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Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters

'On-the-nose' Dialogue

This is a common issue with non-pro screenplays.

'On-the-nose' dialogue tells us exactly how the character is thinking and/or exactly what they are experiencing (e.g. emotionally). People in the real world rarely speak in this way - they often don't want to reveal everything for a multitude of reasons.

If you're upset, sometimes you don't want to reveal it. Sometimes you do and you may want to confront the person who upset you but you would not do it with 'on-the-nose' dialogue - that's dialogue that tells them exactly how they hurt you and/or exactly how you feel.

People frequently talk indirectly or skirt a particular issue, or give hints of underlying issues - the hints may be via dialogue but it's more often via their tone or body language.

Real world personal conversations are very different from the on-the-nose dialogue often used by many non-professional screenwriters.

An example of on-the-nose dialogue:


Why don't you trust me? You never do. I love you so much but you always doubt me. I shouldn't love you, you don't deserve it. It hurts me so much when you do these things, makes me feel worthless. Why don't you trust me, I don't understand.



He stole the prototype because he knew he could sell it to the Chinese for fifty mill plus.

One more:


We tried everything to save your wife. Unfortunately we couldn't. Her inferior mesenteric artery ruptured during the surgery, causing massive blood loss. We tried to stop it but the rupture was in a difficult position, no one could have got their in time. I'm sorry for your loss.

A line or two of on-the-nose dialogue is okay provided it suits the character and the scene - e.g. attorneys often have to use dialogue that can at times be on-the-nose or very close to it. Just make sure it sounds authentic given your character and their situation.

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