Your dialog carries the weight of the play. It is the workhorse. It tells the story, it projects the characters (even when it is absent), it hides but hints at the subtext, it sets the pace, it makes us laugh, weep, wince, and leave our seats (to applaud and to go home prematurely). It is sharp, unpredictable, stabbing. Like a professional tennis game, it passes back and forth between two characters at ever increasing levels of tension as the volley progresses when one flase move will lose the point and one well place passing shot will cause the false move.

Dialog is all you have when the director decides to ignore your stage directions.

Characters respond to what they hear which is not usually what was said. Character A says "I love you" to three different characters at different times. Character B responds with "I love you too. Let's go upstairs." Character C responds with "Okay, so you crashed the car. Where is it?" Character D responds with "So?" They all heard different things from Character A

  • Is every line needed? Is every word needed? Hunt down and destroy adjectives. Let the verbs and nouns carry it.
  • Do your characters have unique voices? See bullet three in the Character tab.
  • Is there too much in a line? Have the character said enough aalready.
  • Characters should not tell each other what they already know? You can still exposit to the audience by having characters discuss something in the context of the action.

The main character wants something, desires something, but the wants and desires of others are blocking the main character's ability to satisfy his want.

  • Is the main character's want/desire/crisis important enough to make me believe it is worth all the bother?
  • Is the something blocking the major character's drive important enough to be worth overcoming?
  • Is the antagonist or the antagonisstic force strong? Stronger than the main character? (David & Goliath)
  • Does it get so bad for the main character that I want to rush up on stage and help out?
  • Do I see the main character grow or change against the force of conflict? If asked, would I be able to describe that change (how and why is came about) to someone who has not seen the play?
  • Clever language and slick dialog does not replace conflict. One man's clever dialog is another man's yawn fest. Conflict is universal.
  • Is every character contributing to the story?
  • Can the actions of two or more characters be confined to (performed by) one character?
  • Does each character have a unique voice?
    1. Read the script in a monotone while recording it. Read everything except the character's names. (If you use software that allows you to assign voices to characters and have the application "read" the script, assign the same voice to all the characters and record it.) Play it back. Can you tell who is speaking?
    2. If you can reassign lines to different characters (i.e. give some of A's lines to B and some of B's lines to C and some of C's lines to A etc.) and not significantly change how you see the characters and action, you may have two or more characters speaking in one voice (yours).

We can thank (some say curse) Aristotle for the Beginning - Middle - End model. For better or worse, Hollywood's 3-act model may have evolved from Aristotle's B-M-E model.

  • Beginning
  • Middle
  • End
  • Does the play open as close as possible to the main action (in medias res)?
  • Do I know what the play is about within 5 minutes (who the main character is, what's his problem, how does he plan to fix it)?
  • Is there a set-up? Something that piques my curiosity about one of the characters. Something not yet revealed that I want revealed. Is there dramatic tension?
  • By the end of the beginning, have I seen and heard enough to want to hang around for the middle?
  • Do I always want to know what will happen next? Are there enough twists and turns (both loud and subtle) to keep me awake?
  • Are there long sections of exposition that could be replaced by some other business to convey the same information?
  • Do I continuously believe every character I see within the context of your make-believe world?
  • Are your characters growing, changing, being emotionally challenged? Are you challenging me to move outside my thinking box?
  • If someone came to tell me a traffic cop has seen my illegally parked car, would I leave? In other words, is the play experience worth another $150 car-pound fee?
  • By the end of the middle, have I learned enough to want to hang around for the end.
  • Am I waiting for a scene that brings the whole conflict into focus? An example might be a final face-off between protagonist and antagonist? Have you given me that scene?
  • Am I satisfied that you have told a complete story (even though you may have deliberately not tied up all strings)?
  • By the end of the end, have I learned enough to want to clap wildly and tell all my friends about your play?

First draft complete - checklist

© D.P. O'Sullivan