Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Witchy, Twitchy Art

After attempting a bike ride in sixteen degree temperatures, I have discovered the following fact:

That although the solution to numb fingers and toes might well be better gloves and socks, it is more likely that the solution is: don't go bike riding when it's sixteen degrees!

And so I return to the indoor trainer / stationary bike. Though the weather is much improved indoors, the views are not, so I have been working through DVDs this winter. Last week was the Princess Bride, where I was delighted to find that the whip-smart dialog still makes me smile.

"I mean, if only we had a wheelbarrow."
"Where did put that wheelbarrow the albino had?"
"Over the albino."
[Sighs.] "Well, why didn't you list that among our assets in the first place?"

And there are more, so many more. Writing smart dialog is an art. You have to advance the story, demonstrate each character's viewpoint and specific idioms (accent, word choice, sentence length), thread some emotion into it (this can be humor, as above), and avoid boring the reader.

Even real dialog rarely measures up: take note of what we talk about at work, at the grocery store, while cooking dinner. BOR-ing! Thus we turn to fiction.

Here's another favorite: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

"Is that what you call giving cover?"
"Is that what you call running?"

We have William Goldman to thank in both cases. He has a rare ear for the witchy, twitchy art of dialog. It's hard to define it when it's right, but Lord, can we tell when it rings false.

"I knew you would come. Somehow I always hoped for it. Right here, in this kitchen of the house we built and where I grew up and then met you before everything else happened. And I-I-oh Samuel, the pain -- and I think -- no, I must finish, you must carry on, lads, don't give in to laziness and folly, you must -- carry -- on!"

Sheesh, writing bad dialog is almost as fun as writing good dialog. It's just MUCH EASIER.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That paragraph makes an excellent example of bad dialog, but the burning question rises: Will such kind of fine example hold for TV and/or movies?
Let's see. We could try to damage it a little more by making it blatantly ridiculous. I think I will call the female character Ethel.

Samuel: Ethel look at me! Stop addressing the dogs, they may hear you but THEY CAN'T UNDERSTAND YOU!
Ethel: Oohhh!!
Samuel: I have a confession to make.
Ethel: Yes dear.
Samuel: I am not the man you love. I am actually Sam's unknown_until_now evil twin brother: Elijah, [classic cheap trick] and I had made sure he never sees you again.
Ethel: Did you... did you kill him?
Elijah: Nnaaahhhh!!! Dumb as he is, he is still my brother. I sent him in a two week all expenses paid trip to Vegas. By the time he gets back --if ever-- you will be long gone.
Ethel: You evil man! But surely the mercy of god still lives within you!
Elijah: No. It doesn't. For #$%&/() sakes woman, will you just die and quit talking!

Dumb, infuriating and revolting to the mind, isn't it?
But now imagine some high-caliber actress like Sean Young as Ethel and whatever_Oscar_winning_actor_you_prefer as Elijah.
What? Hey, even a GREAT actress like Sean Young had made appearances in a soap opera. I imagine it is all related to the food habit we humans have.

Anyway, throw a few million dollars in Fx and picture a lava tsunami coming right at the cabin they are in. Add a good soundtrack and there you are.
That's the Hollywood criteria: big budget Fx, superb/good music, it doesn't matter if there is no dialog and even if there are not big names on it, IT WILL SELL right?
Well I don't think so, but I guess we will have to ask the green hornet.