For the Sake of Everyone’s Ears

by limebirdlaura

EXT. SALLY’S YARD – AFTERNOON

JACK
Hi, how are you?

SALLY
Good, how are you?

JACK
Oh my gosh, can you believe our parents?

Sally
No, oh my gosh it’s horrible.

JACK
This rivalry is so stupid!

Sally
Yeah it is!

JACK
What do you want to do tonight?

SALLY
I don’t know, what do you want to do tonight?

JACK
Want to go skating?

SALLY
Haha silly we can’t go skating!

JACK
Oh haha.

SALLY
Hey you wanna go bowling?

JACK
Sure!

SALLY
Come on!

Since Thanksgiving my sleep schedule has been a mess. Normally I get off of work at 3 a.m., so it’s not like I’m up bright and early in the morning, but lately I’ve been going to bed probably around 7 or 8 a.m. and sleeping until late afternoon. No, this does not please me. Yes, I’m working on fixing this as we speak.

The main issue with staying up all night is the wonderful middle of the night programming that comes on TV. Note the sarcasm. So there I was, minding my own business flipping through the channels, with the sounds of my husband’s snores drowning out most other sounds in existence. There is, of course, absolutely nothing on. I wasn’t in the mood to watch the latest ab building machine, the most comfortable pillow in the world, new ways to organize my closet, or super absorbent towels, so I settled on some delightful made-for-TV Christmas movie.

What I heard, miraculously over my husband’s snores, was pretty much what you see above. I wanted to shove my ears in my husband’s mouth in an attempt to drown out that garbage. This is exactly what LimebirdVanessa was talking about the other day about on-the-nose dialogue. A term that any film student is probably all too familiar with. It’s terrible!

It brings to mind another mantra of the writing classroom – Don’t tell, show! In the example above, Jack and Sally are bored, think their parents are being silly and can’t think of what to do. Instead of this inane conversation, we should be shown how Jack and Sally feel. Up to this scene of the movie we’ve seen Jack and Sally witness a rivalry between their parents. Instead of this scene, for instance, we could have had Jack and Sally AT the bowling ally, laughing and having fun. Sally could have said, “This is so much better than watching the parents bicker.” End. Done. Now we see the action Jack and Sally decided to take – by having them at the bowling alley. We cut out the dribble – how are you, what do you want to do – stuff.

Screenwriting professors will tear your ears off if you write on-the-nose dialogue, LimebirdVanessa warned us about its evil ways the other day, I experienced the horror of it first hand during a sleepless night. What can you do to save the world from this evil? Also… does anyone have an argument *gasp* in favor of this dialogue?

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15 Comments to “For the Sake of Everyone’s Ears”

  1. Oh gosh Laura, that’s horrendous! How old was this film?! Actually, scratch that, that’s no excuse!! I have no argument in favour…

  2. I used to think I was pants at writing dialogue… until I come across tripe like the above! I enjoy writing dialogue, especailly during NaNoWriMo where I didn’t have time to think too much about what I was writing. Going for the cut and thrust of the conversation is always much better than going through the motions I find. Blummin indecent, these screenwriters that peddle such tosh! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    • I will admit a lot of times during my first round of a script I’ll come across stuff like the above in my draft, and then I’ll revise it and find more the second go round, then revise, and fix and revise until it’s all gone or down to an acceptable amount at least.

  3. I think there’s a place for that kind of dialogue. Its place is in old Christmas films and late night TV programmes πŸ˜€

    It’s all about contrast. If every show was amazingly beautifully written, there would be no perceived ‘good’ shows. This is because ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are perceived relative to each other – if you have no bad, you cannot have good.

    It would also mean that making your own writing stand out would be really hard ;D

    • You’re right about the contrast. And I do think dialogue similar to the above can be used in certain movies – comedies for instance, two idiot friends sitting around in their underwear asking “what do you want to do, I don’t know what do you want to do” 500 times could be funny and effective in the right movie/show.

  4. Oh, my goodness, Laura – you’ve hit the nail on the head!
    There’s a place for exposition in dialogue (it can often be more engaging than exposition in description or straight prose), but that tripe above is just terrible! I agree with Beth – there’s no excuse for that kind of lame non-storytelling!

    • Thanks Mayumi! I should have read your comment before I typed my comment above to lordScree. I totally agree dialogue like the above (ok…hopefully slightly better than above) can be useful just depending on the type of story. I can see it working in a comedy if used correctly, but this was a fell good family Christmas romp, and it made my eyes glaze over. Maybe that’s why it was playing at 4 in the morning, hoping to knock some people out who should be asleep already!

      • Anyone noticed how the children in these Christmas films all seem to have gone to the demon school of acting? It’s as though they’re taught that a good smile means you have to open you eyes really wide and not move your eyebrows. (We have a channel called “Christmas 24” at this time of year and you get all sorts of films on there… Films that should’ve been forgotten after their first Christmas, when they went straight to DVD!)

        I wish I had an example.. πŸ˜€

  5. Thanks for the link back to my post, nice to see it all in action! When I first started reading your post, I thought “Oh dear, this really isn’t Laura’s best work!”.

  6. Maybe we can raise enough awareness to get this stuff off of late night TV. On the other hand, probably half or more of the viewers don’t think on a level higher that on-the-nose conversation, so in an effort to reach the lowest possible common denominator, screenwriters assume we are all like that. Who knows — in such a case, I would shut off the tube and sit down to write. Thanks for bringing this crime against humanity to the forefront.

    • Let’s start a campaign Judith – Humans against the destruction of brain cells during the late night programming…HATDOBCDTLN for short!

  7. Made for TV movies are generally poorly written, I think. I don’t know why, but I have never been able to sit through one for the very reason you suggest. I’m sorry you were tortured like that. I hope you can figure out a better sleeping schedule, fast! πŸ™‚

    • I think the only time they are ever good is when they make those made for TV miniseries and things like that, but ugh why is it that we can make amazing movies, and amazing television shows…but amazing made for Tv movies just doesn’t happen!

      On my sleep. I really am about to give up! I’m about to just tell people to leave me alone during the day, I sleep til 3 pm and I can’t fix it. I’ve gone as far as to sleep deprive myself. I’ve tried waiting up all night and day to get to bed at a decent hour. I’ve tried waking up after 4 hr of sleep so I’d be more tired. I don’t know, I mean I work until 3 am so I’d like to at least sleep something like 4 to noon…but this sleeping til 3 or 4 in the evening is bugging me!

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