He Said, She Said…But What Did They DO?

Those Pesky Dialogue Scenes

We’re still exploring how we can learn from Hollywood…or in this case Hawaii. Hawaii 5-0 to be exact. I can’t get enough of the chemistry between Steve and Danno.

Want to write realistic dialogue that doesn’t come off looking like talking heads on the page? Watch TV.

As you watch whatever program you choose, pay attention to the scenes where there are heavy uses of pure dialogue. You will get hints on showing what your characters are doing during those all-important dialogue scenes you write. Even if characters are having a conversation while driving, they are usually DOING something with hands, body languages, facial expressions.

That’s where my beloved Hawaii 5-0 comes in. In the hit CBS series, the two hot-hot lead males on the show, Steve (Alex O’Loughlin) and Danno (Scott Caan) spend a lot of time driving together. The writers of the show use this time as opportunities for sharing information with the audience. The unique and very lovable chemistry between these two characters is always evident, but more to the point, during these car conversations, they are DOING things that are easily translated into a written story. In one episode, Steve, at the wheel, looks up and sees a postcard of New Jersey (where Danny is from), and asks about it. He pulls it off the visor and it becomes a prop being brandished in Steve’s hand as we learn about how much Danny misses his hometown. Finger pointing, impatient gestures, eye-rolling facial expressions follow. Describing such things add necessary beats between dialogue without the constant and repetitive “he said,” and “she said.” Learning how to describe small gestures will make even scenes in a car work.  Wrinkled his nose (in distaste), stabbed a finger in the air, waved the postcard around, turned away to look out the window. In yet another scene, Steve and Danno are part of a wild chase. Watch that part of the video below and pay attention not as much to the dialogue as to what the characters are doing, and see how you would use these actions to add beats to a fast-paced dialogue.


Did you catch it? Finger stabbing/pointing, facial grimaces, jerking the steering wheel, bracing in the seat, holding onto the door handle, pointing at oncoming traffic, and so on.

If you write, how do you handle dialogue within tight spaces, such as in a car or on the sofa in front of a fire? As a reader, what keeps you reading during such scenes?


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