Audiences Don’t Listen to Dialogue

Jacob Krueger has written a great article about dialogue and how, for the most part, audiences don’t really listen to it. Just watch The Artist to see how unnecessary most dialogue is. That isn’t to say that great dialogue isn’t a key component of great scripts. I’ll let Jacob explain:

Remember the first scene of The Social Network? Aaron Sorkin’s spitfire banter ricocheting at high velocity between Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend Erica.

The scene is so brilliantly written, you probably barely noticed that you didn’t understand half of what these characters were saying to each other!

With characters talking faster than the ear can hear or the mind can process, there’s no way an audience can keep up with Sorkin’s dialogue. Heck, even Erica keeps losing the thread of Mark’s obsessively tortuous conversation, and she’s a smart cookie.

Like Erika, you probably found yourself breathlessly “dating a stairmaster” as you tried to keep up with even half of Mark’s relentless onslaught of words.

But here’s what you probably remember:

  • Mark is mind numbingly obsessed with getting into a final club.
  • Erica desperately wants to talk about ANYTHING else.
  • These characters are both REALLY smart, but even Erika can’t keep up with Mark’s overactive mind.
  • Mark pushes things too far and Erica breaks up with him.
  • Erica furiously puts Mark in his place with this zinger: “You’re going to go through life thinking girls don’t like you because you’re a tech geek. And I want you to know…that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole”

As writers, we all love words. And nobody loves words more than Aaron Sorkin. But for all the subtle nuances of his language, Sorkin knows a secret that most young writers forget.

The Audience Isn’t Listening To Your Dialogue

It’s nice to think of your enraptured audience, hanging on your every word, lingering on your thematic motifs, and preparing treatises on the finer points of your arguments.

But the truth of the matter is that movie dialogue, just like real life conversation, usually happens way too quickly for that.

Audiences hear dialogue… but they pay attention to action. And that doesn’t just mean car chases and exploding buildings.

It means the things characters are doing with their dialogue: the powerful needs and dramatic conflicts between them that force them to say what they say in the way that only they could say it.

Get these underlying desires right, and you can get away with just aboutanything in your dialogue.

Read the rest of the article here.

3 thoughts on “Audiences Don’t Listen to Dialogue

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  1. I don’t accept your premise. Part of the movie audience doesn’t respond to dialogue, and another part ONLY responds to it. The Artist still used dialogue. It was in the title cards, and much of the jokes came through reading them. (I also reviewed the film.)

    1. You’re right, my title is clearly hyperbolic, and the use of dialogue in The Artist is exceptional. My point was that the film was able to use extremely little dialogue and still get across a compelling story that audiences didn’t need to have explained to them through words, at least not very many words. I think Krueger is right that many writers try to make their dialogue do to much.

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