"It’s like a lot of films one sees today, not that I see very many, but to me they are what I call 'photographs of people talking'."
Virtually all works in most narrative artistic media will feature at least some amount of talking at some point. Generally, in a plot-driven story the dialogue tends to be secondary to the plot, themes, setting etc. while subtly adding to all.
And then there are these, works in which dialogue and speech predominate. A typical scene in works like this consists of two or more characters talking to each other (or sometimes one character speaking by him- or her-self, as in the case of one-man theatrical works).
Works like this tend to be based heavily around the Seinfeldian Conversation
. If the writer of the work turns to this trope because the writer in question finds they have a facility for writing witty, amusing dialogue, the work is likely to turn into a World of Snark
. Genres in which this trope is particularly common include the Courtroom Drama
or Slice of Life
At what point does a work qualify for this trope? Difficult to say, and varies with the medium: a play is usually expected to have much more dialogue than a film, for example (except in more experimental theatre). As a rule of thumb, if a typical
scene in the work in question consists of not much happening aside from one or more characters speaking, it's probably this trope. That is to say, a significant majority of the work consists of speech of some kind.
See also all of the various Dialogue
tropes. Closely related to Talking Heads
. See also Character Filibuster
for when a single character talks for an extended period of time. Compare Script Fic
, Log Fic
and Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue
(a conversation taking place in an apparent vacuum), unusually dialogue-heavy sub-genres of Fan Fic
. Narrating the Obvious
and Talking Is a Free Action
are examples of when too much dialogue break's a viewer's Willing Suspension of Disbelief
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Creators with a fondness for this trope
- Aaron Sorkin (to the extent that the rapid-fire dialogue that is his trademark is often referred to as "Sorkinese"):
- The West Wing. Each season has an overarching Story Arc, albeit with a sufficiently episodic structure to avoid alienating new viewers. The plot of each episode will generally be entirely driven by dialogue, coupled with conversations between staff members about social and political issues. This series helped to popularize the Walk and Talk technique, a tracking shot which consists of characters walking from one place to another while providing rapid-fire exposition.
- The Social Network. The film revolves around the founding of Facebook. Most of the running time consists of snarky dialogue between the principal characters, with a Framing Device providing additional dialogue (and sometimes narration). There was so much dialogue in the screenplay, in fact, that director David Fincher ordered the actors to speak much faster than they would ordinarily in order to trim down the running time.
- Kevin Smith:
- The Clerks movies: The bulk of the films consist of Dante and Randal talking about nothing in particular. Jay and Silent Bob, various customers and other assorted characters filter in and out, but there's very little in the way of physical action. This is to less of an extent in Clerks 2 (which even includes a choreographed dance scene), but it is still largely dialogue driven.
- Mallrats. Brodie and T.S. wander around a mall for a day. There is a plot, and various other characters appear, but that's the main thrust of the film.
- Chasing Amy. More plot-driven than either of the previous, focussed on the romantic relationship between Holden and Alyssa. There is still abundant dialogue, allowing for development of the two leads (and Holden's partner Banky) and Seinfeldian Conversations about love, romance and sexuality.
- Quentin Tarantino's films contain a great amount of conversation, occasionally intercut with brief moments of shocking violence. There's a reason his films are sometimes nicknamed "talkies".
- Inglourious Basterds starts with talk, continues with talk, and ends with talk, so much that the usual Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene balance is reversed. Indeed, the action scenes are brutal but brief, and many of the conversations are about insignificant topics, instead serving to increase the suspense as the person being spoken to slowly realizes that they're doomed. Notable examples include Hans Landa's speech about how he's learned to hunt Jews, or the conversation at a bar where Allied spies struggle with a Gestapo officer who has chosen to sit with them.
- Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino's first directorial film, focuses on a group of criminals dealing with the fallout of a botched heist. The narrative hops between scenes before and after the heist, but never actually shows the heist in question (save for a few bits and pieces of the characters' escapes.) The movie is left with a conversation-focused plot.
- Death Proof: Besides the two driving scenes, the film is almost entirely talking. This was intended as part of its pastiche of grindhouse films, which were often very talky due to low budgets. Unlike the previous two examples, whose talky scene were praised and considered strong points of the two, Death Proof had this aspect criticized, though it was less because of it's talky nature, and more because of the relative lack of plot, that's it's considered the weakest of his films something even Tarantino himself has admitted.
- Richard Linklater:
- Before Sunrise. Two characters, Jesse and Celine, wander around Vienna, chatting about nothing in particular and slowly getting to know each other. The sequel Before Sunset, released 9 years later, continues the trend and moves the setting to Paris, where the duo reunites and catches up - fittingly, nine years later. 9 years after that (in 2012) a third movie was released, Before Midnight, which does it again.
- Waking Life. A disjointed series of conversations between various characters (most of whom are unnamed) about topics encompassing philosophy, psychology, consciousness and ethics.
- Williams Street, [adult swim] own in-house production studio, is known for this style, due to the No Budget Limited Animation, many of the original comedy animated series, mainly from the early years, relied more on witty writing, especially in the case of Space Ghost Coast to Coast or Sealab2021, which used Stock Footage mostly redubbed footage, or made only small alterations (often in the case of the latter, adding in Stock Footage explosions or adding in blood and violence. Later shows, such as The Venture Bros., Metalocalypse and Superjail, are much more fluid and dynamic (and especially bloodier), due to larger budgets.
Anime and Manga
- Death Note consists primarily of dialogue and mind games between Chessmasters. And death.
- .hack//SIGN became rather infamous for its heavy use of dialogue (there are episodes where literally nothing happens except characters meeting and talking about things) upon release. Fan prefer to think of it as a brilliant allegory of online communities in general.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is usually a particularly talky show, focusing more on the case of the week, the Myth Arc or what it means to have a Ghost in the Shell ((including the Season Finale of the first season, though admittedly, it was more of a Dénouement Episode to the previous one's climax.) Note that much of the franchise is pretty talky in general, with the movies being exceptions, and even then, the two are particularly packed with talk.
- Legend of Galactic Heroes mostly alternates between battle and speech episodes.
- Bakemonogatari can have entire episodes with nothing, but the characters shooting the shit. An action scene might be thrown in occasionally (And even then fight scenes tend to be Subverted, such as the Rain Demon's fight being shown through stylistic text, or the Talking the Monster to Death that happens with someone's future self. Yeah, it's a weird show.) after which they resume talking.
- Hellsing does have a great deal of action and violence, the characters certainly do love to make great speeches and hammy monologues. For every action scene, there's at least two scenes of the same length of nothing but dialogue... hammy, dramatic dialogue. Oftentimes, the characters will stop in the middle of a fight to rant about something. It really makes the work similar to an old theater production.
- Most of the important themes of The Killing Joke, such as what drives men to madness and the exact nature of the relationship between Batman and the Joker, are conveyed via monologues, bits of which are even given an Ironic Echo in the latter parts of the story.
- All of Chris Claremont's comics.
- My Dinner With Andre. Two men have dinner in a restaurant and have a conversation. That's it.
- In the Company of Men. The film centres on a sort-of Love Triangle between Chad, Howard and Christine, which is developed almost entirely through dialogue. Most physical actions happen offscreen.
- 12 Angry Men. The twelve jurors in a murder trial debate whether or not the defendant is guilty.
- Annie Hall, as specifically noted by Roger Ebert:
"Few viewers probably notice how much of Annie Hall consists of people talking, simply talking. They walk and talk, sit and talk, go to shrinks, go to lunch, make love and talk, talk to the camera, or launch into inspired monologues like Annie's free-association as she describes her family to Alvy."
- The King's Speech. To be expected really, considering the entire film revolves around speech therapy.
- In The Breakfast Club five high-school teenagers spend most of their 8 hour detention getting to know each other by talking about their backstories and life circumstances.
- Memento. At its core a Psychological Thriller, it is nevertheless driven forward primarily by dialogue. Roughly half of the film, for example, consists of the protagonist sitting in a hotel room providing an unidentified character with Backstory over the phone.
- The Conversation is a psychological thriller that revolves around a surveillance expert working a very hard case, he records the conversation and examines it over and over again via Rewind, Replay, Repeat.
- The Man from Earth is a film entirely set in and around a cabin house, mainly the living room, with the various characters - all of whom are either college professors or grad students - doing nothing but conversing. The premise is that the retiring professor claims he's actually 14,000 years old and has survived from prehistoric times all the way to the modern day, and the others try to understand whether he's telling the truth or not.
- Good Night, and Good Luck., centered around the conflict between journalists and McCarthyism, with all the tension and action occurring through dialogue or stock footage of people talking.
- Margin Call. Pretty much all dialogue, most of it even focused around the same few topics. Considering it focuses on a roughly 24-hour period focused on one particular thing/event that has to be explained to most of the characters, this makes sense.
- Mindwalk, three people walking about and having a Seinfeldian Conversation.
- The Russian film What Men Talk About chronicles the conversations that a group of men have during a road trip from Moscow to Odessa.
- Glengarry Glen Ross is a very dialogue-heavy adaptation of a stage play. There is very little action, or even use of props other than telephones.
- Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell, a pastiche of Roger Zelazny, exaggerates Zelazny's tendency to have long sections of dialog with zero added text, by having entire chapters which consist entirely of pure dialog, leaving the reader to infer the identity of the speakers and their tone, location, and actions from what they say. Even fight scenes are presented purely through dialogue.
- Atlas Shrugged. "Who is John Galt?" This one is particularly notable for featuring, among other things, a monologue which goes on uninterrupted for fifty pages.
- The novel Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? is all dialogue. (It's an homage to Radio Drama; the title is a Catch Phrase from The Lone Ranger.)
- In The History of Middle-earth, the short story "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" ("Debate/Converse of Finrod and Andreth") consists entirely of the two characters (an elven king and a mortal woman) discussing mortality and theology for 19 pages.
- A lot of older works (such as Plato's Dialogues, Galileo's treatise on heliocentrism) are written in dialogue form, generally this means that the author wanted his work to be something directed at the common man, by using the dialogue format to mimic the average Joe's thinking process and explain himself accordingly.
- Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War contains a number of sections which consist mainly of dialogues of speeches (as in: orations). A good example is the meeting in Sparta as to whether or not Athens had broken the peace and whether Sparta and her allies should go to war against Athens and her allies. Here first the Corinthian envoys hold a speech calling for war, then an Athenian delegation justifies their polis's actions, then the Spartan king Archidamos advises circumspection, and finally the ephor Sthelenaidas (in the shortest speech, of course) urges to action, before calling for the final vote. Note that here, as in everywhere in the work, the speeches are not historic, but written by Thucydides to sum up the salient points of the speakers' thoughts.
- Closet plays, being explicitly written to be only read and not acted out, tends to be extremely dialogue heavy.
Live Action TV
- In Treatment is composed entirely of sessions between a therapist and his various patients.
- The Trip. It's practically 100% conversations: at restaurants, in the car, on the phone, etc. There is also basically no plot - the only thing that happens is that Steve and his long-distance girlfriend end up breaking up, although they were already essentially broken up at the beginning of the series anyway.
- Gilmore Girls. Many scenes on this relationship-focused show were just characters discussing things that have happened/may happen at another point in the episode/season. Not only were these conversations frequent, they were relentlessly fast-paced and quirky (earning the show comparisons to Aaron Sorkin, above), a style parodied in this MAD TV sketch.
- In The Sopranos, Tony's sessions with his therapist are one of the pillars of the show; talking about his issues and concerns is both a valve of escape for him and an insight on Tony's backstory, soul and mental process. There is occasional violence, but most of the management and character exploration is done via personal meetings and face-to-face conversations.
- Dan & Becs features almost nothing but Dan and Becs making entries in their respective video diaries.
- Babylon 5 had two episodes which were centered primarily on dialog, in one setting: "Comes the Inquisitor" and "Intersections in Real Time". Both were interrogations, in differing contexts.
- Community's Bottle Episodes tend to fall into this category.
- In "Cooperative Calligraphy", the group bicker over Annie's lost pen, which quickly escalates after they lock down the study room. Bickering turns to arguments, accusations fly, secrets are revealed, and everyone strips down to their underwear.
- In "Intro To Knots" the group try to sweet-talk their history professor to give them a passing grade. Until he gets tied to a chair, and instead they find themselves manipulated this way and that by Cornwalis, while he tries to talk the group into turning on one another.
- Older Than Feudalism: This is a popular format for philosophical works (particularly in Ancient Greece). For example, Plato's works are presented as conversations between two parties. Other examples include George Berkeley's Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous and David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
- All radio drama, obviously. Even when they're action-packed, by necessity they're about people describing the action. Though when there is a Narrator, whether his speech counts as dialogue is up to debate.
- Awkward Conversations With Animals I've Fucked is an hour-long monologue by a guy crossing the line twice.
- As noted above, one-man plays fit this trope almost by their very nature. Examples include Eamonn Morrissey's The Brother, an adaptation of the writings of Flann O'Brien for the stage.
- Faith Healer by Brian Friel is a series of four monologues by three characters. There is essentially zero physical action, aside from characters standing up and sitting down and the like.
- The Importance of Being Earnest. All of the scenes in the play consist almost entirely of dialogue, with very little physical action.
- Several plays by Samuel Beckett:
- Waiting for Godot. Two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for a third party named Godot (who never arrives), talking about various things in the meantime. Two other characters, Lucky and Pozzo, appear from time to time.
- The short play Not I stipulates that the entire theatre in which it is performed be cast in darkness with a single spotlight illuminating the mouth of a character named Mouth. The play consists entirely of a twenty-minute monologue by Mouth, with Beckett stipulating that they should speak so quickly that the audience could not possibly understand what they were saying.
- Glengarry Glen Ross (and its film adaptation). The plot revolves around a group of real estate agents who, on pain of being fired, are driven to increasingly unethical methods to ensure a sale. Most of both play and film consists largely of said agents discussing the situation with each other (and propositioning various prospective clients).
- Cormac McCarthy's play The Sunset Limited is almost all dialogue between two characters, to the point where it is sometimes described as "a novel in dramatic from".
- Frost/Nixon (movie and play) is based on the historical interviews after Nixon's scandals and resignation. The movie expands beyond the broadcast of the conversation with the setup and circumstances of said interviews.
- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (movie and play) is almost entirely driven by dialogue. Four characters share a dinner which quickly turns into a verbal war, a battle of bitter or witty insults between hosts and guests.
- The play Dial M for Murder (on which the Hitchcock film is based) is almost entirely dialogue.
- Witness for the Prosecution consists of various people talking in various combinations.
- The Laramie Project. The script is compiled from interviews, journal entries, news reports, etc.
- Visual Novels as a rule are known for this.
- Planescape: Torment is quite possibly the most dialogue-heavy game that isn't a Visual Novel. Entire plot threads, including some major boss fights, can be solved just by saying the right things to the right people.
- Galatea is entirely built around the best conversationalist NPC in the history of interactive fiction.
- Given the series's predilection for numerous (and often very lengthy) cutscenes, it should come as little surprise that the Metal Gear franchise often falls into this trope. In addition to regular cutscenes (which are quite frequently action-oriented) there are generally numerous codec sequences as well, in which the Player Character talks to another character via radio.
- Dear Esther consists entirely of gorgeous Scenery Porn coupled with long, rambling, Contemplate Your Navels-esque monologues/letters spoken aloud by the game's unnamed narrator.
- In its early seasons, Red vs. Blue was, essentially, "People in armor stand around saying funny things to each other." Later seasons have ramped up the action ratio, though the series still relies more on dialogue to move things along than action.
- The vast majority of Homestuck's plot is told through pesterlogs (and later, Dialoglogs) - records of online conversations between characters.
- Gag Dubs and Abridged Series in general are this. All that sets them apart from the original story is new dialogue (and possibly some creative editing), so the quality of that dialogue determines whether the series succeeds or fails.
- Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. Every scene is either one of Katz's therapy sessions or a conversation between him and one of his friends or family.
- Most animated shows from The Dark Age of Animation were dialogue heavy by necessity. Due to the small budgets and short production time, they had to make do with Limited Animation, so most of the effort went to writing the dialogue, often to the point of Narrating the Obvious. Chuck Jones derisively referred to these cartoons as "illustrated radio".
- The second season of The Boondocks seemed to be a lot heavier on dialogue than other seasons, having fewer action sequences and visual comedy. However, this may have been re-allotment of the budget, as when there are action sequences, they tend to be longer and more complex, with "The Return of Stinkmeaner" being made almost entirely of them.