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Old 09-11-2010, 05:44 PM   #21
wcmartell
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

Example pulled from one of my Script Tips, so that I wouldn't have to link it...

****

A good example can be found in an episode of the TV show THE CLOSER - Homicide detective Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick) and her boyfriend FBI agent Fritz (Jon Tenney) have been renting a home together in Los Angeles, and one morning while showering together Fritz suggests that they buy a house, so they aren't just pouring rent money down the drain. He has even found a house...

FRITZ
Four bedrooms, ranch style, big backyard,
pool, custom gourmet kitchen.

BRENDA
And it's within our price range?

FRITZ
Yeah.

BRENDA
Where's it located?

FRITZ
New copper plumbing, new electric, new roof.

BRENDA
Where, though?

FRITZ
Great school district.

BRENDA
Fritzy, where is it?

FRITZ
Calabasas.

Which is way the heck out in the hinterlands of Los Angeles County. Brenda thinks it's too far. The discussion is interrupted by a call - and the episode's murder plot. But they get back to talking about the house later in the episode. Brenda has come up with an alternative house in their price range in the Hollywood Hills.

BRENDA
The house is between your work and mine.

FRITZ
Two bedrooms, office, pool, great views.
I take it, then, you aren't interested in
what school district we buy into?

BRENDA
I don't think we need to worry about schools, really.

FRITZ
I see.

BRENDA
If you absolutely have your heart set on a bigger place...

FRITZ
A bigger place has to be something we
both want. Maybe in this case smaller
is better.

Okay, folks - are they talking about buying a house? Or something else? The dialogue is all about buying a house, the location and size of the house. But what they are really discussing is the future of their relationship and what that relationship entails. Subtext is what's being said *between the lines*.

***

Any time dialogue has only one meaning, it's not doing the best job it can do. You want layers of meaning, and that's what subtext is all about.

- Bill
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Old 09-11-2010, 11:07 PM   #22
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamboogul View Post
I find that once you have a clear grasp of your characters, dialogue and subtext come much easier.

From my experience, once I figure out what the character WANTS (more external) and what the character NEEDS (internal), I find that the dialogue comes easier.
Here is a literal interpretation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVmzrgvbj5M

This is Peyton Sawyer having a conversation with... Peyton Sawyer's subconscious, the Angel of Death.

Here is an extended compilation of Peyton vs. Peyton that expands on her characters subconscious wants and needs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3YSXjJk_ZA

(Hilarie Burton plays both roles)

The only way the writers could have written something like this is if they knew "Peyton" backwards and forwards. Her wants, needs, desires, fears, hopes, etc.

I also think this can be a fun exercise for aspiring writers if they are having problems with dialogue and subtext.

Write scenes like above where your characters talk to their inner alter-egos. Make the alter-egos force the characters to confront their fears and hidden desires and this will hopefully help you develop not just better dialog, but more rounded and realistic characters, too.

The net positive effect should be when you have two separate (real) characters talking to each other because now you aren't writing on-the-nose dialog and are learning how to "hold back" because you know these characters through and through. The added bonus should come if what both characters want is in direct opposition to each other... But they can't just come right out and say it.
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Old 11-19-2010, 09:06 AM   #23
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

wow - great thread

I was really stuck trying to liven up some dialogue until I read this. I made some notes, and think I have a good head start for a little sharper conversation...

my notes:

restaurant scene:-
Brad wants Al to be his business partner - what does Al want? Does Brad KNOW what Al wants?

Al is bored with his job. Brad is starting a new business. He'd like IN, but wants to get a good deal. Plays it cagey.

Brad tries to coax Al into being dissatisfied with his current job.

Al tries to make Brad think he's got it all rosy in his current job.

etc etc


Think this is gonna help a lot

Cheers people
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Old 12-23-2010, 04:06 AM   #24
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

I just saw THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, which has been touted as an Oscar contender for best screenplay. Overall a good flick, but apart from the male figure's character arc, the dialog had me scratching my head. Specifically, the subtext. There's even a scene where the controlling mother says, "there's subtext here."

"I think I'm falling for you."

Despite handholding, constant touching, calling each other "honey" half-a-dozen time, the spouses curl up into bed, longingly look into each others eyes and say:
"I love you, chicken."
"I love you, pony."
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Old 12-23-2010, 09:22 AM   #25
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamboogul View Post
I find that once you have a clear grasp of your characters, dialogue and subtext come much easier.

From my experience, once I figure out what the character WANTS (more external) and what the character NEEDS (internal), I find that the dialogue comes easier.
If you watch the first scene of The Social Network, you'll see that a lot of the dialogue comes from what kind of people each of the characters are. Just reading the script, you can almost read the character's thoughts.
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Old 12-23-2010, 10:37 AM   #26
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

Here's the (in)famous Manhattan balcony scene. And I don't think the subtitles are subtext. It's internal dialogue, which is different, riffing on Alvy and Annie's mutual insecurities. And the laughs come from the deadly accuracy of Allen's script cutting through the pretension (in both sense of the word). The audience is thinking 'ohhh if only they knew what each other was thinking, they'd be out of their agony'. And watching people in unnecessary agony is generally hilarious, I find.

ALVY
(pointing toward the apartment
after a short pause)
So, did you do shoot the photographs
in there or what?

ANNIE
(Nodding, her hand on her hip)
Yeah, yeah, I sorta dabble around, you know.

Annie's thoughts pop on the screen as she talks: I dabble? Listen to me-what
a jerk!

ALVY
They're ... they're... they're wonderful,
you know. They have ... they have, uh
... a ... a quality.

As do Alvy's: You are a great-looking girl

ANNIE
Well, I-I-I would-I would like to take
a serious photography course soon.

Again, Annie's thoughts pop on: He probably thinks I'm a yo-yo

ALVY
Photography's interesting, 'cause, you
know, it's-it's a new art form, and a,
uh, a set of aesthetic criteria have
not emerged yet.

And Alvy's: I wonder what she looks like naked?

ANNIE
Aesthetic criteria? You mean, whether
it's, uh, good photo or not?

I'm not smart enough for him. Hang in there

ALVY
The-the medium enters in as a condition
of the art form itself. That's-

I don't know what I'm saying-she senses I'm shallow

ANNIE
Well, well, I ... to me-I ... I mean,
it's-it's-it's all instinctive, you
know. I mean, I just try to uh, feel
it, you know? I try to get a sense of
it and not think about it so much.

God, I hope he doesn't turn out to be a shmuck like the others

ALVY
Still, still we- You need a set of
aesthetic guide lines to put it in
social perspective, I think.

Christ, I sound like FM radio. Relax

The subtext of that scene is 'I really want to impress this person because I'm attracted to them'. The conversation's clearly not about photography, and you'd get that from context and performance. In fact, in answer to an earlier question on this thread... that's how you get subtext. Context and performance.
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Old 12-23-2010, 11:42 PM   #27
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

We don't have performance... we have to get the subtext on the page.

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Old 12-24-2010, 12:10 AM   #28
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

I think characters who can't say what they want or feel makes them more sympathetic, because most people can relate to it in their own lives. These pent up thoughts and emotions also creates rising dramatic conflict in the piece which needs to be resolved.

But there are many instances where characters can and should say what is on their minds. It can be because of the type of personality they are, or a situation where they are revealing themselves, or action movies where dialogue is just adding to the dramatic scenes.

I think this idea of dialogue and subtext has been way overblown to kind of browbeat new writers to improve their writing. In the end it is just another tool to be used to tell a better story.
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Old 12-24-2010, 02:21 AM   #29
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

Bill

Agreed. I guess what I meant was we have to give actors and directors the information on the page so that they know there *is* a subtext - in exactly the same way we can imply a close up for instance - so that it's in the performance. Or should be.

Quote:
action movies where dialogue is just adding to the dramatic scenes
It's better if there is subtext though. Contrast Monsters with any Michael Bay film.
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Old 12-24-2010, 09:16 AM   #30
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Default Re: Dialogue and subtext

Quote:
Originally Posted by schnipple View Post
I think characters who can't say what they want or feel makes them more sympathetic, because most people can relate to it in their own lives. These pent up thoughts and emotions also creates rising dramatic conflict in the piece which needs to be resolved.

But there are many instances where characters can and should say what is on their minds. It can be because of the type of personality they are, or a situation where they are revealing themselves, or action movies where dialogue is just adding to the dramatic scenes.

I think this idea of dialogue and subtext has been way overblown to kind of browbeat new writers to improve their writing. In the end it is just another tool to be used to tell a better story.

Although it's true some people (especially children) do say exactly what's on their mind at times in real life, it's exposition. Which is not as interesting on the screen.

But if we make a point to listen to people closely -- eavesdrop on strangers -- we find they often do speak in subtext, quite often.

Personally, I think exposition can really mess up tone in certain genres and, IMO, exposition takes up way too much screen time.

Bill's example above in "The Closer" is a good example. What if the subtext was dropped and they debated the baby thing. And waxed on about all their individual reasons for/against having a baby. It would start sounding like a soap opera (tone) and really drag the pacing of the scene (screen time).

I think new writers often make the mistake of incorporating back story with OTN dialogue and exposition, like:

LYNN
I know you since kindergarten,
I was maid of honor at your wedding --
you don't trust me?

I would write stuff like that when I started and though dialogue like this could slide by - maybe - now I would be more likely to write:

LYNN
I can't believe it - after 20 years -
you don't trust me?

The saved line I can put to better use elsewhere.

Subtext let's us slip in some facts about characters without being obvious and clunky.
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