The "Truth" about the 5 Movie Dialogue Functions (Part 5)

Flat and unintentional movie dialogue is one of the Top 7 Deadly Flaws of a Bad Screenplay.

And it has the power to get your screenplay tossed, instead of read.

How do you write an effective dialogue, a dialogue that REALLY contributes to your story?

Make sure it fulfills these 5 dialogue functions.

Colonel Jessep

Movie dialogue function #5: Calling forth emotions

We asked the Colonel Jessep from the screenplay "A Few Good Men", written by Aaron Sorkin, to lead us through the 5 movie dialogue functions.

Why? because he's an extraordinary character who uses one or more of these functions every time he speaks.
And he has no issue letting us know the "truth" about what they are and how to use them.

Colonel, you covered so far for us the basics of dialogue and four of its 5 movie dialogue functions:

  1. Moving the action forward
  2. Revealing character
  3. Communicating information
  4. Creating conflict between characters

Can you tell us your views on the last of these 5 movie dialogue functions: calling forth emotions?

Col. Jessep:
Think of the screenplays or movies you like.

Many times a character says something and it echoes where you are. You get moved, angry, sad, joyful.

Whatever you feel, that's primarily a function of the dialogue you just heard or of a combination of the picture and the dialogue.

Colonel, can you give us some examples of the application of this movie dialogue function?

Col. Jessep:
If you paid attention, you'll have noticed that basically all the examples I gave about


They elicit an emotion while you hear them, right?.

The same applies to the last scene of my story, when this Danny boy with his Harvard mouth and faggoty uniform puts a whole nation in jeopardy by having me arrested.

How dare did he play a trick on me? I gave him his freedom by risking my life every day.

Everybody in the court was filled with anger. And wanted to grab the bastard.

                    JESSEP          I'm being charged with a crime? I'm --           that's what's happening? This -- I'm --          this is funny, you know that, this           is --  And JESSEP lunges at KAFFEE, and KAFFEE would be dead but  for the three M.P.'s who've leapt in to restrain JESSEP.   SAM and JO have come to their feet and stand behind KAFFEE.                     JESSEP              (continuing; to Kaffee)          I'm gonna tear your eyes right outta           your head and piss in your dead skull.            You fucked with the wrong marine. 

And then everybody got filled with a feeling of injustice. Everyone was just dumfounded, flabbergasted, stupefied, and ...


Col. Jessep:
Right! JESSEP (continuing) You fuckin' people. (beat) You have no idea how to defend a nation. (continuing; to KAFFEE) All you did was weaken a country today, Kaffee. That's all you did. You put people in danger. Sweet dreams, son.

Colonel, these were effectively very ... uh ... dramatic circumstances.
Any other example - outside your own domain - maybe less tragic?

Col. Jessep:
Yes, son. It's about a man fighting. Not the Cubans like I did, but another big C, terminal cancer.

In this scene, George, from the screenplay Life as A House written by Mark Andrus, tells his estranged son, Sam he's dying.

                    GEORGE          I'm having a problem with cancer.  Sam stops flipping through the CD's.                     SAM          I don't know what that means.  What kind          of problem?                     GEORGE          The kind where there isn't really an          answer.                     SAM          I still don't know what that means.                     GEORGE          I wanted you here so we could have a few          months together.  Maybe everything          happens for a reason.  Something bad to          force something good.  Sam looks somewhat panicked.                     SAM          What?  Are you dying?  George nods his head.                     SAM (CONT'D)          And you told Mom today?                     GEORGE          Yes.  Sam whacks the CD's off his stomach; they scatter across  the floor.  Guster scoots off the bed in a panic.                     SAM          Fuck you!  You knew you were dying from          the start!  Sam bounds out of bed in a rage.                     GEORGE          We're all dying from the start.              (beat)          I just got picked for Advanced Placement.                     SAM          You lied to me!                     GEORGE          I would have lied to me if I thought I'd          believe it.                     SAM          This was all for your sake, wasn't it?           Having me here?  Trying to get me to like          you.                     GEORGE          I never tried to get you to like me.              (beat)          I tried to get you to love me.                     SAM          Well, congratulations!  You fucking          pulled it off!  Sam storms out of the garage. 

Col. Jessep:
At least this George guy, got appreciated.

Yes. Hmm. Colonel, this concludes our series of interviews about the 5 movie dialogue functions. Thank you for coming out of your jail and speaking to me.

Col. Jessep:
You're welcome, son.

You believe that, don't you Colonel, that I'm thankful?

Col. Jessep:
Of course, son.

Don't call me son!

I'm a screenwriter and a reporter of a great country and I'd prefer deal with the bullets and the bombs and the blood than spending 5 more minutes with you, and your condescending arrogance, son...ofabitch.

Guard, the prisoner is excused!

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Pictures and screenplay extracts:

"A Few Good Men" - Jack Nicholson (Colonel Jessep), Tom Cruise (Lt Kaffee); Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Rob Reiner (director), Robert Richardson (director of photography), Columbia Pictures and Castle Rock Entertainment

"Life as a House" - Mark Andrus (screenplay)

I'll be home after lunch*:

Go from 5 movie dialogue functions (part 5) to Home page

* Life as a House, screenplay written by Mark Andrus

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