Dialogue, schmialogue

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Scriptshot Help Me By Vikki Gregory's Flickr

Scriptshot Help Me By Vikki Gregory's Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/casanovapacifista/ / CC BY 2.0

I don’t write romances. But, once upon a time, I had a story idea for one. Not a bodice ripper with a shirtless Fabio hero, but a sweet little romantic comedy plot line. Since I normally write prose, I assumed that was the form this story would take. Before setting down any words, I mulled over the opening, the arc, how everything would be laid out. And I kept coming back to the opening. I had the perfect opening, funny cute, the perfect set up for the whole thing. Except that it wouldn’t work as prose. It required quick cuts back and forth between the two main characters. Cuts like you’d see in a movie, but that would never work in a book.

So, after months of fighting it, I bit the bullet and went to dailyscript.com. First, I picked a script for a movie I hadn’t seen. As the movie progressed, I was able to see scenes unfold…it was amazing. Without directions for close-up or pan, or director’s instructions for how to play the mood, I still got a very good sense of how the actors might interpret the line. It was very instructive on what needs to be said (and what doesn’t) and how to say it.

Then I moved on to scripts for movies I had seen. Daily Script features scripts in multiple stages. Some are the shooting script, others are early drafts. I loved finding scenes or dialogue in the draft scripts that never made it to the big screen. This was also incredibly helpful, because I found myself agreeing with every cut and addition.

With a basic idea of format, I set to work. I surveyed friends to find out their favorite chick flicks and why. I watched lots of romantic comedies from old black and whites to those in new shiny color. I finished the whole thing in a matter of months, gave it to a few friends, got mostly positive responses, then threw it in a drawer.

While not an Oscar contender, I thought it was decent. Good characters, solid plot, low budget, but crappy dialogue. I told myself I’d put it a way for a little bit, listen to people on the train, in stores, on the street. I’d get more comfortable with dialogue, then I’d try it again. Well, I tuned out people on the train, in stores and on the street. I had other things to do or places to be. I had no patience to listen to people. So the script just sat there. And sat there. I moved onto editing. I decided to challenge myself to write a TV script for a procedural drama. Completed the challenge. Went back to editing the book.

Then, this weekend, one of my friends who’d read the script asked what was going on with it. I laughed it off, saying it wasn’t all that good so it was resting at the bottom of a drawer. She complained about a recent and predictable ro-mo and said mine was good…actually, she said if someone could get that crap made, mine could be made.

Since this was from someone who doesn’t really talk about my writing, I paid attention. When she read the script, I expected her to say that she liked it…she’s my friend after all and had never critiqued my stuff in the past. The fact that she was still thinking about it a year on impressed me and shamed me. Right after “hey, that’s cool, she really did like it” crossed my mind “crap, I’m such a slacker” came yipping at it’s heels.

When I’d written the TV script, I based it off of an existing show (like I was writing a spec script). I noticed that most of what I watched and a lot of what I read was along the lines of mysteries…something I’d never written. So why not give it a whirl? I thought the hardest part would be writing someone else’s characters. That was the easy part. I had a couple marathon days and I could easily slip into the characters cadences. Telling the story in 45 minutes with three mini-climaxes before commercial breaks and the one big wrap-up at the end was the hard part. Big kudos to writers who have to deal with commercial breaks!

Anyway, back to the movie script. Writing with a set speech pattern was way easier than creating my own for each character. After the initial writing, I already knew the script lacked good dialogue. After writing the TV script, I learned why. But I still haven’t figure out how to improve the dialogue.

Practice, practice, practice, I suppose.

Perhaps I’ll go searching through drawers tomorrow to see if I can resurrect it.

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