Top Twenty Problem 16, Dialogue:
Relevant: Moving the Story Forward
Adapted from Writers Workshop Script Doctor
Copyright © 1994, 1997, 2001 Dorian Scott Cole
If a piece of dialogue can be cut without losing anything relevant to the story, then it should be cut. For example, if Jenny is getting married and while picking out wedding dresses she goes into a long discourse about types of fabric, then something important should come up later in the story which depends on the type of fabric, i.e., she buys material that catches fire easily and gets too close to a candle. If catching fire doesn't happen, then the discourse on fabric wasn't important to the story. However, if Jenny is the type who goes on and on about things, always eager to explain things to others, then the discourse on fabric is part of characterization and might be included. Another example of this, part of an act might be included by a stand-up comedian because it is part of his character. However, it's better if the comedian's subject matter has some relevance to the story.
A little bit of conversation goes a long way. I read one phone conversation that went on for five pages - five minutes - and contained almost nothing relevant to the story. The conversation was true to life; but movies aren't real, they focus on what is important. A page would have been more than sufficient.
Don't write information important to the audience in the scene description lines. Focus dialogue so it says what is necessary in a realistic way. Leave out all the beating around the bush most of us throw into actual conversations, and get to the point. If it can be cut with no impact on the story, then it should be cut.