Tag Archives: dialogue

Random Dialogue, The Hulk, And a NanoThon

Someone recently said (and I’m really sorry I can’t remember who it was) that a writer’s brain is like a junk drawer.

It’s true. We’ve got character flotsam and setting jetsam floating around in there like nobody’s business, waiting for the day when they’ll find a home in a story. Ideas just rattle around until the day when two or more crash together to make something new, and we can pull out the tangled ball of string and paper-clips out and go, “Yeah, I can McGuyver something out of that.”

It’s stuff that many people would throw away, but we train ourselves to remember.

And there’s the dialogue. I know I’m not the only one who finds myself in a situation where suddenly comments from unknown characters are floating in my head, talking about what’s happening. I don’t usually know exactly where they’ll fit into a story, but they hang out, filling the junk drawer, waiting.

This one is re-surfacing for me today:

Him: “I don’t get why you girls make such a big deal about it. Cramps can’t be that bad.”

Her: “No? Imagine that the Incredible Hulk is grabbing your uterus and wringing it out like a damp dish rag, and you’ll have some idea of what it feels like.”

Him: *snort* “I don’t have a uterus.”

Her: “That’s right, you don’t. So just shut up about it.”

Something tells me she’s the one with the cramps. 😉

In any case, here I sit on the morning of the November 9 NaNoThon (or whatever they’re calling it), chugging a hot tea and Advil cocktail, about to start on my to-do list. It’s like I’m the protagonist in a story where my goal is to write, and the author just glommed on to the whole “throw obstacles at your protagonist” thing.

We’re going to visit the in-laws around supper time. AJ is working, so I have kids to keep busy all day (and I should probably feed them, too). I have laundry to do, suitcases to pack, birthday cards to fill out, cat litter to change, scenes to plan, and various aches and pains making me want to say “screw the world” and crawl back in bed.

Are we going to place bets on how much writing I get done today?

*cracks knuckles*

*finishes tea*

Let’s do this.

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Lessons From Empire Records

Some of you know that Empire Records is one of my all-time favourite movies. It captures something about the nineties that other movies seem to have missed, an atmosphere that I guarantee you’ll never find in new movies when that decade becomes “retro” and a cool time period to set movies in.

And I’m not ashamed to admit it, I adore Lucas.

But as I was watching last night, I realized that there were things that I, as a writer, could learn from this movie. No, it’s not perfect, but it does a lot of things very well. The first one that struck me was character introduction.

This isn’t a movie with a small cast. It’s not Game of Thrones huge, but it’s a day in the lives of the people who work at a record store, on a day when absolutely everyone is working. So do we open on a scene with everyone running around, doing their thing?

Of course not. The introductions come quickly so we can get to the story, but each character has a moment (or a scene) where we meet them and learn the basics; depth and details come later, but we get enough to push them into our brains and stick a pin in them until we get back to it. Now, I’m talking about the fan edition; forgive me if anything doesn’t line up with the original cut.

First, there’s Lucas. We learn that he’s closing the store, and he’s been instructed not to touch Joe’s (the manager) beer, cigars, or drums.  A moment later we cut to Lucas touching all of those things, drumming away on the piles of money he’s been instructed to count twice. But count it twice he does, which tells us a lot about Lucas. We also learn something when he discovers that his beloved Empire Records (an independent store) is set to be turned into a big chain store (booooo!), and he decides to take a big risk to try to save this place he loves.

Lucas may have impulse control issues and/or an odd way of respecting authority, but he wants to do the right thing. This in just a few minutes, and from him closing the store. Not the most exciting set-up, no danger or explosions or fights, but we’re thrown into character and story right away, and want to know what happens.

Boom. That’s exactly what all writers are told to aim for in the first few paragraphs, isn’t it?

Other characters trickle in the next morning. Joe, the grumpy manager. Frustrated, beaten down, but it’s quickly apparent that he cares for the kids who work for him. We get Mark, who’s obviously not all there (hi, drugs!), but he’s funny and seems like a good guy. AJ: artistic, confused, and lovesick.

Next scene, Corey and Gina on their way to work. Corey: perfect, organized, efficient and infatuated with a much-older pop star who she plans to seduce later that day…

Because it’s REX MANNING DAY, folks!

Rex is clearly a bit of a douche. This creates tension as we wonder what in the world the sweet, innocent Corey wants with him, and how that’s going to pan out. Bleh.

Gina: Corey’s polar opposite, except that they’re both pretty (of course).

Other employees filter in (Burko and Eddie are really the least-developed ones, but we still get a feel for them*), adding to the cast in little bits, allowing the audience to adjust and get to know them a little before we’re overwhelmed with more people. And while this is happening, of course, there’s a plot developing.

Several plots, actually.

And this is another thing I think is interesting. You have this plot concerning what’s going to happen to the store after Lucas screws things up. This affects everyone. But the subplots are thick in this one. AJ wanting to tell Corey he loves her. Debra tried to kill herself, and everyone’s worried about her. Rex Manning is a douche, and just makes everything worse in the store (and adding conflict is a good thing, right?). And we also have Warren the shoplifter.

Gina hates Debra, Debra hates Gina.  Gina is jealous of Corey but tries to hide it; Corey seems perfect on the outside, but we all know that can’t be right. Everything is coming to a crisis point.

It could be a huge mess, but every sub-plot is tied in to the others, adding to them rather than taking screen time away from them, and everything builds toward the climax and a satisfying resolution. Subplots add depth to a story; keeping them tight and intertwined keeps them from slowing the plot down.

So there’s two things, and plenty of evidence that I can’t just sit and enjoy a movie.  There are other lessons, I’m sure. Dialogue is one:

Aah, I love it.

So, what movies have you learned from? Jae, I know you always find lessons in movies (everyone else, have a look!). Anyone else have one movie you just adore and want to share with the class rest of us? Or are there movies/books/shows you thing didn’t do character introductions well, throwing so many people at us that we can’t really tell them apart later on? Share!

*However, their hairstyles are never adequately explained. Come to think of it, everyone’s hair is pretty greasy… this may be the film’s primary downfall.


Guerrilla Dialogue (or: Nobody Expects the Dramatic Imposition)

Sometimes I feel like my efforts to improve my work go unappreciated at home.

Take dialogue, for example. It’s one of my favourite toys; I constantly have little bits of conversations evolving in my head. Random things. Tiny bits of conversational flotsam that distract me from the real world. Sometimes this dialogue applies to a story I’m working on. Other times it’s generated by a situation, and I know it will never fit in anywhere. Still, it’s fun to play with, and I think the paractice helps when it comes time to write dialogue in a story.

OK, so sometimes this leaves me giggling to myself in the grocery store for no apparent reason, but strangers thinking I’m off my rocker is a small price to pay for entertainment and experience.

I recently decided to take this show on the road— that is, I’ve started grabbing every opportunity I can to inject dramatic or interesting dialogue into conversations with my husband. Now he thinks I’m nuts. Really, though, it’s so much more rewarding when he has no idea that he’s my guinea pig.

Example:

AJ: “Kit, do you know where the Windex is?”

Me: “Pointed. At. Your. HEAD.”

I think I should get bonus points for the fact that I did, in fact, have a squirt bottle of the blue stuff pointed at the back of his cranium, but that’s beside the point. You see how this works?

That one just got me The Look. Other attempts haven’t gone so well. Like last weekend, when I decided to go all old-school Batman with a nasty twist, just to see how that went:

Me: “Leaking LADY-BITS it’s cold out there!”

AJ: *dead silence* “That… was the worst thing I have ever heard.”

Me: (after laughing until my stomach hurt) “I didn’t say what was leaking…”

AJ: “Doesn’t matter.”

Come to think of it, we have a lot of those moments when I know he wants to say, “Please don’t ever speak to me again,” and I wouldn’t even blame him.

So here’s my challenge for you: choose your target(s). In the middle of a conversation, use your whip-smart brain and writerly instincts to inject something dramatic, suspenseful, cheesy, or completely bonkers into a conversation*. Defy someone’s conversational expectations. Turn your dinner conversation into a one-sided scene from Flash Gordon, or imagine yourself as a world-weary PI and your [sister, boss, uncle George] as the dame with legs that won’t quit who just walked into your office with a sob-story that makes you reach for your [whatever world-weary PI’s drink]. On your way out the door to get groceries, convince the dog that you only have five minutes to get to the store to diffuse a bomb/stop the alien body snatchers/defeat the Invasion of the Watermelons of Death.

Trust me, dogs love that shit.

And please, report back to us here, whatever happens. (Disclaimer: I am not responsible for what happens if you try this on the wrong person and they call the police. That’s all on you, you weirdo.)

*Sarcasm doesn’t count, everyone does that.


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