Word to the Wise


Along with being an avid reader, I am also a huge fan of movies and television. In fact, television spurred my creative writing juices at an early age. From playing pretend to writing scripts, I was a fanfiction writer before I knew what fanfiction was. I admit it, yes, I cut my teeth on fanfiction, and I will say that I am very proud of my fanfiction writing. One of the biggest things I learned from visual media is the art of dialog. Simple conversation and the interaction of characters are pivotal in any story. Many writers have done the exercise of writing a story with just dialog. A few months ago, I challenged you to write without dialog. Now I challenge you to try and write without a visual cue, just two people having a conversation. 

Dialog is an art in itself. The theatre has embraced the idea of conversation. For example, the play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett. Here is an example of artful dialog.

ESTRAGON:
    (giving up again). Nothing to be done.
VLADIMIR:
    (advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart). I'm beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I've tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle. (He broods, musing on the struggle. Turning to Estragon.) So there you are again.
ESTRAGON:
    Am I?
VLADIMIR:
    I'm glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever.
ESTRAGON:
    Me too.
VLADIMIR:
    Together again at last! We'll have to celebrate this. But how? (He reflects.) Get up till I embrace you.
ESTRAGON:
    (irritably). Not now, not now.
VLADIMIR:
    (hurt, coldly). May one inquire where His Highness spent the night?
ESTRAGON:
    In a ditch.
VLADIMIR:
    (admiringly). A ditch! Where?
ESTRAGON:
    (without gesture). Over there.
VLADIMIR:
    And they didn't beat you?
ESTRAGON:
    Beat me? Certainly they beat me.
VLADIMIR:
    The same lot as usual?
ESTRAGON:
    The same? I don't know.
VLADIMIR:
    When I think of it . . . all these years . . . but for me . . . where would you be . . . (Decisively.) You'd be nothing more than a little heap of bones at the present minute, no doubt about it.
ESTRAGON:
    And what of it?
VLADIMIR:
    (gloomily). It's too much for one man. (Pause. Cheerfully.) On the other hand what's the good of losing heart now, that's what I say. We should have thought of it a million years ago, in the nineties.
ESTRAGON:
    Ah stop blathering and help me off with this bloody thing.
VLADIMIR:
    Hand in hand from the top of the Eiffel Tower, among the first. We were respectable in those days. Now it's too late. They wouldn't even let us up. (Estragon tears at his boot.) What are you doing?
ESTRAGON:
    Taking off my boot. Did that never happen to you?
VLADIMIR:
    Boots must be taken off every day, I'm tired telling you that. Why don't you listen to me?
ESTRAGON:
    (feebly). Help me!
VLADIMIR:
    It hurts?
ESTRAGON:
    (angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
VLADIMIR:
    (angrily). No one ever suffers but you. I don't count. I'd like to hear what you'd say if you had what I have.
ESTRAGON:
    It hurts?
VLADIMIR:
    (angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
ESTRAGON:
    (pointing). You might button it all the same.
VLADIMIR:
    (stooping). True. (He buttons his fly.) Never neglect the little things of life.

Read more here

With the exception of some action cues, the conversation tells the story, and it is real dialog. It is easy, fluid, and sporadic. People are not textbook. They are unfocused, flighty, prone to babbling, and random. Even with the characteristic human flaws, we are still able to covey ourselves, our ideas, and our environment by the words we speak. If you have ever attempted to write a script, it is much more difficult than it seems. A script, as compared to novel, does not have the luxury of inner thought, unless of course you are Hunter S. Thompson. It is a visual medium, so the tactile immersion of words is missing. All the author has is dialog to convey the feeling of surroundings, emotions, and conflict. Your objection-- you have the visual medium to enhance the story where in books you only have the description. 

So let’s address this shall we. If you think about it, what movies and or television shows stay with us the longest? The ones with the story. Which ones get quoted the most often? The ones with the best dialog of course! Don’t believe me? Here are some examples.

1. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." (Clark Gable (as Rhett Butler), in Gone With the Wind (1939))

2. "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." (Marlon Brando (as Don Vito Corleone), in The Godfather (1972))

3. "You don't understand! I could've had class. I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am."
(Marlon Brando (as Terry Malloy), in On The Waterfront (1954))

4. "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." (Judy Garland (as Dorothy Gale), in The Wizard of Oz (1939))

5. "Here's looking at you, kid." (Humphrey Bogart (as Rick Blaine), in Casablanca (1942))

So now that we have addressed the importance of dialog, how do you master it? You listen. Listen to everything. Pay attention to the way people talk in real life, on television, and in movies. Consciously think about the dialog as it is happening, and write it out in your head. A great way to practice is to turn on your favorite show or movie and write out a scene of the dialog as it is happening. Watch how the intent of the scene comes across via the dialog.  Play around, see what happens, and always be open to something new!


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1 comment:

  1. Great article, Amy! #Thanks @AmyJRomine 

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for taking the time to leave a sassy comment. It's truly appreciated. I aim to get back to you as soon as possible -- Sassy :)