I’m starting a short series of acting tips today. Based on my experience of training actors full time, I realised and recognise there are some essential tips that are easy to learn but that often don’t get applied due to a lack of knowledge or experience. They remain the unknown unknowns in acting.
Repetition in dialogue is one of these unknowns. If you see the following in a script:
Chris considers for a second.
CHRIS: No. No. No.
It is tempting to give all three of these “No”s the same weight, tone, importance, intention etc.
But the writer would not have written THREE No if their intention was the same because one No can do that by itself.
If you find repetition in the text, you get to play with what it means. Does the character grow in confidence?
CHRIS (Gently) No. (Stronger) No. (Firmly) No.
Or do they do the opposite and lose confidence. How does the intention change underneath the lines, how does the meaning change from one No to the next?
Take this line:
CHRIS: I promise I’ll help you. I promise.
Why does Chris repeat the words “I promise.”? What is the intention behind that line when it is spoken the second time? Does he lose faith in himself, does he need to convince them more and so repeats it with greater conviction?
The writer has gifted you a decision to make. What will you say? What choice will you make? That’s where you need to be a creative person. Repeating it the same shows a lack of experience, but also a lack of understanding of the construction of dialogue and the motivation of the character.
Whenever you repetition in your script, it gives you a chance to be an artist with the words of the writer, take the opportunity to consider why the repetition is there and what you can do with it to show the internal life of the role.
To You The Best
Mark Westbrook is the author of Truth in Action.