The New York Times queried 14 talented screenwriters, asking simple questions like “What’s the trick to writing realistic dialogue?,” and many of the responses are fascinating. A highlight of answers below, from Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”), Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”), Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”), Sarah Polley (“Stories We Tell”), Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy (both “Before Midnight”) and more.
Gerwig on a good screenwriting tip:
Whenever you have an “idea,” as in a concept that you could
explain to someone, like a hook or at worst a gimmick, that is a bad thing. It
feels good, but it’s not good. The best ideas reveal themselves, you don’t
“have” them. For me, anyway.
Let your characters talk to each other and do things. Spend
time with them — they’ll tell you who they are and what they’re up to.
Hawke on the trick to writing a heartbreaking scene:
There is no trick to writing a believable love story, a
heartbreaking scene or real-sounding dialogue. All you need is to tell the
truth. It’s always heartbreaking.
J.C. Chandor (‘All Is Lost,” “Margin Call”) on writing a terrific villain:
Always remember that the person (character) probably doesn’t
think that they are evil in any way.
Polley on the trick to writing — anything, at all:
Discipline. And readers who are honest with you.
Linklater on writing realistic dialogue:
The “trick” is being able to do it in the first place. It’s
probably one of those talents that you can only get a little better at by
trying very hard, studying, and all that. No one ever quantifies a particular
skill in the arts the way they do in, say, sports, but being able to write
real-sounding dialogue might have something to do with rhythm and memory, not
to mention having characters and voices in your head talking all the time. I
couldn’t really hit a 93-mile-an-hour slider, so I didn’t have a major-league
baseball career. I could always write realistic dialogue.
Holofcener on the trick to writing a great female character:
Make her human.
Delpy on the movie that inspired her to be a writer:
My motivation came out of observing others (home, street,
etc.), not films.