What do you think of switching to “script format” for dialogue for a few pages in a story that is otherwise standard prose?

Jerry: This is script format.

Akeem (angrily): We know that! (shakes their fist)

I have a scene w/ a large group of characters who are discussing and arguing an important issue. While the argument (I hope) has plenty of conflict and tension, there is no physical activity here. A script format would allow me to present each person’s dialogue w/o having to worry about dialogue tags.

But would this sudden change in style be distracting? Or annoying? Or seen as just plain lazy?

Thank you

-Dave L

Hey Dave, Oren here. Great to hear from you again! 

The short version is that I wouldn’t recommend doing this. It won’t have the effect you’re going for, and it’ll cause a bunch of other problems. I say this for a few reasons. 

First, changing a story’s format should generally be avoided, regardless of what the change is. If the reader gets used to one set of conventions, it’s annoying to switch over to a new one. Most often, this applies to POV or tense shifts. A lot of authors want to change between first and third person, or past and present tense, but it’s rarely a good idea. This would have the same problem, forcing readers to reorient themselves and pushing them out of your story. 

For the script format specifically, there’s a good reason we don’t write prose stories that way: it isn’t fun to read. Having the character’s name at the beginning of every line gets annoying fast, and it isn’t any better than repeating “said.” Putting description in stage direction form is even worse. It’s too much telling when you need to be showing, and it throws readers out of the story. This is bad enough when a story is read; it’s much worse in audio when readers can’t easily scan over stuff. 

For a script, that’s okay. Script’s aren’t meant to be enjoyable reading material; they’re instructions for making a movie, TV show, or play. It’s most important that they be efficient in delivering their information so actors can figure out their scenes. Writing our stories that way would be giving up the main advantage prose has. 

In your specific sequence, if the issue is dialogue attribution, then the better option is mix up tags like “said” with some minor action by the character who’s about to speak. 

“This is another example,” Jerry said. 

Akeem frowned. “You don’t say.” 

If that’s not enough, then you might simply have too much dialogue. In that case, whatever the characters are talking about might need to be simplified, or this discussion might need to be spread out over other scenes so it can be interspersed with some action. 

Hope that helps, and good luck with your story!

Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.