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Arts & Entertainment

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.

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


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...

Make Great Television

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.


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

Hard to discribe how much Shonda has helped me, in my final year a film school; as I've been creating my own Tv series Script, Franchises and Bible.

very informative and well-organized. loved both her story telling and access to her writers room

Writing is my passion and the only media I enjoy as much as books is television. Shonda is a shero to me for many reasons - she's Black like me, creative like me, and has a love for TV like me. I was thrilled to buy this MasterClass for myself. The classes were quick nuggets, perfect for my full-time working schedule. I highly recommend it to writers in general!

Writing can be such a "selfish" profession, the way we spend so much time alone. Grateful to be reminded how important it is to give back!


Hannah H.

This is the first Masterclass where I am writing down -every word- the teacher says. Neil Gaiman I kind of listened to in the background while doing other things and took the odd note when something seemed poignant. I didn't even know who Shonda was before Masterclass, but now having watched and listened to her, I want to become her. She is amazing.

Shaun N.

I think the best way to learn about dialogue is to listen to so much conversation - be it in real life, or on television, etc - that your understanding becomes inate inside of you. As someone who writes for the theatre, so with heightened dialogue a lot of the time, the real challenge is balancing your dialogue style with your character's speaking style. Some dialogue is perfect for a character, but also intrinsically the writer's style. E.g. I think you could read a monologue spoken by Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and immediately know it was Mark's line, but also immediately know that it was penned by Aaron Sorkin.

Michelle A.

For me, the dialogue comes pretty easy once I know the characters. So many things contribute to how they speak; where are they from? What's their temperament? How do they interact with each other? (some characters rub each other the wrong way whereas others click) What is their personality? I have characters whose mother tongue is Spanish so sometimes, you get a little Spanish thrown into the mix. One character is very anxious, high strung so he's more likely to jump to a conclusion or spit out the first thing that comes to mind whereas another character meditates every day and is ultra-calm, thinking carefully before speaking. One of my favorite characters is bold, so his comments are snappy and sometimes shocking. Personally, I love writing dialogue especially when it snaps!

Ira F.

Yes, dialogue is practically everything in a television script. Very profound. Not.


I am glad Ms. Rhimes addressed the issue of actors wanting to change the dialogue. "I wouldn't tell you how to act. Don't tell me how to write." It is a pain staking process to put together the words in your script.


Hand down, the one lesson that cannot be taught. Interesting information though.

Graeme R.

Shonda Rhimes is undoubtedly magnificent, although she may have had some young Miranda Bailey moments in her own youth. What sets her apart in this master class is the deep thought and preparation she has done. It may be entirely true to her character, but it is all our good fortune, and I, for one, feel so grateful.


Very precious Lesson! It helps me a lot to think about how to approach dialogues in order to feel them really natural. Thanks Shonda!!

Toni H.

I am the one who writes . . . Will watch Breaking Bad for that speech. Thank you, Shonda. I loved how Shonda clarified and validated the job of the writer and the job of the actor in this lesson. Several years ago, I belonged to the Actors and Screenwriters Assembly. Once a month, actors walked on stage and cold read scenes from submitted writers. This was extrememly helpful for the actor and the writer. Another activity - I would pick a specific resturant that embodied the atmosphere, theme, and personalities of my characters, then I would eat alone and listen to conversations around me.​ Dialogue keeps me up at nights talking in my sleep.

Tsakani 'tk'

So I absolutely loved the notes she gave on Actors and Dialogue. I am a script supervisor and I constantly find myself having to discuss with actors why and how they would want to change dialogue that they have been given. Their argument usually being, "My character would never say something like this." I have found this process to be disrespectful to the writer in assuming that they do not understand the character as well as the actor does. So to choose to edit work, that has been approved by so many other people, when the writer is not on set to defend themselves or approve the changes, is just wrong. So yes I think collaboration and back and forth engaging of dialogue between writer and actor is good and healthy, however I thoroughly agree with Shonda on the fact that, " So while I will never tell you how to act, you will never tell me how to write."