Writing Plays/Screenwriting/Verbage in Dialog


Hi Barry. In my screenplays, I use words in the dialog as I would phrase them in talking to someone. For example:
         I'm gonna take a cab into the city.
         I coulda' wrecked my car.
         How 'bout helping me change my tire.

Is it proper to write dialog like this in a screenplay, or is it more proper to write:
         I'm going to take a cab into the city.
         I could have wrecked my car.
         How about helping me change my tire.

Thanks once again for taking the time to answer a question.

Hi Dave,
very good question.

Whether it's the right thing to do or not hinges on how much dialect you use. Think of it as "salt in the soup." Use your discretion. Every person has his or her personal tone, selection of speech appropriate to the situation, in a wide range of situations. You need to get into your characters' heads and imagine the speech patterns, then make the dialogue unique to each character.

Here's a sample of different speech patterns from my novel in progress, CITIZEN OF AMERICA.

It's 1811 and the three characters are:

Amanda, 31 years old, born in a poorhouse, adopted and raised by a rich father and sent to an academy for her education. She's reading a book of poems by Wordsworth.

Ophelia, 19 years old, a black slave to a plantation owner, driving the buggy she and Amanda ride in.

Patrick, 19 years old, a highly educated Irish man, on horseback, newly arrived in the U.S.
“He’s brilliant at weaving words together,” Amanda said. “But he has prissy ideas that are removed from real life, in my opinion.”

“We’ll do a critical article on Mr. Wordsworth and his prissy poetry,” Patrick said. “Call it ‘Critique from the Cathouse’. Get it published in all the London papers.”

Just then, the right front wheel of the buggy hit a stone and bounced, causing Amanda to make a wild grab at the dashboard. Wordsworth, as a consequence, flopped unceremoniously onto the floor.

“Ophelia, will you take it easy!” she snapped, rescuing the volume of poetry. Then she cradled her injured arm. “Christ, that hurt,” she said.

“I’se sorry. I’se tryin’ t’dodge b’tween the stones an’ the stumps an’ the ruts. How’m I ’spectin’ t’git clear alla’ time.”

Patrick couldn’t help but smile at Ophelia’s sassiness while Amanda reacted.

“Ophelia, look at me,” Amanda said.

“Nossuh, I’m watchin’ thisshere ro-o-oad.”

“I’m not going to suffer the rest of this trip listening to you talk like that. It’s unnecessary. Now, listen to me—and say it after me: ‘I’m sorry, Miss Amanda, I’m trying to avoid the stones and the stumps and the ruts.’”

“I cain’t do that. I’m gonna feel plain foolish doin’ at.”

“All right, let me hear how foolish you can sound. I’m not going to laugh at you. Come on—‘I’m sorry, Miss Amanda—’”

Patrick saw Ophelia’s chin rise, and she erupted with her best sarcastic imitation of a haughty lady, “I’m sor-ry, Miss Aman-da, I’m tryin’ too avoy-oyd th-uh stowns, and-uh the stumpsuh and the rrruts-uh.”

He glanced at Amanda, who tried to maintain her decorum in spite of Ophelia’s comic turn. “Good. Now, how about, ‘I can’t be expected to be perfect.’”

“We both goin’ to hell. Why you wanta put me through thisshere misery before my time?”

“Because I went through it myself, and I know it can be done.”

The above excerpt is surely heavy dialect in places, and in others more standard speech. If there was no dialect depicted, it would be impossible to portray the characters, each with a particular attitude.

In screenplays particularly, characters with attitude are the most appealing to an audience.

Best of success with your writing,


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Barry Pearson


I`m a credited writer on nine feature films. My latest movie, IRON ROAD, which stars Peter O'Toole and Sam Neill, opened as feature, then aired as a four-hour miniseries on network television. Sun Li, the Chinese star, won the best actress award at the Roma Fiction Fest recently. www.ironroadthemovie.com) I’ve produced more than 300 episodes of television drama, including 13 episodes of Deepwater Black, and 106 episodes of Katts & Dog (Rin-Tin-Tin, K-9 Cop in the U.S.). I've answered over 1200 All Experts questions!


I've been in the business of writing and producing feature films, television series, and MOW's for over 20 years. You can check me out at this URL http://www.createyourscreenplay.com/aboutbp.htm

You can find my books on Amazon. See DON'T LET ANYONE STEAL YOUR STORY (http://tinyurl.com/StoryStealers)which is a stripped-down readable summary of copyright, full of entertaining anecdotes and real-life examples. Read about the true horror stories that clearly show you what you need to do to avoid the misfortune of having your literary material stolen. Find out: * How to take simple inexpensive steps to protect yourself, before, during, and after you write your literary work. * How copyright law applies to writers of literary works. * How literary works enter public domain, and how you can use it to your advantage. * What aspects of literary works are protected by copyright, and what aspects are not protected. * How to create documentation that will prove your copyright entitlement in the event of an infringement on your rights. * How you can protect yourself if you are contracted to write for television. You’ll also get a FREE sample of an Option and Purchase Agreement, a contract used in the acquisition of rights in a literary property—a contract that you and your lawyer can customize for your property. Written by a writer, for writers, Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Story will help you protect yourself against plagiarists and anyone else who might infringe your right of sole ownership. ------------- Also on Amazon, my book of four short stories, THE TWENTY-BUSHEL RACER. A man’s redemption from bitterness enables him to become a loving father. A teenager discovers the importance of his attachment to the people in his life and the place where he is growing up. A man, who has for years considered himself a coward and a betrayer of his comrades, musters the courage to stand up against a pair of would-be assassins. Two young men, who grew up in the same town, meet unexpectedly, reminisce about a girl they both loved when they were boys, and unveil a truth that changes both their lives.

Master of Arts degree (Drama)

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Among my awards are Best Screenplay, Best Picture, at the International Film & Television Festival of New York for THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EDWIN ALONZO BOYD, Best Screenplay, Feature Film, at the 12th International Film Festival in Sitges, Spain for PLAGUE, and a Special Jury Award, Feature Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival for PLAGUE.

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