Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Dialogue should be as realistic as possible, with two big exceptions: It should be more succinct and have more personality. The danger, of course, is you’ll accomplish this by giving every character the gift of sparkling, sophisticated banter, but that’s not what I mean at all.
Instead, consider this exchange from the first X-Men movie, after Wolverine returns from fighting a shape-shifting villain:
- Wolverine: Easy, it's me.
- Cyclops: Prove it
- Wolverine: [thinks, then] You’re a dick.
- Cyclops: [thinks, then] Okay.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have enough personality to be a fictional character. For one thing, I have no pet names for my wife. On those rare occasions I feel it would be appropriate to tack an endearment onto the end of a sentence, I fall back on the old standbys like sweetheart, darling, or baby. But I’m not a fictional character. And the one thing you need to understand about fictional characters is they have more personality than us.
When your characters use endearments, that’s one more chance for you to give them a little more personality. Use something specific, something no one else in the story would say. Sometimes, you can even find language that amplifies the keynotes of their personalities:
- Vince Vaughn in Swingers doesn’t say, “You’re awesome, dude!” like he probably would in real life. Instead, he says, “You’re so money and you don’t even know it!” That’s wonderfully specific, and it speaks to his predatory tendency to value people according to what they can do for him.
- In the great film noir Scarlet Street, when the sleazy low-life played by Dan Duryea calls his girlfriend “lazy legs” and she loves it, we pretty much know everything we need to about both of them.