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. 


  1. Hi Bridgette. An interesting post on dialogue, though I disagree that the one between yourself and your child would be seen as there being a lack of relationship. For me, the most simplest of dialogues, often shows the 'realness' (is that even word?) between the two.

    In saying that, I often write conversations regarding myself and my son. And although they're based on truth, they are also slighty embellished. This does makes me wonder though, what others think about the status of our relationship.

    Sorry for waffling on. :)

    1. Thanks for commenting Lily, I agree with you too actually. I think that it's just dumb funding bodies that think that the above sort of dialogue isn't real. Anyone with a kid recognises it :) You are a case in point.

  2. I had a really good comment a couple days ago, but my phone wouldn't let me put it in and now I can't remember what it was. So I'll start anew. You really do have the best conversations with Gabe. I think he gets it right from you. Non stop chatter, always interesting, usually entertaining and those rants (THE THING) - further proof the apple never falls far from the tree.

  3. Ah, dialogue! Nothing makes me cringe more than stupid dialogue. Cheesy lines exchanged by lovers. Too much conversation between characters who are holding guns at each other's heads. And, I agree that your dialogue with your son sounds very real. :)

  4. It is truly hard to believe some of the conversations I find myself in with my kids. Funny post! The alpacas cracked me up. But then, they always do. Ellen

    1. Me too. Sigh, they really are the funniest things I have ever seen and patted.

  5. hmm...a movie in which the child becomes an alpaca. like if kafka had a sense of humor. which clearly he didn't.'s tough. because if you DO simply translate what people say...most of us sound like idiots most of the time. Not to defend gabe, but i'm thinking about conversations between long-time friends, where it's sort of "do you remember the time when we went to that place, you know with the thing?" and the other person laughs and says "you mean the thing that did that weird whatever?" entire conversations...NO VERBS, NO SPECIFIC NOUNS. The entire novel of Twilight #1 (which i liked a lot, i confess) sounds like real teen-agers, talking. But real teen-agers, talking? boring. All of which is to say that you're right - dialogue is hard. Indeed. And that listening, hard, is the way to solve the dialogue problem.

    1. I think that a kind of sophisticated blend of the things we do say and the things we wished we said are what make dialogue good. I agree that us talking would be filled with the most appalling and boring pauses and "um's" and "so's"...

  6. My husband still begins conversations assuming that I know what he has been reading or thinking about for the preceding 5 minutes. I usually say something brilliant, like "huh?" But often, I just stare and wait for him to remember that he wasn't having that conversation out loud until the very last thing he said. That's our 'real' dialogue. I think what drives me ever crazier is that half the time I DO know what he is talking about, with no context.

    1. Men are exactly like children in that respect. It can be applied to objects too.. "Where is my ". They've looked and they can't find it, usually because it would require the moving of another object to reveal it.