Here are a few things that I wished someone had told me 20 years ago.
Proper names in 30 seconds: If you are writing dialogue where you’re addressing another person, don’t give that other person a name unless you absolutely need to. Dropping ‘Carol’ or ‘Gary’ in a line will cost you more than a second, all in. And you can totally make something funnier out of a second than that.
When writing dialog for a known person, don’t focus on their nuances. You’ll use them wrong. Before I start, I’ll find a scene of their dialogue I’m into and I’ll transcribe it. I’ll look at the pattern and check out the dynamics. When do they take beats? Are their silences the interesting part? Was it only funny when it was performed? You’ll want to over-write for them because you love them, want to impress them and make something worthy of them. But remember, when they finally do read your work, they’ll already be reading it in their voice. So, I don’t know, don’t try too hard? Wow, this really devolved into a lesson in slacking!
Tropes and old bits: What are you, an AI stand up? A boss once told me to avoid any of that ‘he’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?’ type dialogue. It’s a good watch out. All those overused bits – ChatGPT can weave those little chestnuts in there for you if you want. But I say let’s send ’em out into the fjord and give ’em all a proper hero’s burial, with the flaming arrow and whatnot. Although, a script with all of them could be funny… maybe… probably not.
Consider the ‘kiss ass’. In real life, you talk differently depending on who it is. Same goes for your characters. Consider that when writing their dialogue. They don’t have to be a one note – even in 15 seconds. Think about a kiss ass. A kiss ass only kisses ass to certain asses. What does the kiss ass talk like to everybody else?
Lastly, overwrite for you. Give them the hits.
Be wary of explaining too much or having too much exposition. There’s a lot visually that will fill in the blanks and people only need to understand the main message. Try a scene where the dialogue starts mid-conversation at a key moment like ‘What’s that?’, ’I’ll take it’, or ’Doesn’t it bother you that…’.
Oftentimes, writers take too much time to get to the reveal or punchline. After all, we’re competing with limited attention span and lack of interest. Try flipping the script and say what you need to say first (i.e. product benefit), so you have more time to play with the premise. A well known example is the Geico rhetorical questions work – ’Could switching to Geico really save you 15% or more on your car insurance? Is Too Tall Jones too tall?’.
– Courtesy of Little Black Book