Dialogue Basics

One of the most important parts of screenplay writing is writing Dialogue. It is in writing Dialogue that amateur writers go to die. It is the toughest part of screenplay writing to write well. And the easiest place in a screenplay to show a lack of talent.

But this website is not a writing guide. It is a formatting guide. Here are some of the Basic Rules for formatting Dialogue.

  • AKA: No alias.

  • Margin/Indents: Left Margin: 2.5" from left page edge. Right Margin: 2.5" from right page edge (or 6" from left).

    Opinions also vary here and fluctuate between experts somewhere between 2.5" and 3" for the Left Margin with the same fluctuation on the right. But pretty much ALL agree that, no matter where you set the Dialogue margins, you need 3.5" between them (roughly 35 characters of type). That is likely the most important standard to maintain when creating Dialogue margins. But if you are using a screenwriting program such as Final Draft, just use its default settings.

  • What It Does: Tells actors what to say, when to say it, and sometimes how to say it (colloquial speech, for example).

  • Spacing: Single-space before Dialogue and within Dialogue. Double-space after Dialogue.

  • Adding Emphasis: To add emphasis to speech, use ALL CAPS or underline the words to be emphasized. DO NOT use italics or bold.

  • Writing Numbers: Write out two digit numbers, but use numerals for three or more digit numbers (for example, twenty-nine vs. 129). Spell out the time of day (such as, four thirty-two). Use numerals for years (1835, 2012, 1950).

  • People Speak: Poor grammar, colloquial speech, and accents are OK. Write Dialogue the way the characters would say it (just make sure readers can read it).

  • Capitalization: Capitalize improper names if the Character is directly addressing the person to whom the proper name refers. Lowercase improper names that are NOT used in a direct address. Lowercase terms of endearment or derogatory terms even if used in a direct address.

Look at these examples:

  • No Abbreviations: Spell out all words. Don't use abbreviations such as Dr. (Doctor or Drive), Ave. (Avenue), or Col. (Colonel). The only exceptions are Mr., Mrs., and Ms.

Look at this conversation:

  • Avoid Exposition: Don't write long, exhaustive Dialogue or have actors say things that are obvious. Movies are a visual medium, not an aural medium. Don't have actors say things that can be shown instead. And once they've been shown, don't have a character tell about what the audience has seen. That would be redundant.