A LESSON FROM THE MOVIES


A LESSON FROM THE MOVIES

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Sometimes I think I should write screenplays instead of novels. Screenplays are mostly dialogue, and dialogue is my favorite part of writing. You can learn a lot about dialogue by watching movies: flow, tension, emotions. The main difference between it and a book is that the audience can see who’s speaking and their reactions, which help convey the emotion of the scene. In a book, you don’t have that luxury. You convey emotion through tags and action beats. And stories are all about emotion.

Here’s an exercise for you: take a piece of dialogue from a movie and write it as if it was in a book by adding tags and action beats. Write so that a person who hasn’t seen the movie can get the emotion of the scene.

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Let’s Talk


Let’s Talk

By Nandy Ekle

 

“Hi. My name is Main Character.” He raised his hand in a wave.

“Hi, Main Character. My name is Nemesis.” He nodded toward Main Character.

Main Character smiled. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Thank you. It’s good to meet you too.”

Main Character looked past Nemesis’ shoulder and Nemesis looked down at the floor. The clock ticked an awkward moment.

Main Character jerked his face back to Nemesis’ face as a flash of thought passed through his mind. “We’re supposed to inspire writers to write a believable dialogue.”

A light snapped on in Nemesis’ eyes. “Oh. Do you mean, like, actually sounding like two people having a conversation instead of sounding like two sides of the same person?”

“Yes. That’s right.” Main Character smiled while his head moved up and down.

“I see.  How do you think a good writer does that?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Main Character said, “Well, I think they have to just almost actually hear two different people speaking and write what they say exactly the way it’s said.”

Nemesis’ eyes darken slightly. “Ya’ know, Mainy, I do b’lieve you jes’ hit da nail rat own its big ol’ head.”

“Yes. And that means the writer needs to know his characters very well.” He took a coupe of steps backward.

“Yore galdern rat ‘bout dat dar rule.” Nemesis took a couple of steps forward toward Main Character.

Main Character turned his head and looked over his shoulder for the door behind him, then he looked back at Nemesis. His brow was lined with worry. “So, do you have any advice to add to that?”

Nemesis stopped moving and lookd up into space as if an idea would appear like a light bulb. “Well . . . yeah. They prolly need to make shore dem readers know who’s tawkin’ when. ‘Cause, like us? We ain’t just standing still flappin’ our gums. We’re acchully doing’ sumpin’”

“That’s right,” Main Character said.

Nemesis grinned a dark toothy grin. Yeah.” He turned to look at the person reading their dialogue. “Got that, reader? Now.” He paused and leaned forward until his nose nearly touched the reader’s nose. The dark light came back to his eyes. “Go do it!”

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

SAY WHAT?


SAY WHAT?

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Characters are supposed to sound different from each other, but if your readers have to reread the dialect to understand what’s being said, you’ve taken them out of the story. But how can you write a dialect and still make it readable?

One way is shown in Sharon Ewell Foster’s novel, Ain’t No River. In this example, Garvin, a female lawyer in Washington, D.C., is having a conversation with Miz Maizie, a janitor, in the ladies’ restroom:

“You let me know, now. I’ll call for some help.” The “I’ll” sounded more like “Iya” and the “help” sounded more like “hep.”

“No, Miz Maizie, I’m still above rim.”

“You know, Garvin, I heard of lots of little children—” Garvin heard chirren—”falling into them old-fashioned outhouses, and you ain’t too much bigger than they were.”

Foster does not spell out what the words sound like in the dialogue. Instead, she describes how certain words sound to Garvin. Otherwise, she uses word placement to convey Miz Maizie’s southern dialect, and this technique continues throughout the book. This way makes the dialogue easier to read while still maintaining its uniqueness.

The People Speak – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

How many of you readers out there never talk to yourselves? You never have a running conversation in your head, never ask yourself questions, never tell yourself your opinion, never remind yourself of your to-do list? 

The inside of my head sometimes sounds like a throng of voices. I don’t mean, like, hearing voices telling me to do bad things, as in schizophrenia or psychosis. I mean it’s like the two sides of my brain talking to each other, so much so that I need to listen to music with lyrics while I work my day job, just to keep the creative side out of the analytical side’s business.

Our characters, who we want our readers to believe are real people, are exactly the same. They have inner thoughts the same as we do. And these inner thoughts can be very important to our story. It can tell us more about the character, it can move the story along, it can even be a fantastic vehicle for flashbacks and important back story. 

There are some types of story where inner dialogue is critical. I read a story once about a woman with a mental syndrome causing her problems. She desperately wanted to heal from that, so she took a trip in order to come to terms with this. The problem I had with the story was there was very little inner dialogue to show her healing, her metamorphosis. The author didn’t set the problem up very well as far as symptoms in the beginning, and suddenly, at the end, she was well. I didn’t feel like had made that emotional journey with her.

Another thing to remember when using inner dialogue is to keep your character’s voice, speech, personality, and view of the world intact. If your character has a secret side to them, that’s wonderful, but give us a clue to this secret in their outside layers. Then, with the inner dialogue, you can let it out flamboyantly. But always remember their view of the world.

Back to Liane Moriarty. In Big Little Lies, one of the main characters has this secret side to herself. She’s seems a little scatter-brained on the outside, a little, like, “whatever . . .” But through her inner dialogue, we learn she is guarding a terrible secret that she doesn’t know how to handle. For excellent examples of all kinds of dialogue, read Big Little Lies. 

Dialect


Dialect

by Adam Huddleston

The literary term this week is: dialect.  This word is simply defined as the pronunciation, grammar, and spelling of a particular people.  Dialect is one facet that separates groups of people from one another.  Using dialect effectively increases the level of characterization and leads to more enjoyment by the reader.  

Many authors have used regional dialects well.  The first author that comes to my mind is Mark Twain.  If you’ve ever read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, you can almost feel Southern speech dripping off the page.  My favorite author, Stephen King, uses speech patterns and phrases often heard in the northern New England states.   

One word of advice: if you give a character a specific dialect, be cautious that it is one generally understood by your audience and not what you think it sounds like.  For example, some may believe that all Southerners use the term “ain’t” or drop the “g” off of the ending of words.  Many do, but don’t fall into the trap of stereotyping.

Hopefully, the proper use of dialect will flesh out your characters.  Happy writing!

Let Your Words Speak


Outtakes 371

Let Your Words Speak

By Cait Collins

 

Imagine a novel or short story that has no dialogue.  No verbal interaction between the characters to move the action. Dialogue is action.  It provides emotion and insight into the needs and desires of the players.  Writing dialogue can be the hardest writing, but it can be the most rewarding.  Choose your words carefully.  Avoid trite phrases.  Write in an active voice and eliminate as many helping verbs as possible. Allow your words to direct the emotion so that exclamation marks are not necessary.

Dialogue tags are needed to avoid confusion as to who is speaking, but write so that the reader doesn’t need stage directions such as shouted, banged, slapped, slammed, cried, and so forth.  Allow the dialogue to set the scene and create the mood.  For example:

“You chose to end our marriage.  “I accept your decision, but I’ll always wonder if we could have salvaged the relationship.”

“Are you trying to make me feel guilty, Mark?”

“No. That would be impossible.  A person with no soul feels no guilt or remorse.” Mark put on his glasses and began reading the newspaper.  “Have a nice life, Beth. I just hope the next sap you target gets a better deal. “Goodbye and don’t forget to leave your keys.”

The door bell chimed.  Mark looked toward the glass door.

“On second thought, forget the keys.  The locksmith’s here.”

Revealing Dialogue


Revealing Dialogue

Rory C. Keel

 

Dialogue is a way to reveal a character without a narrative description. As in real life, when a person opens their mouth and speaks, they show us what kind of person they really are. An effective dialogue will use words that portray the mind, heart, and personality of the characters that are speaking. In dialogue, the conversation will drive the story forward and reveal to the reader motive, concern, and reasoning of the story characters.

WHAT DIALOGUE CAN DO


WHAT DIALOGUE CAN DO

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Look at this section of dialogue from Brian Jacques’ The Legend of Luke,part of the Redwallanimal fantasy series. How many characters are speaking? What can you learn about them and the plot? I’ve removed the tags and numbered the lines for reference.

 

  1. “Et be a gurt pity, ‘cos we’m be orfully near ee seashores. Oi cudd feel et in moi diggen claws.”
  2. “But we can’t go any farther now.”
  3. “…Cheer up, pretty one, or you’ll have it rainin’. Leave it to me, I’ve got a plan!”
  4. “You’m got ee plan, zurr?
  5. “Why d’ye think they call me Prince of Mousethieves? Of course, I’ve got a plan, you ole tunnel-grubber!”
  6. “I hope ’tis a plan that’ll work, matey?”
  7. “Oh indeed, an’ did you ever know any o’ my plans that didn’t work, O swinger of swords?”
  8. “Aye, lots of them, O pincher of pies!”
  9. “Well, this won’t be one of that sort, O noble whiskers!”
  10. “It had better not be, O pot-bellied soup-swigger. Now tell on.”

Dialogue has two purposes: to advance the plot and show characterization. The above passage does both. How many characters did you count? There are four. Dinny speaks lines 1 and 4; Trimp, 2; Gonff, 3, 5, 7, and 9; and Martin, 6, 8, and 10.

What did you learn about the characters? Dinny seems a little slow by the speech pattern and is equipped for digging tunnels. (He’s a mole.) Trimp is beautiful. Gonff is an overconfident, plump mouse who steals pies. Martin knows how to use a sword and has whiskers. (He’s also a mouse). Martin and Gonff are good friends.

What’s going on? The characters are going to the seashore, but something has prevented them from continuing their journey which requires a plan to overcome. (They must travel through a wood filled with savage killers.) Do they make it? You’ll have to read the book.

Here’s an exercise for you. Look at the dialogue passages in your favorite novels, block out the tag lines, and see what you can learn from them.

The People Speak – Part 1


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 1

By Nandy Ekle

Believable characters have believable dialogue. Your characters should sound like real people, not the narrator. The narrator (you, the writer) has their own voice, rhythm, and way of putting words together; the characters do too.  

This is critical. Without effective dialogue, the characters remain paper dolls. And this is another place where your people watching skills and whatever knowledge of psychology you have is key.

We are writing words for people to read. And since those reading our words cannot hear the words as they come out of our mouths, we have to rely on the readers’ imaginations to fill in the sound. And this is why it is critical to make the characters sound like real people.

Each character has a distinct and personal way of speaking. You may have someone who speaks boldly enunciating each syllable of each word as if they are on a stage and want the entire theater to hear everything said. You may have a character who is timid and hates to be seen or heard. You may have a comic who turns everything into a joke. 

For excellent examples of distinct dialogue which reveals the characters deep down, read anything by Liane Moriarty. Ms. Moriarty is an Australian writer, and her culture and language are different from mine, but humans are humans. Her stories are about characters who act, react, and speak to each other. And they are all very different. And there is never any doubt who is talking when they talk. 

In Big Little Lies, you have the older, brasher, standing-on-a-stage character; the timid, shy, don’t-look-at-me character, and the strong, intelligent, caring character who carries a terrifying secret. Even though this is printed word instead of pictures, we know exactly who is speaking as soon as they open their mouths.

Next week we’ll look at the importance of inner dialogue.

Your homework: Watch and listen to people having a conversation. Pay attention to body language, words, dialect, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These are just some of the things that makes every person’s speech unique.

Character Chart


Character Chart

by Adam Huddleston

I’m not sure where I received this template for a character chart, but I wanted to share it with everyone.  It is only the first two sections of the chart, but if you’d like the rest, feel free to contact me.  Happy writing!

character chart sheet1