Here’s advice on the pacing of dialogue from screenplay expert Michael Ferris. It originally appeared in my book Filmmaking Basics: Finding Your Creative Voice.

The West Wing

The West Wing
Credit: NBCTV

A script is not a play – your goal is NOT to have dialogue that looks like a bunch of monologues. Try to keep 95% of your dialogue to 3 lines or less on the page. Clever dialogue is found in quick back and forth exchanges, not prose-y speeches. Think about one of the best screenwriters known for his dialogue – Aaron Sorkin. Have you ever watched a scene from The West Wing? It’s not a perfect example, but it illustrates the point that if you keep it snappy, it keeps it moving. And a fast moving script, like a fast moving story, is entertaining and – sometimes – it can move so fast that you don’t have time to realize whether it’s great quality or not. You just know you’re entertained. So, use it to your advantage. Keep the dialogue short, quick back and forths, and you’ll reveal plot and character just as quickly.

Screenplay expert Michael Ferris began his career working for Oscar-winning producer Arnold Kopelson (Platoon, The Fugitive, Seven) and then worked for manager/producer John Jacobs (Blades of Glory, Beverly Hills Chihuahua).