Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Writing Authentic Dialogue

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 08:46 min

Shonda shares her tips on how to write realistic and engaging dialogue for your characters.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Deconstructing Dialogue • Subtext as Dialogue • Actors and Dialogue


Well, dialogue is almost everything. I think what a character says and what a character does not say tells you everything you need to know when you're watching something. And so when you're writing something, you really want to be careful about the words you choose. I think a lot of people get lazy about what they let a character say or what they let a character not say. I think that Breaking Bad had some of the best dialogue I've ever seen. I always say the "I am the one who knocks" speech might be one of the best things I've seen in a, long, long, long time. It's lovely. There are wonderful moments in a lot of things. I think there are some shows that I think you should watch for the moments when characters don't say anything. I'm very excited right now about shows where there are scenes in which everything is conveyed but no one has said a word. That might be why I like The Crown so much right now. The West Wing was fantastic with language you really understood the characters based on how smart they were with their language. There's a lot of really good stuff out there right now. I mean, I think you should just watch a bunch of different shows and see how they use dialogue. And pay attention to what feels real and what feels stilted. Pay attention to those moments when you think, my god, everyone's telling me exactly how they feel instead of showing me. And see how that engages you or disengages you from a show. [MUSIC PLAYING] I try really hard to think of my dialogue as being the conversations that real people have. Even more of louder Shakespearean, bigger characters that I have, they speak in a way that those kinds of people would speak, I suppose. A Cyrus Bean who has lots to say, or a Papa Pope, who has more than enough to say. For them, the characterizations of what they say, that's real for them. And then everybody else, I really just try to make it seem like people are having conversations. The kind you would overhear someone having if you were hiding in a closet in their house or something. I think you have to-- if you are looking to make your dialogue sound authentic, if you want your dialogue to have a real quality that doesn't feel cliched or what I call "TV talk." I'm always saying that sounds like TV. If you don't want it to sound like TV, really listen to the conversations of people around you. Become an eavesdropper, just do it. First of all, it's incredibly fun. But second of all, you'll start to hear how people talk. People don't talk in complete sentences, people don't always know exactly what they're going to say, people use the wrong words, people drop out, people talk over one another. And people say some really crazy stuff sometimes. Nobody says all the perfect things at all the perfect times. And when you've heard dialogue before, it's a cliche already. Anything you've ever heard anybody say i...

About the Instructor

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her screenwriting class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.

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Shonda Rhimes

In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.

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