Dialogue


kev-and-susanCrash Davis: I never told him to stay out of your bed.
Annie Savoy: You most certainly did.
Crash Davis: I never told him to stay out of your bed.
Annie Savoy: Yes you did.
Crash Davis: I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak.
Annie Savoy: Oh fine.
Crash Davis: You know why? Because they don’t – -they don’t happen very often.
Annie Savoy: Right.
Crash Davis: If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you are! And you should know that!
[long pause]
Crash Davis: Come on, Annie, think of something clever to say, huh? Something full of magic, religion, bullshit. Come on, dazzle me.
Annie Savoy: I want you.

This is a scene from a classic movie with really strong dialogue,  written by former minor league ballplayer Ron Shelton for the movie Bull Durham.  Shelton knew how this scene should go because he toiled many years in the minors and once he knew these characters he knew how they should talk to each other.  Shelton knew the cadence of each word and knew how it should go.  Dialogue is important to every script.  The wrong dialogue in the scene can ruin everything if you don’t know your characters. Just as important are the words that are used in a scene.  I often change my dialogue if I don’t like a particular word, of it a word wouldn’t fit a character’s vocabulary.

There are different types of dialogue for different types of scene, but just as important as the dialogue is the emotion of the scene.  What are the characters trying to get from one another.  It’s like an acting scene.  The actors have to know what their motivation is in each scene.  They have to know the what they need from the other character, otherwise the conflict from each scene becomes hollow.  Writing a scene is very similar to acting in a scene.

Most of the stage material has been comedic.  I tend to lean towards a more staccato tempo when I write comedy.  I try to keep away from long speeches.  I aspire to write stuff more like writers I admire, such as Neil Simon or Woody Allen.  My high school reunion play, “Most Likely To….has a lot of staccato moments, as do my plays “Crossing the Bridge” and “Pigeons by the Charles.”  The staccato, helps the dialogue flow.  Here’s an example from “Pigeons by The Charles.”

LIGHTS RISE:

TIME:  Mid summer day a few days later.

AT RISE:  We find a hiking trail in New Hampshire.  Rocks are scattered about the stage along with various twigs.  SR is a tree spray painted with a blue blaze.  DSL is a cave.  SC is a fire-pit made of rocks.  On the cyclorama is Lake Chocorua with the mountain painting a beautiful backdrop.  Julie runs on from SL carrying a backpack and full of spunk.  Kurt enters a few minutes later, carrying a heavy bigger pack and winded.  He dumps the pack on the ground and takes a seat at a rock USR.  He catches his breath and swats at a mosquito.  

KURT:  Damn bugs!

JULIE:  (Sets her pack down.)  Bugs are part of the great outdoors.  I love bugs.

KURT:  I’m glad you like them.  I’ve got welts all over my legs and arms.

JULIE:  (Unzips the pack and pulls out a can of Woodsman’s fly dope.)  Do you want some Woodman’s?

KURT:  Hell no!  That stuff smells like Limburger cheese.

JULIE:  I have it on and you don’t see me complaining.

KURT:  Why do you think I’ve been keeping my distance?  (Julie sprays the bug spray at Kurt and embraces him.)  Hey!  Get that stuff away from me.

JULIE:  (Laughs and holds on.)  Now you don’t have an excuse to keep your distance.  We are one with the Woodman’s.  (Julie kisses Kurt and he makes a face.  She lets him go and turns a playful spin and breathes in the air.)  Ahhh Kurt, you are going to love communing with nature.  We can camp out under the stars and enjoy Castor and Pollux.

KURT:  Castor and Pollux are less prominent this time of year. It’s the tropic of Cancer.

JULIE:  That explains why you were a crab all the way up.

KURT:  (Kurt pouts.)  I’m tired.  My feet ache.  I have blisters.  You didn’t say anything about a mountain.

JULIE:  I said the camp site was in the mountains.

KURT:  You said little Mount Katherine.  Why Big Rock Cave?

 

JULIE:  The cave is very romantic.

KURT:  A cave has crawling bugs filled with deadly poison.  (He panics.) Or maybe there’s a big bear in that cave.

JULIE:  Quit complaining Mr. Weary bones and help me with this tent.  (Kurt rises, lets out a groan and they unroll the tent and empty the packs.  Julie offers a smile and a pleasant scrunch of his head.  Once again, she takes a moment and breathes in the air.)  Smell that?

KURT:  It’s ode to Woodman’s.

JULIE:  You’re killing my camping buzz.  (Rummages inside Kurt’s pack, puzzled, she looks to Kurt for an answer.)  Where did you put the stakes?

KURT:  We didn’t bring steaks, we brought hot dogs.

JULIE:  (Chuckles.)  I’m not talking about those steaks silly.  I meant the stakes for the tent?  (Kurt thinks hard.)  I gave them to you.

KURT:  No.  I don’t remember that.

JULIE:  I’m sure I gave you those stakes.

KURT:  When did you give me the stakes?

JULIE:  We got lost, we stopped at the gas station in South Tamworth and asked for directions.

KURT:  (Chuckles.)  I didn’t get us lost and I don’t remember you giving me the stakes.

JULIE:  Kurt honey, you did get us lost and I did give you the stakes.  Now where did you put them?

KURT:  Look in the pack.  If they aren’t in the pack you didn’t give me the stakes.

JULIE:  (Loses patience.)  You didn’t put them in.  I can’t believe you didn’t put them in,

KURT:  You didn’t give them to me.

 

JULIE:  That’s your story?

KURT:  That’s my story.

JULIE:  I didn’t give you the stakes?

KURT:  Yes!  Yes!  You didn’t give me the stakes!

JULIE:  I know what you did.  You left them in the car.

KURT:  No I didn’t.  They aren’t here!   (Julie paces, she tugs at her Baseball cap and slowly counts to ten to stop from screaming.  Kurt attempts to soothe her.)  We don’t need to sleep in the tent.  We can sleep outside under the tropic of Cancer.

JULIE:  (Breaks away from Kurt.)  I don’t want the tropic of Cancer!  I want my stakes!

KURT:  Now you’re mad.

JULIE:  You forgot the stakes Kurt!

KURT:  You’re right.  I forgot the stakes.  (Sarcastically slaps his hand.)  Bad  Kurt. Bad boy.  How dare you forget the stakes!

JULIE:  We’ll worry about this later.  There’s a stream down the path.  Why don’t you get some firewood?

KURT:  (Picks up twigs.)  There’s firewood here.

JULIE:  Kurt, you can’t build a fire with twigs.  We need big logs.

KURT:  I’m not a lumberjack Julie.

JULIE:  That plaid shirt says otherwise.  Now go down to the stream and get some big logs and fill this canteen with water while you’re at it.  (Kurt exits SL with the canteen.   Julie imitates Kurt.)  “We can sleep under the tropic of Cancer.”  Never again Julie. We never go camping again.  (Julie finds four rocks and uses them to set up the tent, but it falls over.  She makes another attempt and the tent falls over again.)  If I had some stakes, I wouldn’t be struggling!!!

KURT:  (OFS)  Julie do you want something?

 

JULIE:  No, nothing at all dear.  Just bring the logs.  (Julie examines the tent from different angles.)  All right Dad what would you and Una do?  (Crosses SL to the path.)  Kurt!  I needs some long sticks to pitch the tent.  (From OFS we hear Kurt yelp.  Julie reacts with shakes with laughter as Kurt enters wet, carrying a bundle of sticks and logs.Honey, what happened?

KURT:  (Glares at Julie)I fell in.  That is not a stream, that is a raging river!

This is an example of my style of writing for comedy.  I like short clipped speeches that keep the dialogue moving, so the audience’s attention doesn’t divert.  Too many long speeches in this scene will kill the humor.  The most important thing is that the  dialogue must also fit the the characters.  Kurt is a shy hyper guy around this girl and she is more extroverted.  It helps to have him nervous, so his dialogue should be quick and clipped, much like a Woody Allen character, or an anxiety driven character in a Neil Simon play.  Read Prisoner Of Second Avenue.  Mel’s dialogue is very short and clipped.  His wife mirrors everything he says, to heighten his anxiety, which creates some explosive, short clipped dialogue.  The only difference would be in a current comedy that I have put on hold about a former washed up Baseball Player who is the host of a talk radio show.  The show is called “Play By Play.”  My lead character Chick McSorley is very opinionated on many topics. I felt it necessary to have him be the Jim Rome of sports talk radio.  He loves to hear himself talk and he loves to jack up the ratings by talking about controversial topics.  Here’s the prologue.

                                                PROLOGUE:

PLACE:  Radio Station booth, Washington DC

 TIME:  Late December, the present.

AT RISE:  The stage is dark.  We hear a montage of legendary moments from Baseball history starting with Harry Caray’s “Take Me Out To  The Ball Game” and ending with a montage of highlights of the Velvet Fox of Baseball, Ned Plummer, the play by play Announcer for the Washington Nationals.  

NED:  (OFS)  Well Chick the fox ran through the hen house and stole a chicken. Nationals lose 6-5.  (The second clip.)  Strike three inside part of the plate and Holiday is stunned cold.  (Third clip.)  Votto screaming line drive to third and…Jackson robbed poor Joey of all the money on that one.  (Fourth clip.)  Here’s the 2 and 2 delivery from Lohse, (We hear a thunderous crack of the bat.)  Nieves hit with a authority and… that is….gone, upper deck.  Take me to Duke Ziebert’s Pedro!

 The audio montage fades.  The lights rise.  USR, the WWSH radio booth, divided into two section, far USR is the production studio and on the other side is the radio booth.  Former Shortstop CHICK  MCSORLEY is seated  in the middle with two chairs on either side of him.  In front of him is an ancient console and mixing board.  Various knobs and buttons are cracked or broken off.  Chick is in the midst of a talk show.  He is in his thirties with a brash, bombastic personality.  Chick wears a ratty headset, his eyes focus on two computers, a laptop and an old style Tandy, which often breaks down.  Hanging down in front of Chick is a thirty year old microphone on a metal stand, held together with duct tape.  Two exits lead out of the studio.  The DS exit leads into the main offices of WWSH by a set of metal stairs.  The US exit leads to the transmitter room.  Against the wall is an aging transmitter that dates back to the 1960’s.  The hallway leads to an US door into the production studio.  A cart rack is along the back wall at an angle.  Up against the dividing window we find RENEE DINERO, seated at a console with a mixing board.  On one side of the console is an old cart machine with top, middle and bottom cartridges.  In front of the console, an IBM computer.  To Renee’s right,  a telephone hybrid board, with flashing knobs and buttons.  Renee is in her twenties and she dresses in a punk rock fashion.  A microphone hangs down in front of Renee.   DS is another exit that leads into the main offices of Tinkle Broadcasting.  Renee is inattentive and chews gum with vigor.  She amuses her boredom with a computer magazine.  Chick cues Renee.   No response.   Chick becomes frantic and taps on the window.  Renee is startled to attention and she scrambles for a sound cart.  Chick throws a fit.  Flustered, Renee fires off the wrong cart.  “WWSH radio, now it’s time for WWSH Sports News.”  Chick wipes the frustration from his face.  Frantic, Renee searches for the correct cart and knocks the rest on the floor.  Chick’s frustration tempers, he taps his pen on the console.  Renee retrieves the carts and tosses the one she doesn’t need until  she finds the correct car and jams the cart into the top cartridge and fires the correct jingle.  A group of voices in unison, “Wake Up and Smell The Gas” with Chick McSorley, followed by a flatulence sound effect.  Renee switches on her microphone, out of breath.

 RENEE:  What’s the gas this week Chick?

CHICK:  Renee, I have gas so bad its taken residence….  (Renee rearranges her carts.  Shestruggles to replace the bottom cart.)

 RENEE:  Chick, Management wants to remind you that this is a family show.  (Tugs the cart with force and expels it from the machine.  She stares at the broken cart and tosses it and pops in a new one.)

 CHICK:   (Taps his pen on the console and offers a mischievous smile.)  Management can kiss…  (Renee fires off a buzzer sound effect.)  I will not be silenced Renee.  Ned Plummer’s reputation has been sullied.

RENEE:  Who would do such a thing?

CHICK:  Renee you need to read the paper more.  (Pause.)  As you know my friend and mentor Ned Plummer passed away a week ago.  While attending a Larry King roast held in his honor, Ned choked on one of those urine infested taffy baseballs from Taffy Meyer’s Taffies.

RENEE:  (Turns on her microphone.)   Chick, Taffy Meyer’s Taffies sponsors “Wake up andSmell the Gas!!!”  (Snaps off her microphone.)

CHICK:  Ohhh, thank you Renee.   “Wake Up and Smell the Gas” sponsored  by Taffy Meyer’s Taffies, the chewy taffy that makes you choke to death.

RENEE:   (Snaps on her microphone.)  Chick, behave, that’s not the correct copy!!!

 

CHICK:  Renee calm down.

RENEE:  Get on with it Chick.  What’s the gas?

CHICK:  The gas is about an editorial from that insipid rag…  (Cues Renee and she plays a dramatic sound effect.) 

RENEE:  What insipid rag Chick? 

 CHICK:  The Washington Chronicle.  (Chick fires a sound effect from his computer. “Oh no not the Washington Chronicle.”  The sound effect startles Renee.  Her eyes move to the phones and back to Chick.  She glares and shakes her head no violently.)  Yes the same “WashingtonChronicle,” that fabricated the demise of my Baseball career.  Listen up Dripp Sludge…

RENEE:  (Snaps on microphone.)  His name is Tripp Sledge Chick!!!  Tripp Sledge!!!

CHICK:  Thank you for correcting me Renee. Listen up Tripp, until I receive that retraction fromyou, I’m going to continue to wipe…(Renee, frantic switches on her microphone.)

 RENEE:  The floor with you.    (Chick gives Renee a puzzled look.) 

CHICK:  I was going to say wipe…

RENEE:  The counter with you.

CHICK:  There are a hundred radio producers out of work in this city and they had to give me one that sticks to the rules.

RENEE:  What Chick doesn’t seem to understand is that when he’s suspended I’m forced to work with Brainard and Wallard and they put me to sleep.  (Turns off the microphone.)

CHICK:  I am sorry Renee.  (Cues Renee and she fires a kazoo sound effect.  Chick clears histhroat and takes a deep dramatic pause.)  I’ll move on to the drudge of Tripp Sludge.  Many were saddened  this week by the death of famed Washington Nationals announcer Ned Plummer.  I do not share the same sentiment as the rest of the Baseball listening public.  I have often argued that Ned was an average broadcaster.”  (Chick cues Renee and she fires a buzzer.)  Wrong!!!! Stop crapping over 15 WASHY’S and the Ford Frick award.  Sludge continues.   “I found Ned’s dull drawl a perfect remedy for my nightly bouts with insomnia.”Ah yes still bitter about that Rochester Redwings job.  The truth is that Sludge wasn’t worthy enough to hold Ned’s jockstrap!!!!  (Renee’s eyes grow wide with panic as she sees the phone lines light up.  The lights dim on Chick’s booth.)

 RENEE:  (Answers a phone line off air.)  WWSH?  Mr. Sledge!  Uhmmm….  Well….yes, yes sir Chick did say that sir, I wouldn’t take…we don’t take calls during the commentary sir.  I don’t know if Fritz Tinkle is in sir.  Let me find out.  (Punches a different line.)  Abby I have a problem.  Turn on the commentary.  Clyde doesn’t want to me use the red button.  All right I’ll do that. (Renee switches phone lines.)  Mr. Sludge… (Hears an earful.)  Sledge, Sledge…I’m going to transfer you to our  receptionist Abby. (Renee transfers the line and sits back down.  The lights rise on Chick’s booth and we hear him in mid tirade.)

 CHICK:  How do you sleep at night writing libelous crap about Ned’s personal life?  Have you ever thought about Ned’s family?  Of course not.  You cowardly cockroach.  You’re like a scavenger who picks the bones when someone is down and out.  You fabricate your dog vomit to brainwash your flock of sheep.  You’re a hypocrite.  You attack the baseball broadcast team and yet you pay our station to promote your urine infested dogma.  Now there’s a double standard if I ever heard one.  (Chick takes a long sip of his coffee.  A cunning smile comes over his face.  Renee senses trouble and prepares to fire a commercial.  Chick puts his hand up and stops her.)   Subscribers of the Washington Chronicle, wake up and smell the gas?

RENEE:    (Switches on the microphone.)  Okay Chick that’s your commentary for today.

CHICK:   Oh, no, Renee I am only beginning to roll.  And if any of those subscribers have a conscience…

RENEE:  I have conscience.  I have real conscience about my job.  (Renee stares down ata large red button, with fear in her eyes.  She reaches out to press it. 

CHICK:  Don’t you dare touch that red button Renee!!!  (Renee becomes frantic and  fires off a series of sound effects.  Chick shouts to drown out the commercial.)  And if those SUBSCRIBERS HAVE A CONSCIENCE, THEN YOU SHOULD DO THE SENSIBLE THING.   (Renee closes her  eyes and fires the Emergency Broadcast System message.  Chick screams now and fires off a patriotic sounder.)   UNSUBSCRIBE AND SEND A MESSAGE TO THE ADVERTISERS  OF THE WASHINGTON CHRONICLE.  BOYCOTT.   BOYCOTT NOW, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.(Chick gestures wildly, knocking over his coffee on the console. He ignores the mess and continues.) DO YOUR DUTY AS AN AMERICAN.  ONLY YOU CAN SAVE THIS COUNTRY FROM THE TYRANNICAL POWER OF THE WASHINGTON CHRONICLE NOW BEFORE THEIR TREASONESS EDITORIALS DESTROY THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AND WHAT IT STANDS FOR. (The EBS test finishes.  Irate, Chick looks to Renee for an answer.  Renee smiles awkwardly and grabs the phone.)  And that is my gas Renee. 

 RENEE:  WWSH.  Yes Fritz that was the EBS test.  I had to do something.  I would have pushed The red button but Clyde told me the red button would blow up the station.  It’s called a dump button.  Yes sir.  I’ll remember that in future.  (Renee hangs up the phone.  Chick cues Renee and she fires the disclaimer, voiced by Chick. As the disclaimer goes off Chick wipes up the mess on the board.  We see a spark.)

CHICK DISCLAIMER:  The opinions expressed by the broadcasters of WWSH Sports talkin no way reflect the opinions of Tinkle Broadcasting .  And why would they?  They have no opinions….Their opinion are filled with… (Renee’s phone rings the volume on the disclaimerfades as she picks up the phone.) 

 RENEE:  Hello sir.  Chick felt his commentaries needed a disclaimer.  No I don’t feel it’s appropriate at all sir!   The best solution would be… (Renee receives and earful and stops the cart and switches to a commercial.)  A commercial would be fine sir.  (Chick enters her booth.)

 CHICK:  What are you doing?

RENEE:  He’s right here.  (Renee hands Chick the phone.)  Fritz, for you.

 CHICK:  What’s up chief?  You did?  What did you think of it?  Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh.  Yes I understand.  Okay then.  (Chick hangs up the phone.)  

RENEE:  Tell me you didn’t get a suspension?

CHICK:  Tripp Sledge called the FCC, they called Fritz.  Now don’t worry, I’ll probably receive a weeks suspension.

RENEE:  You mean Brainard and Wallard are filling in?

CHICK:  That’s about the size of it.  Well have fun.  (Chick starts to exit the production studio and then catches the board in the studio sizzling.)  Renee?  Is the board supposed to do that?
RENEE:  Oh no.  You spilled coffee on it!!!!

 

                                                            LIGHTS TO BLACK

                                                            CURTAIN CLOSES

                                                            END OF PROLOGUE:

Now what if you’re writing an action adventure movie or TV character like Drake Darrow?  My impression of Drake is that he wouldn’t speak a whole lot.  He’s been betrayed by the Government.  The Government sabotaged his experiment.  He’s constantly thinking about it, and he doesn’t trust a whole lot of people, so he speaks very little and when he does, there’s usually some sort of cynicism within his dialogue, depending on the scene and who he is interacting with.  In some cases like my previous character you need to write edgy dialogue to get your point across about the topic you are writing about.  Here’s work from Alan Moyle from “Pump Up The Volume” about teenage angst.

You hear, about some kid did something stupid– something desperate. What possessed him? How could he do such a terrible thing? Well, (come here) It’s really quite simple, actually. Consider life of a teenager, huh? You have parents, teachers telling you what to do. You have movies, magazines, and TV telling you what to do, but you know what you have to. Huh? Your job, your purpose is to get accepted, get a cute girlfriend, and think up something great to do for the rest of your life. What if you’re confused and you can’t imagine a career? What if you’re funny looking and can’t get a girlfriend? You see, no one wants to hear it. But the terrible secret… is that being young, is sometimes less fun then being dead. Suicide is wrong, but the interesting thing about it, is how uncomplicated it seems. You know? There you are, you got all these problems swarming around in your brain, and here is one simple– one incredibly simple solution. I’m just surprised it doesn’t happen everyday around here. Now, now, they’re going to say I said offing yourself was simple but no, no, no, no, no, it’s not simple. It’s like everything else, you have to read the fine print. For instance, assuming that there is a heaven, who would ever wanna go there? You know? I mean, think about it. It’s cool. You’re sitting there up on this cloud. It’s nice, you know it’s quite. There’s no, no teachers, there’s no parents. But guess what. There’s nothing to do, fucking boring. Another thing to remember about suicide, is that it’s not a pretty picture. I mean first of all, you shit your shorts, you know? So, there you are, dead. People are weeping over you, crying. Girls you never spoke to are saying, “Why? Why? Why?” And you have a load in your shorts. That’s the way I see it. Sue me. Now they’re saying I shouldn’t think stuff like this.

Mark Hunter is a frustrated teenager. He’s moved from the east coast to Arizona, because his Dad took a job of Superintendent of Schools.  It’s hard for him, he’s shy, he can’t make friends and worst of all, he sees his new school kicking out all the undesirable kids, to keep up their accreditation.  So to reach out he decides to create this persona to reach his peers.  What’s the best way for a teenager to reach his peers, do something shocking, something provocative that gets their attention.  Create a radio shock jock persona named Hard Harry. Mark Hunter uses a book by Lenny Bruce to help him along.  He creates a character that speaks to teenagers and peels back the ugly skin that reveals what it is like to be a teenager, with so many expectations expected of them.  It is hard, it is truthful and it is very real and the most important part about any dialogue in anything you write, is it has to be real.  I wrote a piece a month or two back about using your ears to listen.  I often go to Church Street in Burlington Vermont to people watch, but not just to do that, I listen to dialogue around me.  Recently I sat out at a cafe with some friends and I bet they had no idea, that I was doing more than people watching, I was listening to the rhythms and sounds of dialogue.  You can gather some great and real dialogue that way.  Real dialogue is what it is all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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