Good Dialog Needs This

By Scott A. McConnell

A mother walks into a room and informs her two young daughters that they are going on a playdate with some children they have never met. One daughter replies, “Will they like me?” The second daughter responds, “Will I like them?”

While there are many qualities that good dialog can have – irony, individualized voices, realism, essentialized brevity, and wit – implication is one of the most important qualities of dramatic dialog. The above vignette is an example of good implicit dialog. Let’s look briefly at the implied meanings in both bites. When the first daughter asks, “Will they like me?” she is revealing one type of soul, that of a person who lacks confidence and likes to fit in, who wants to be accepted. The second daughter doesn’t care about being liked, and esteeming herself highly, she wonders if the other kids will impress her. Both kids are well revealed by the key implication in their quote, respectively: Dependence and Independence. Dialog bites like these that help define a character are especially important in the beginning of a script where a writer has to deftly reveal to the audience the nature of his or her lead characters.

Before we discuss why implication is an important quality of dramatic dialog let’s contrast the implicit dialog above with explicit versions of these bites. Yes, it’s good to be exact and clear but would the following explicit dialog involve your audience?

Daughter 1: “These kids might not like me and that will upset me. I want to be with kids who like me. I like to be accepted.”

Daughter 2: “I might not like these kids and won’t like spending time with them. I like to choose my own friends who are interesting to me.”

Long winded and on the nose dialog! These two rewrites explicitly state what the daughters are thinking and feeling. Bad dialog. Why? Because it leaves nothing for the audience to do with it. Its meaning is obvious. In contrast, implicit dialog forces the viewer or reader to do mental work on the words. Hearing implicit dialog, an audience has to think (usually doing so lightning fast) about the explicit meaning of the words. Because it performs this mental task, the audience is more involved with the characters and story. (The effect of using implication in dialog is comparable to another important writing technique, “show don’t tell.”)

So, when you are studying movies and TV shows listen carefully to the characters and see how in the best dramas (and not in melodramas!) the characters often speak implicitly, making you figure out their exact meaning. Doing this study and editing your own written dialog to make it more implicit, you will drill into your subconscious an order to write more implicit dialog. Let’s be explicit about the result of writing implicit dialog: Your audience will be more engaged in your work so your story will be more dramatic to them.

Learn more about writer/script consultant/story developer Scott McConnell at


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