Book Into a Movie – How Movie Dialogue Is Different From Novel Dialogue

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When you adapt a book into a movie, it’s critical that you understand the differences between movie dialogue and that of everyday life and novels.

Movie dialogue is supposed to APPEAR TO SOUND like real-life conversation without actually BEING like real-life conversation.

All of the dialogue in a film or TV show is supposed to move the story forward, so limit conversation to the meat of what you want to impart to the audience. Make it sound the way people talk in real life but without all the usual fluff, tangents and extraneous information.

Think of movie dialogue as Talk Light, only with much more meaning and drama. Or humor.

Each character should speak with their own voice, that is, a distinctive way of speaking that reflects who they are as a person. Each thing they say should be so distinctive, so individual, that only they could have said it in your story.

A cynical, mature college professor from New York city will speak differently than a naive freshman from the Midwest.

A down-on-his-luck carpenter will speak differently than a real estate tycoon, even though they’re in the same industry. They will have different vocabularies and attitudes. Someone who is positive, on top of the world will say things that reflect his world view. The same is true for the carpenter who is worried he won’t make the mortgage.

One problem with many newbie scripts is that everyone sounds the same and just about anything they say could be said by any other character.

Make each of the characters SOUND different, distinctive and you’re on your way to a more sell-able script.

Something else to consider when you adapt a book is that movie dialogue is generally much shorter than that of most novels. And the best movie dialogue has what is called subtext – the real meaning behind the words, not the words themselves.

Subtext should not to be confused with verbal irony, where someone says something different from what they mean. One form of verbal irony is sarcasm. A character could say “That’s great” upon receiving bad news, meaning, “That’s really terrible.”

Subtext will reveal inner, deeper meanings that the character does not want to express outright. A comic and/or sexual version of subtext can happen when the conversation about something normal, say cooking, is loaded with sexual innuendo.

Danek S. Kaus is a produced screenwriter with another film in development. Two more of his screenplays have been optioned. He can help you turn your book into a screenplay and then help shop it to producers. He also offers professional screenplay analysis. Visit his site at [] or email him at

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