The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Monday, October 20, 2014

All He Wanted Was Some Wheat Toast

       I went to The Write Direction writing conference in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday. It was hosted by Columbia's chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild. I went to several great sessions, but on today's post, I'm focusing in on a dialogue workshop led by Terry Allen.





     We looked at some screenplays that had been rewritten. In the clip (above) from the movie Five Easy Pieces, the Nicholson character really wanted some wheat toast. The earlier version of the script had wheat toast buried in the middle of the dialogue line--in several dialogue lines. It was revised to end with "wheat toast" each time.

* Put what is most important at the end or at the beginning. The weakest part of the dialogue line is in the middle.

However, if you have a character that is weak (lacks confidence, for example), have them say the most important part in the middle of their line.

    Think about it. If Rhett Butler had said, "My dear, I don't give a damn, and I'm telling you as frankly as I possibly can," that doesn't have the same impact as the line he does hurl at Scarlett.

     When your character is talking, as a writer, you should be very clear what each character wants, even if they're not openly sharing that with others.

Every character should want something... even if it's only a glass of water.
                                                                      ---Kurt Vonnegut

* Why would a character ask directly for what they want? Why wouldn't they?

       Consider the text and the subtext. What is getting in the way of a character getting what they want? What are they willing to do in order to get what they want?

* What is not said has huge meaning.

       Here is a bit of dialogue I was composing for you am bluffing you with:

"I love these cookies. They remind me of the cookies my mother baked, but of course, she's been dead since I was thirteen, when she died in a fiery car crash caused by a man who was stalking her. I really shouldn't eat so many of these cookies, because my verbally abusive husband will denigrate me when I get home, but of course I cannot control my eating because I've got an addictive personality. It used to be booze...then it was meth. Now, it's mashed potatoes, which I gobble by the bowlful to comfort myself after giving birth to conjoined twins a year ago," Maggie said sobbingly.

* Don't use dialogue as an information dump.

                          and

* If you feel the need to explain how a character is saying something, the dialogue is not strong enough. Avoid taglines.

      And make sure each character has a distinct voice. Consider their word choice, choice of phrases and sentence structure. Each of the characters should not sound like a carbon copy of you. (This is something I struggle with.)

* Let go. Let the characters speak through you. Not as you.


       
      What are some dialogue lines from movies, television shows, books or your own writing that is memorable? Stealin' Sioux wants to know...

16 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for those valuable lessons, Sioux. Editors of poetry look for strong words att he beginning and ends of lines, also. It keeps a writer on her tootsies.

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    1. Linda--I'll take your word for it, since I have lousy luck when it comes to poetry and publication... ;)

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  2. Very interesting points. End/Beginning of line...something I am weak on.

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  3. Aargh! More stuff to focus on in order to improve my writing. (And my friends don't understand why I say writing is hard work.) Great points--thanks for sharing. I think. *sigh* Now I have to edit chapter one again.

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    1. Lisa--Isn't it wonderful when yet another thing is piled on our writerly plate?

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  4. Sioux, you did a great job organizing and presenting these notes. I read your earlier posts, then got interrupted and now I can't remember them. Ha. But what you have to say is always interesting, entertaining, and enriching. So thank you.

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  5. Thanks for sharing those great tips! I too struggle with creating distinct voices.

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  6. Now you've gone and done it. You've rendered my fingers virtually speechless. There are so many bits of dialogue that I love. Like the banter in the original True Grit between Strother Martin and Kim Darby over a horse that she sells him for a profit in the morning, but wants to buy back at a bargain in the afternoon.

    When I toy with fiction, I don't have trouble keeping the voices straight. I always have someone in mind, and can see them saying the words. Maybe an actor, or an old friend, or a past student. It's not like they've actually said what my characters say...just the way they talk.

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    1. Val--You Seinfeld me all the time. Now you're True Gritting me as well. I had no idea it was Strother Martin who played that wheeler-dealer. (I was too in love with Glen Campbell at the time to see anyone else.)

      Actually, one of my favorite dialogue lines from that movie comes when Rooster is facing the bad guys alone but double-handedly. He gives the Duvall and his gang some advice about their weapons, and makes dispersions about their mothers...

      I bet you know which one I'm talking about...

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  7. Dang. What happened to my comment? So, again: I LOVE that scene, love that movie. I think about maybe three of those dialogue tips while writing, but I suspect we do a lot of that on a subconscious level.

    And my favorite scene/dialogue comes from Dirty Harry (there are lots of 'em) but I'll start with "Do you feel lucky, punk?" (I added the Youtube link before; maybe that's what prevented the comment from posting. So I won't do that again.)

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    1. Cathy--That's Clint Eastwood at his finest...

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  8. "You make me want to be a better man." (Jack Nicholson to Helen Hunt in As Good as it Gets) That line prompts the romantic part of my soul to absolutely melt.

    Pat
    Critter Alley

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    1. Pat--I forgot that line, but it's a favorite one of mine as well.

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Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by...