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Like many, I’m a huge fan of the HBO series True Detective. I was reading the script for the second episode and I noticed this:

INT. STATE CID - NIGHT Hart and Cohle enter the squad room, acknowledged by the RECEPTIONIST. They walk through the division toward the BIG BOARD.


In my script, I have the lead character walk past a receptionist desk of the police station as well.

My question is: Is it “okay” to sum up a semi-unimportant dialogue in the action? Like acknowledging a receptionist? I realize I could just skip this part entirely, but I feel like it does add a layer of realism in routine.

Or I could write it all out.

What should I do?

Thanks.

Marc

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Yes, it's normal to leave out unimportant dialogue and descriptions.

Would the dialogue move the story forward? Does it give the reader insight into the characters? If not, it's probably best to leave it out.

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If a character speaks, you must have it as dialogue. The normal course of action in scripts is to omit "nicety" dialogue and leave that up to the director. We typically eliminate greetings and "how are yous" and any pointless politeness or greeting, unless it is specifically character building (a glad hander knowing everybody he passes in the hall) but even then responses are not included. Any actual dialogue becomes expensive, you need overhead microphones, sound editing, foleys, etc. Just skip it! The director will just make the receptionist busy. Or make your characters in mid-sentence give a familiar half wave to the receptionist she acknowledges with a glance up as they pass.

Or have a receptionist or guard there for plausibility but just ignore them and walk past; hold up a badge or ID for them to see as if you do it ten times a day. You don't have to talk to them or interrupt the flow of other dialogue.

In your example, "acknowledged by the receptionist" can be changed to "acknowledge by a glance of recognition from the receptionist."

  • Also, correct me if I'm wrong, a casual "good morning" or "what's up" while walking does not alter the rhythm of the scene, so it doesn't change the pace of the scene, right? – FraEnrico Dec 18 '17 at 19:37
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    @FraEnrico It probably DOES, it definitely impacts SHOOTING and EDITING, and (btw) the pay for the actor in the role of receptionist, if he/she has no other speaking lines. (otherwise they get scale as extras). It probably does change the pace because dialogue takes a few seconds to execute, and dialogue timing usually takes multiple takes before a director is satisfied (unless you hire Julia Roberts, I read once she was the reigning queen of getting it right on the first take). I've read of directors going to 20 takes to get dialogue timing right. Every second counts, ESP on TV shows. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Dec 18 '17 at 20:32
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Not all dialogues are important, so it is Ok to skip them. Usually, you can just do it and skip them, like: "How may I help you?" - said the receptionist - and the next scene is at the destination.

But sometimes you can't skip the dialogue completely. For example, your character got some inaccurate information from the receptionist, and it has some relevance later in the plot. In this case, you have to either reproduce the full dialogue, or somehow get around it. "This is not the right room," - "But the receptionist said it should be here!"

Sometimes, it gets worse, and you just can't have the full dialogue in your book, but still have to provide some kind of recap. For example, your character is having a boring hour-long meeting with a lawyer, and there is no feasible way to write up the whole dialogue. But this meeting is important, and information provided there can't be ignored. So, your characters walks into the meeting, and then, after a short timeskip, he's thinking about this meeting and what was discussed there. Or, in case of a screenplay, discussing it with someone.

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