COVERSCRIPT TIPS – On the Nose

If a character states out loud what is directly on his/her mind, or states directly what he/she is feeling, the dialogue is on the nose.

This type of dialogue makes characters unrealistic and unbelievable.

Real people in real life seldom reveal all in their interactions. Neither should characters.

Real people in real life hint, deflect, avoid, neglect, outright lie, mislead and misdirect, hem and haw, lose their nerve, crack a joke, self-deprecate, and/or cop-out, and all other varied manners of avoidance, particularly when the emotional, mental or physical stakes are high.

The same needs to be true for your characters if you want your characters to be believable and realistic.

A screenwriter has to write using subtext.

Meaning, he/she needs to make whatever the situation(s) in which the character finds him/herself abundantly clear to the audience, so that the audience has a really good idea what the character REALLY wants to say. Then has to create some obstacle that prevents that character from speaking that on the nose truth.

This obstacle can be either internal or external.

What if one of the characters is secretly in love with another major character but is too shy, or in fear of those feelings being refused, so saying what is directly on that character’s mind is unthinkable for that character.

Or what if the character’s rage is so out of control, there’s fear of doing something evil if the character were to say what’s directly on his/her mind?

Or what if the characters are out in a public where such honest communication would be overheard by everyone in the place and would cause embarrassment for everyone present?

So instead, the character deflects, avoids, hems and haws, cops out, cracks a meaningless and uncomfortable joke, or etc.

And because you, the writer, has set up the situation so well, the audience knows exactly what the character really wants to say or really feels without that character having to say one word about it.

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