Somehow keyboards have become the predominant way of creating text. We had them on typewriters, we have them on notebooks and even our smartphones emulate them. Just think about it… the configuration of keys, the idea that instead of handwriting or typesetting printers, we’re tapping away at a host of buttons. QWERTY… or whatever style of keyboard you’re using, the whole idea of someone being hunched over a keyboard and clicking away must seem quite foreign.
Cats don’t understand our fascination with these clickety devices and you can bet aliens would have a hard time reconciling it too. We’ve just grown accustomed to the ticking sound, the idea of stringing letters together as much as our cats try to lie over the keyboard and block the small TV screen. Why are we kneading these devices all day long? Wouldn’t we rather be playing with a ball of yarn?
This standardised way of generating text is how most authors write books. It’s quicker than using a typewriter, easier to edit than giving a script a once-over with a red pen, wastes less paper (ideally) and has made a world of difference in being able to send electronic editions over novels, screenplays and short stories by email.
We’ve come a long way since the days of having to send a typewriter back after every line. The romantic idea may still be the way some hardened or nostalgic authors choose to write, but technology has made our lives easier. One thing that the mechanical way of typing takes away from screenplays is the organic feel of language.
The way we type is different to how we speak. While most writers know that people don’t talk on screen like they do in the messiness of real life. Speaking over each other, mumbling, slurring words, repeating ourselves or using other communicative non-verbal signs are much more commonplace than entertainment media would suggest. If like in Galaxy Quest an alien race were to interpret our space operas as historical documents they’d have a misguided view on our interpersonal communication.
That’s why it’s important to consider the casual when it comes to writing dialogue. Depending on the film or series genre or tone, there can be a wide spectrum of what would be considered normal, but it’s important to guard against the typed feel. Even after writing your script and reading it out loud you’ll still find there’s a propensity for it to be too verbose. We type more formally than we speak and it’s a good idea for people to act out your screenplay to get a better feel for the language and actual engagement.
You want it to have a natural and organic feel but also find the balance when it comes to translating character. This requires some fine-tuning to avoid the dialogue from sounding clunky, over-written, verbose or too information-saturated. Using speech recognition software to write dialogue can help give it a much breezier feel but testing it by having it acted out is another great way of refining. Weed out those unnecessary lines and words, let the visuals partner on the storytelling!