I went to see Bridesmaids the other night, not because I had been waiting to see it with great anticipation (because I really hadn’t any), but because every reaction to the movie that I had heard or read about was positive, so that was what made me decide to watch it after all since there wasn’t much else I was interested in… although I will confess I was kinda tempted to go see the Judy Moody movie.
This is not a movie review. At least I hope not, because that’s not really my thing. I mean, I seriously only go to movies to be fully entertained – not challenged or angered or driven to action and definitely not to be scared. So to give a “review” of a movie of any sort seems a bit farcical since I am ridiculously happy with any movie that makes me go “aw” or laugh out loud more than a couple of times. I used to secretly wish that I was some sort of intelligent, critical movie watcher – one that seeks Indie films and documentaries – but I really don’t care anymore. Will I watch the gritty stuff and then like or appreciate it? Sure, but left to my own devices: I say bring on the fluff.
Here is what struck me about the movie that made it seem “off” to me. The dialogue. I’m a teacher, so naturally I want to give evidence to help exemplify my point. Below is a snippet of dialogue that I was able to find that actually does just this. The dialogue has so much potential, but it is missing something… part of which is effective execution by the actors – or maybe the characters? Not sure. Here is the text, followed by the video clip:
“You’re a total catch and any guy would be psyched to be your man. You should just… make room for somebody who’s nice to you and…”
“You know what? He’s honest. He told me we are what we are and we’re just having fun and I like that—“
“No, he told you you need dental work. He’s an asshole.”
“I don’t need dental work.”
“You are right.”
“There is nothing wrong with my teeth.”
“You are so beautiful. Will you marry me?”
So, maybe you think that scene is/was hilarious. It should have been. But I think it was executed with just a little too much understatement. Was the conversation realistic? I believe so, but if it were me and my sister or some other good friend, we’re going to be more dramatic and giggly.
Good dialogue has become a beloved writing device in my fiction world. The evolution of a writer and dialogue is an interesting one. Commonly, this is what happens:
Age 12: Write a story that is all dialogue and no plot.
Age 16: Write a story that is all plot – too much plot, in fact. Dialogue is awkward.
Age 19: Write a story that is all elaborate description. Dialogue? What’s that? A writer shows and does not tell, and since dialogue is talking, that is telling, not showing.
Age 25+: OH, showing can mean character behavior and conversation, too! Cool. Now, how to balance…
Dialogue used to give me fits. Now it is my favorite thing to write. And, throwing modesty to the wind, I’ve gotten pretty good at it and count it as one of my strengths. Perhaps it is simply due to maturity. Or maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by family (both my side and husband’s side) where you can’t expect a conversation to move slowly. Quick wittedness (at minimum for following, even you are not contributing) is a must. Jokes are carried through every conversation thread throughout an entire get-together. Tangents become conversations of their own, but eventually make their way back to their originators. Give and take. Show off and show upsmanship.
Banter is real. At least it is in my world, so therefore it is real in my fictional world. And it is what really draws me to other fictional worlds… on the screen some of my favorite examples of authentic and entertaining banter include Castle, Friends, The West Wing, Sports Night, The Social Network (and yes, it is not lost on me that I have listed 3 titles in a row with the same head writer – Aaron Sorkin is a genius at banter and dialogue in general), 30 Rock, Arrested Development. In print, I’m rather fond of Douglas Adams, Sophie Kinsella, and Christopher Moore. There are probably a bunch of others, but I’m pretty bad at remembering that kind of stuff, so I will love it if you happen to comment on authors or books that you really see good banter so I can say “oh yeah, that one too!”
Obviously dialogue is about more than banter and in the end, I appreciate dialogue that is authentic. Sure, in real life, people may not have as varied a vocabulary in their conversation with their friend and may say “I know” a whole bunch whereas in fiction we will change it up… “I know”, “I’m sure”, “I’m aware” etc. But, on the whole, I want to feel like I can really hear these characters talking, whether or not it is a serious or casual conversation. Young adult literature boasts some great examples of this because it doesn’t have to sound grown up. Teen chat does not involve fancy vocabulary or perfect sentence structure. Neither does adult conversation, but our expectation seems to be higher in an adult novel for this elevated dialogue.
When I am writing, I imagine I am sitting right next to my characters as they’re talking. As I eavesdrop on them (although, surely they know I’m listening in, so it’s not eavesdropping then, is it?), I listen for that ring of authenticity. Could I jump in on their conversation and talk with them? If so, I feel that I’m on the right track.
Finally, I appreciate dialogue that is present. Meaning, just the mere addition of conversations in a story rate it higher for me. Because what a character says and how she says it can give me a lot of insight into her personality, her beliefs, her motives – even if the conversation is imaginary. Dialogue breaks things up, makes a story real. But, you know, I’m probably forgetting about a whole slough of great novels that have little to no dialogue, thus invalidating my “rates higher” statement. I’m okay with that. Remind me of those novels. Plus, as a writer and/or a reader, what does dialogue mean to you?