer is given in a full sentence. Another question is posited. Another answer is given in a full sentence, each containing the wrote information, and some times when we sought to write dialogue, we kind of get into a rhythm like that, that we have a character ask a question and I are on our reflects is tohave the other character? Give a an answer to that question that is not necessarily and very often is not. At all the best way of handling dialogue because I want you to remember the cardinal rule that always exists that characters are there reflecting their own immediate character objectives somebody might not be there to answer somebody's question in that scene that I talked about in fargo when when when jerry is trying to you know, get that deal going to kidnap his his his wife uh the guy displayed played by steve buscemi that's his name was trying things before says, you know, this whole this whole idea just sounds ridiculous that's crazy you know you're going to get yeah uh you know the ransom is fifty thousand dollars you're paying us half of it you're keeping half it's crazy it makes no sense is like peter playing peter robbing peter to pay paul you keeping the money and then jerry says, well no, no no because he's now forced into giving some information like like good exposition dialogue needs to no no it's it's not coming from me it's my father long money and and if he knew I knew that he wouldn't give it to me. Uh oh really? Why wouldn't he give it to your jury? Uh now jerry's answer is not well because he doesn't like me very much and because I'm a bad son in law and because he's a jerk and he says, well, I don't want to get to those personal ambitions personal jerry and he doesn't give the answer now why doesn't he give the answer? Is it because he doesn't know the answer no of course the writer knows the answer to that question but it is not part of jerry's objective to give it jerry's objective is to get this deal going he starts getting sidetracked into giving this information no it doesn't it doesn't further his objective so the writer has to use the restraint not to blurt out information that is not necessary in that scene because it doesn't serve the characters objective so all of these techniques that we're talking about all emanate from the same place that's what I want you to understand that all emanate from the same place characters, objective characters, objective characters objective one of the things that I have asked you to do it it was one of the great sources of stupendous dialogue is just keeping these things right over here open these are two of the most important instruments that we have as writers you go out any place especially places where you're not comfortable going because we're comfortable you're not really listening you're doing what you're doing you're not your your your radar isn't on but you know if you're a guy and you sneak into a lady's room your radar's up because you don't get caught and sent to jail but you know if you go to aa junior high school playground you know cleo you know you don't belong there but just put just as a writer put yourself in places where people are unself consciously just being who they are even riding a bus if you don't usually ride the bus going to a hospital waiting room if you're not there waiting for some you know dire event in your own life to put see we get a drive by with cops whatever this whatever story whatever world of the story that you're giving me that for two res number one is just just as an exercise just to expand your your ears I have had in my classes I have had a chunk I my kid my kids make it students uh bring in as a warm up ah scene that they have overheard just every week then we read that in class just before we even start anything of their of this scene where this hole it's often hilarious it's also I mean I've never ever ever heard more salaciousness that I've been stuff over her in the ladiesroom I'm sorry women I am just sorry but you people are horrible you are just the worst human beings no uh I mean the way you talk about yourselves and men and sex and bodily functions and you know my god uh but also great suffering like you know from junior high school school yards you know especially these days you know like I said buses hospitals places where people are interes restaurants where people are arguing or just, you know, you should always, always, always haven't have a notebook with you, I'm not sure if we have isn't would have times wouldn't you like to read like like one of the things they overheard way have a moment, anyone no pressure? You don't have to uh uh okay, I won't force it, I won't force you, but I will say that it is a stupendous exercise you should never, you know, back in the back when the first wave of immigration happened the turn of the nineteenth since the twentieth century, immigrants from europe were told that the streets were lined with gold and that really is the truth for writers right now, the streets are lined with gold, but that gold is stuff that people are talking it's free to you all, and if you don't take it, somebody else will it's a resource that's out there and if you don't avail, you know, you know, it doesn't mean you're greedy, it means you're smart just listen because you know, our we have our imaginations and that's great, but there are, you know, there are ways that people talk that we just can't imagine and even and even if it's not necessary, salacious, if you are writing you know a baseball story see if you can get yourself close to a dugout if you know whatever world you know I mean they're they're random things to do like, you know, like I said, right a bus in this and I just just to hear but if you are doing a story that is set in a particular world around, you know, amongst particular people every every walk of life, every sort of profession they and trade they all have their own our got they all have their own secret language and we could never imagine what that is without without going there and it adds that word I used earlier today when we talked about like, step to the word of verisimilitude it you know, when we can have characters use expressions and talking ways that we would never imagine it creates that sense for an audience something I mean, it could be, you know, a little shocking sometimes I remember that thing doesn't affect anybody, but but I do remember I talked to some doctors because I'm doing this piece and these doctors that worked in a burn ward and they called their victims they called them crispy critters and you know, that sounds pretty politically incorrect, but you know, but you have to understand why they would because being around, you know, like burned, you know, desperately burned children, you know, all day, you know it is too emotionally overwhelming. You can deal with it, you have to find some way to deflect it. And so it sounds, you know it's easy to say oh that's so politically correct oh that's that's shameful people should never talk to you know it's easy for people to get on this soapboxes and say that but there is a clear reason why you have to you you have a limit emotionally what you khun stand but knowing things like that, knowing those kinds of vocabularies, you know, knowing how people who have seen on camera talk to each other when they're off camera adds a level of truth and verisimilitude very, very important for dialogue. Okay, yes, I did hear something the other day and it didn't have any inherent conflict to it that's why I didn't offer to share, but I did think it does speak to the environment in which they're speaking, and it was just that one person said to the other, I moved from l a to escape the smog and then said pause, ella has smog, but msf has smug that's great bumper sticker I just thought it was very telling about the person, but also about the environment that is a very clever line no conflict, necessarily, but still telling yes, it is and should you I mean, it is something that you could clearly we've into a scene you know, that was about something like that at some point yes, absolutely, very good, very good. Um let's see? So we have so that's zo dialogue that's, that's, that's definitely one very strong component and very important one for us to use and use it for its strengths and I want you again to remember the very important thing that dialogue is not used as a storytelling device. That event is the story telling device in a play you were locked into pretty much you know you have a scene to change scenes in a play it's a whole big deal to change scenes in the movie takes nothing. It just takes writing cut two and we're someplace else and we let a bunch of other people take care of that for us. So so scenes can be short. They can move from place to place to place to place the place we can use the strengths of what movie does toe let dialogue with the characters speak too each other one of things to be aware to be wary of his characters speaking over each other's shoulders to the audience forever. So we want to make sure characters talking right to each other about what is most important to them in the moment

Class Description

The most overwhelming, yet critical step for the screenwriter is the first draft. Staring at a blank sheet of paper can induce "writers block" faster than any other challenge facing a screenwriter. Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft will equip you with a roadmap for tackling your initial draft and guide you to the next steps on the scriptwriting journey. 

In this class, Hal Ackerman will teach you how to jumpstart the writing process and complete a written first draft of your screenplay. You’ll learn how to:
  • Organize your ideas into scenes and acts
  • Approach character development and dialogue
  • Take next steps after the first draft is complete
Hal has been teaching screenwriting to students at UCLA since 1985. He has sold material to all the broadcast networks and authored well-known books on the art of screenplay writing and selling In this class, he’ll offer actionable insights on developing your concepts and turning your ideas into a compelling and complete script.

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft is your opportunity to learn how to conquer one of screenwriting’s greatest challenges and get your ideas developed and down on paper. 

Check out our complete collection of filmmaking classes here


fbuser 991773eb

Hal Ackerman is the Man!!! Loved this course and will be watching it again. Mr. Ackerman is one of those people who truly wants to help you get better at your craft. He's encouraging yet realistic about what it takes to write a great screenplay. I highly recommend this interesting and helpful class.


After taking a number of other screenwriting courses, I can tell you that Hal Ackerman's course, The Art of the First Draft, is the BEST EVER!! His methodology of teaching is fantastic. He takes you on this journey from start to finish in a way that you WILL KNOW how to write a script by the time you finish this course. I liked how he used examples throughout his training to help you better understand screenwriting. If you really want to learn how to be a good screenwriter, then I would highly recommend taking Hal's course. You won't be disappointed.


I've read a lot of books on the subject and I've been to a few seminars. Hal Ackerman's class is genuinely one of the best and the most helpful classes I have experienced. What makes the class so great is that every concept has you putting pen to paper or fingers on keyboard right away. Ackerman really has tools that are called to be used. Thanks for the wonderful resource.