STORY MISDEMEANOR: I FEEL VERY UPSET ABOUT THIS ONE

One of the most frequent criticisms of novel and screenplay dialogue is that it’s on the nose. Anything on the nose is too obvious – it’s dialogue where characters say exactly what they think and feel and mean. “I’m very angry with you,” “I’m afraid of being hurt,” and “You are my destiny,” are on the nose. Your dialogue should employ subtext – where the true meaning and emotion are hidden under speech that is about something less important. In Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor’s screenplay for Sideways, when Miles explains why he likes Pinot Noir, his entire speech is about wine. But the subtext is, “I love you, and I need you to look beneath my external qualities and see who I truly am – to love me and bring out the best in me.” But if that had been the actual dialogue, it would have been ridiculously on the nose.