Wednesday, November 5, 2008

“Smokey the Bear must be a pyromaniac”…and other crazy things people blurt out.

Originally published on my myspace page.

Today's blog is about developing good and natural sounding dialogue. Writers tend to want to be witty through their characters' dialogue and try too hard, resulting in stale, unnatural lines. The best way to learn natural dialogue is through people-watching or engaging into a conversation with someone close.

Think of these questions when writing dialogue:
  • What does your character like to talk about?
  • What events are happening in a character's life?
  • What is your character's personality?
  • Is your character cynical, witty, monotone?
  • What is your character's age, gender, creed, and race?
  • What is your character's political background?
  • What is your character's socioeconomic status?
  • What is your character's daily routine?
  • Who hangs around your character?

A popular trend nowadays is to have a character blurt out witty, but disturbing one-liners, especially in comedies. Films and television shows that follow this trend with positive results include Little Miss Sunshine, Superbad, Juno, Ugly Betty, South Park, Wedding Crashers, and Mean Girls. This trend works because people do indeed say awkward things to their friends and family members. However, it is important not to overdo this in an attempt to cover up a lack of good dialogue. Your characters must be saying something relevant to the storyline.

Dialogue follows trends of the decade. In the 1930s and 40s, when film noir and screwball comedies were popular, characters were smart, cynical, fast-talking, and pessimistic. In the late 50s to early 60s, film dialogue softened tremendously towards a melodramatic side. If you are writing about a particular period of time, especially within the last century, take note on how films portrayed their contemporaries. Because the studio system used to hire scores of writers on one project, dialogue was usually done well.

English-language Films known for their excellent dialogue:
Casablanca (1942)
It Happened One Night (1934)
Sunset Blvd (1950)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Network (1975)
Toy Story (1995)
Godfather (1972)
The Player (1992)
Office Space (1999)

English-language "classics" with cheesy, over-the-top dialogue:
Showgirls (1995)
Top Gun (1986)
Catwoman (2004)
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
Gigli (2003)

Check this out, too:

Happy Filmmaking!

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