Monday, June 7, 2010

On Real Life Conversations IV: Dialogue, Real Life & Kevin Smith

"Man, there will
never be another band as good as Savage Garden, amiright?"

When I was in college, one of the compliments my writing seemed to get a lot was about dialogue. People always seem to think that my writing style is very real, with little stresses in the word which make me feel like the "edgy" character on later seasons of [insert name of current live-in reality show]. This always seemed to come out strongly in the dialogue.

"I read this the way people actually speak."

Great job. So what you're getting at is no one else ever writes dialogue that sounds like two people speaking to each other? That's what you're honestly saying?

I'm not going to even attempt using Kevin Smith as a good example of life-like dialogue. Frankly, he just sounds good. Kevin Smith writes apropos, swear-laden dialogue the way George Lucas wrote techno-babble into Star Wars. Sure, it sounds cool, even fits into the story well without being clichéd, but for the love of Jeff, no one can say those things in daily life. People get beaten up for talking like that on the schoolyard.

I can't talk to you without wanting to express my love for everything you are. And I know this will probably queer our friendship - no pun intended - but I had to say it, because I've never felt this way before, and I don't care. I like who I am because of it. And if bringing this to light means we can't hang out anymore, then that hurts me. But God, I just, I couldn't allow another day to go by without just getting it out there, regardless of the outcome, which by the look on your face is to be the inevitable shoot-down. And, you know, I'll accept that. But I know...I know that some part of you is hesitating for a moment, and if there is a moment of hesitation, then that means you feel something too. All I ask, please, is that you just, you just not dismiss that - and try to dwell in it for just ten seconds. Alyssa, there isn't another soul on this fucking planet who has ever made me half the person I am when I'm with you, and I would risk this friendship for the chance to take it to the next plateau. Because it is there between you and me. You can't deny that. Even if, you know, even if we never talk again after tonight, please know that I'm forever changed because of who you are and what you've meant to me, which - while I do appreciate it - I'd never need a painting of birds bought at a diner to remind me of.
- Holden McNeal (Ben Affleck), Chasing Amy

Who the fuck talks like that?
Seriously! Beyond the simple fact no one will ever let you speak that long without interrupting, unless is just waiting for you to be done with it so she can get the fuck out of there, no one speaks that coherently in-the-moment. Sure, maybe you've rehearsed your own speech a dozen times in your head; in real life you blow it. Your heart hurts of you get scared and you fucking blow it. That's why we pause so goddam much when we talk nowadays, either we're afraid to say the words we're thinking or we're afraid that thinking isn't smart enough to say in words.

Even Chasing Amy's tagline says it: "Finally, a comedy that tells it like it feels." Not "how it is," "how it feels." The kind of telling you come up with two days later thinking, "That's what I should've said!"

Would you like to know the secret to creating believable dialogue?

Write it out like your friends would say it.

Regional dialect isn't just for hillbilly characters and wise old bluesmen, it's the diction that makes "Where are you going?" into "Where're you guys headed?" There's something to be said for correcting spelling and grammar in a text, but I live by the rule 'Write it like you'd say it.' (This includes things like the word "you'd.") Here's some dialogue from an actual conversation with an actual person:

You'll just have to get creative with my belated Christmas gift now. Sorry.
Jo: Ugh, you know I'm not creative.
Me: Well, slap some macaroni on a card and staple it to a hooker or something.

I think what I'm trying to get at here is, "you can write quality dialogue by having ridiculous friends." Not sure if that's what I was getting at, but that's where I ended up.

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