Tag Archives: dialogue

The Threshold

Champion Series

In this thirteen part series, we’ll discuss the various facets of story construction that will help shape your “champion,” and hopefully, make it a steadfast contender worthy of the critical Coliseum.

Part Two: The Threshold

If the distance between what a character is thinking and what they are actually saying/doing is as small and as narrow as a doorway, then you’ve discovered a new tool to use at your crafting table, one that, when used properly and purposefully, can make for a very intense story.

There are two ways to establish this immediacy and tension:

- Dialogue vs. inner monologue/steam of consciousness
- Action vs. emotions


Type A

For the first, dialogue vs. inner monologue; imagine a situation in which a character’s thoughts are all jumbled and confused.

They want to say what’s on their mind; problem is there are a million-and-one things floating around in their head, and none of them can be vocalized with tact or coherency. So, they end up blurting out something unrehearsed, rash, brazen, or unrelated.

Ex.

PETER

Alright, where is it? You were the last person I let use it.

JOEY

I sold it, alright!

PETER

(perplexed)

You sold it?

JOEY

Yeah, you weren’t using it.

PETER

It’s my credit card! Why would you sell it?

JOEY

(dumbfounded)

I thought this was about your Xbo--

PETER

Wait, what happened to my Xbox?

JOEY

I...um...sort of sold it. You haven’t used it since you moved out and got your own place.

PETER

You sold my Xbox?

JOEY

I needed the money bad, and I knew you had a 360 at your new place, so I figured you wouldn’t miss it.

PETER

So you don’t know where my credit card is?

JOEY

(shakes head)

PETER

Sorry for accusing you. Guess it’s just lost somewhere. But I will be needing a hundred bucks.

JOEY

What, why?

PETER

(smiles)

For the Xbox.

Type B
The second example, emotion vs. action, speaks to the correlation of a characters’, well, you guessed it – actions and emotions. These can either be contradictory or reflective. If a person is trying to sell a lie, their thoughts are either cool and calculating, or nervous and apprehensive (sometimes, a mixture of both). Dexter Morgan, from the show Dexter is a perfect example of this kind of character. Dexter is a serial killer who preys upon murderers instead of the innocent. However, Dexter is employed by the Miami PD as a blood spatter analyst, which is great for resources in researching his next victims, but bad because he works juxtaposed with people whose very job is to catch people like him. Many times Dexter is nearly caught by family or friends, and he has to play the coincidence card, or come up with a clever alibi on the spot. It’s even better that we get to hear his thoughts before he speaks. He’s completely honest with himself, but man, can he lie up a storm.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0byXSmEIyc0

Use the Force, Luke.
A furtive glance, a smile of the eyes, a nearly imperceptible half-smirk at one corner of the mouth, a faint blushing of the cheeks, a furrowing of the eyebrows, a despondent mien, a glimmer of hope—these subtle facial expressions speak to the inward thoughts of a character (or deny them), and when preceding action, build a palpable, translatable tension. It’s what keeps the audience on the edge of their seat and invested in a story; just as hearing a character’s actual thoughts creates an obvious tension . . . No, no! I don’t want to do it. I can’t. I shouldn’t. “But I will.”

Exploit this. Feed your audience the big bowl of whole grain Drama-O’s it craves. *brings spoon toward mouth*

“Open the hangar deck, here comes the airplane.”


Series Contents
We’ll activate each link below as the blogs are posted. Enjoy!

  1. Modus Operandi
  2. The Threshold
  3. Titanic Syndrome
  4. Heat of the Moment
  5. Call 911
  6. The Alien
  7. My Shoes
  8. Inception
  9. The Quest
  10. Encounter
  11. Luke, I am your father
What'd you say?!

Creating Believable Dialogue

Unless your film is silent and relies solely on the power of cinematography to speak to its audience, there will probably be words involved. All good stories are backed up with a great script. There is only so much actors can do to carry a poorly written script i.e., Terra Nova.

Unfortunately, the acting in some shows is also lacking, in which case there is nothing you can do, except push the stop button on your remote. It sucks, too, because the plot and setting may be gold, but without a good script to boot, well . . . the show gets the proverbial boot (or it just gets syndicated for seemingly endless seasons and you begin to lose faith in humanity).

So how does one create good dialogue? The key is to write as people speak in real life. Don’t write how you think they speak, actually transcribe it into script form. One simple trick you can try is to close your eyes and listen to people talking in a room; maybe at work, or at school. If your characters sound like the people you encounter from day-to-day, then you’ve at least achieved a realistic tone. Being mindful of that is being mindful of your diction, or better known as your choice of words, and is extremely important.

Be careful not to sound too robotic by using too many words in your sentences to express straightforward thoughts. Even something as simple as, “Okay, Mom, be there in just a sec,” sounds so much better than “All right, Mother, I will be there in just a second.” It’s a small difference, but honestly, how would you say it?

On the same note, if you avoid contractions as in formal essays—words like can’t, won’t, aren’t, and shouldn’t—you risk sounding archaic.  “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” seems only appropriate in Middle-earth or in stories set during Medieval times.  In a more modern setting, don’t be afraid to shorten your words so they flow as quickly and realistically as possible.

Love your lingo . . .
but make sure you don’t go too crazy. People use text abbreviations in everyday speech these days, but only girls in the seventh grade use it exclusively. I would shy away from using “OMG” in a script, but it’s definitely more permissible than one of your characters saying, “ttyl,” instead of a simple “see you later.”

Remember where your characters come from. Tyrone might be the leader of a notorious gang of ten year-olds in the backstreets of the Bronx, in search of new blood to join his ranks, but he’ll talk vastly different from Walt, who grew up on a chicken farm in Cochran, Georgia. Setting and background afford you a little slack as a writer to be creative with the respective vernaculars.

The important thing to keep in mind is this one truth: Simple patterns of speech will get audiences attached to your story, whereas flowery language only draws attention to the person who is speaking. More often than not, you’ll be focusing on their lips moving rather than the actual plot-advancing or character-enhancing lines.

A final note: Remember that in film, the rule of “Show, don’t tell” is still just as pertinent as it is in writing. The way a character holds his silence, glances away from a pretty girl to avoid detection, smiles shyly, blushes, clenches his fists, smooths the wrinkles in her dress—all of these actions can say infinitely more about a character and what they’re thinking than what they actually say.

Happy writing!