Friday, January 27, 2012

Dialogue is stranger than fiction

Dialogue my friends. Dialogue. Ir's the holy grail of playwrighting and other wrighting, too. Why are some people so good at dialogue and others so appalling. For example why did the person who wrote the dialogue in the Spiderman animated series ever get a job? Why? It is the WORST! It is abominable.

Apart from being filled with cliches and awful repetition - it is intoned deathlessly by actors who sound as though they everything is a complete fucking shock to them. Probably the whole job was.
  • "How do I reverse the polarity on this thing!!!?"
  • "You can overcome it Eddie, inside you is a better person!!!!" (this to a sort of hybrid monster with a flicking tongue. It's clear that the only better person in him is the one he ate)
  • "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer!!!!" and Spiderman's response: "Enemies closer? What does that mean!!!?" Seriously? Really, Spiderman? You can't possibly guess what that might mean?  Can't even take a potshot at it, just a wild guess? Sigh. Later he says, shocked (after his enemy helps him out in some leaden manner) - "That's what she must have meant by keep your friends close and your enemies closer!!!". I have to leave the room before he says that because I involuntarily say "BAH!" if I stay and it annoys Gabe.
I am deeply concerned that my son listens to this twaddle - I believe that it is affecting his ability to communicate - 

this yesterday:

Gabe: How do I get the thing on the thing?
Me: What are you talking about?
Gabe: The thing.
Me: What thing?
Gabe: (Louder and more emphatically as if speaking to a stupid/deaf person) THE THING.

That exact conversation was had.

If someone asked me to write some dialogue for a child and his mother and I wrote that they would be discouraged by my lack of real relationship between the two characters. Even if I said "That was an exact conversation between my son and I". I think that they would then feel sorry for me at the lack of real relationship.

In fact it is that sort of dialogue that typifies conversations between parents and children. Children simply believe that parents will always know what they are referring to, this is because mostly, we do.

More dialogue that you can't make up:

(In the car - watching The Empire Strikes Back)
Gabe: Mummy what is the black guy's name
Me: (Wondering where the hell he learned "black guy") Um, Lando Calrissian
Gabe: No! The guy with the black, the black guy.
Me: (Relieved) Ohhhh, Darth Vader.

That is a lovable piece of miscommunication between a mother and child. It is hard to ever imagine actually coming up with that and writing it into a script. Apart from the fact that no one in their right mind writes a four year old into a script unless they want madness and chaos to ensue. Write an alpaca in, they are easier to control.

We are Alpaca's - easily the stupidest animal on earth.

My feeling about writers that are not good with dialogue is that they are the kind of people that have not yet learned to listen very well. My reasoning for this is sound, stay with me - dialogue is all around us. People say it. Just open your ears and shut your mouth and you will hear it.

Some of the best lines that I have ever heard, and then subsequently popped into a script, have been spoken by some unsuspecting stranger in a public place. Or by a family member, or a friend or just about anyone anywhere that I can overhear. Dialogue is best when it is natural - even if you are writing in a non naturalistic style - figure that one out. By natural I mean real or probable. Most of the scripts that I read are overwritten - people say too much or the same thing over and over again. Or what they say is hackneyed and unbelievable.

My point is this - dialogue is the stuff that we say all the time. The most beautiful dialogue says things neatly, and in a way that is often oblique. Or startlingly direct. It surprises, delights, moves and disturbs us. Much like Alpacas.

I added this so that I could Hangout with a bunch of nice bloggers who are clever and cool.