Sunday, August 29, 2010

Scriptwriting and the elephant in the room: DIALOGUE

People sometimes say that I'm good at writing dialogue. And people sometimes say that when it rains it pours. But it's not always raining.

Now, I'm going to go right ahead and state the obvious. While writing can be inspired, while it can sometimes just flow onto the page, and when it rains it pours, writing is always something that you've got to work at. Whether you're J.R.R. Tolkien spending your life's work dedicated to one vivid, ever expanding horizon, or whether you're Stephen King and every time you cough a new novel falls onto your editor's desk, you've got to work at it.

I'm not saying that my dialogue is the work of some divine inspiration that I somehow just tap into and I somehow just manage to pluck whole conversations from what might as well be my butt. What I'm saying is that dialogue doesn't have to be that hard. Inspiration helps me, yes, of course, but when I don't have that, I've got to have good old fashioned work on my side. Sometimes it's easy to confuse the two. I like to think of it this way: if you don't know what you're doing, if you don't know why you're doing what you're doing, or if you don't know what you've done until you've done it and stood back and had a good look at it, that's inspiration. Whereas work is something you've got to be switched on, tuned in to. When you're working, you can listen to that inspirational voice and you can ask yourself why it might be telling you these things. If you can explain your writing, then you're certainly working at it.

I guess that the point I'm getting to now, is that no matter how inspired you may be, you can't really do much without the drive and the work put in to produce something. When it rains it pours, that is, unless it doesn't. I started writing the script for my "Writing for Performance" class today and didn't really like it. I think it's because I haven't figured out what I'm doing, or what I want to be doing just yet. I'm pulling the script from my short story "The Giant", which is set in an American Carnival, so I know what I'm doing, but I think the precise thing that I'm looking for is 'how'. How am I going to get them to do what I want them to do?

Dialogue is a big issue with scriptwriting. It's a given that there will be dialogue in plays, but I think I need to get used to the idea that there doesn't need to be dialogue everywhere. I think I really need to visualise the scene and write that. The dialogue, the actions, the expressions. What I'd really love to do is be overt and clever about it, use the dialogue, use the expressions and actions and body language of the characters to betray little secrets about themselves to the audience. That's what I'd really love to do.

Right now I just want my characters to shut up and take a smoko and give me some time to collect my thoughts. I'm in unfamiliar territory here, and while it's fun and exciting, it's also bizarre and intimidating. I'm not desperate or anything, but I think some rain would be good.


  1. "whether you're Stephen King and every time you cough a new novel falls onto your editor's desk" Hahahaha, actually laughed out loud.
    I've been atempting a short screenplay (can't remember if I told you or not) and I've been having the same sort of issues.
    Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

  2. Nah, you haven't mentioned that yet. I'd love to one day write a film-length screen play. Baby-steps first, I think.
    I've done a little writing for screenplays and radioplays before, but they're quite different to stage plays and I've found it quite confusing how to set everything out for this one.

    I'd love to hear more about your screenplay some time, from the sounds of things, we could both use a bit of experience in the medium.