Between the lines



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  • Between the lines

    Subject: Observations on human nature and their application to characterization.

    There are certain habitudes that seem universal, at least in the American society. Here is an example:

    You are working at an reception desk, possibly a security guard station in a large office building. Whenever a man comes to the desk and says "I'm supposed to meet <!--EZCODE UNDERLINE START-->someone<!--EZCODE UNDERLINE END--> here ... etc." he is invariably there to meet a woman. If he is meeting a man, he will <!--EZCODE UNDERLINE START-->always<!--EZCODE UNDERLINE END--> say the name of the man. I'm not sure why this is, but trust me it is true.

    If you're trying to make your dialog true to life, this is one you might remember. I am curious to know if anyone can relate other truisms along this line. I'm thinking dialog.

    Bill M.

  • #2
    When people lie, then tend to seach for words. . . ahh, well, uhhm. . . pauses, the cadence is completely different.

    And should slow the dialogue down, with the other person responding in quick burst. . . is that so - you think - I don't agree. . .

    And with stage directions - they tug at their ear, pace, find something to fiddle with.


    • #3
      Hmm. Actually, I lie well and fast. It is the truth that slows me down. Truth takes thought.


      • #4
        Wouldn't the speed of the reply, if you're lying that is, depend on
        the situation. It also depends on the actual characteristics of your
        character. If there is a lot of pressure on your character in a certain
        situation, how well does your character handle it? Will he/she respond
        too fast, too slow, are they a good liar? How much pressure will cause
        a change in the response of your character?

        For example, on the television show Survivor there was an instance
        where a couple participants were forced to lie to the island host in
        front of all the other players about the subject of an alliance being
        formed. The player we would have expected to lie the best, Susan,
        hesitated and used words such as uh and umm. Where as the other
        player, Kelly, whom we would have expected to crack under pressure
        came out lying as if she were a natural.

        That probably wasn't the greatest example since chances are the
        majority of people here don't watch the show, it was the best
        example that came to mind. When it comes to lying I believe it
        depends on the situation and your character.

        Anyways just some thoughts, I am not a pro-writer so I could be
        way off in regards to screenwriting. If I am, please let me know .



        • #5
          Lines the Between.

          GIG, so... how long did it take you to write that?

          -- Gore


          • #6
            Re: Lines the Between.

            Gore, oh, an hour or so. (wink)


            • #7
              Great question, Bill. And most fun to answer...

              Depending on the size of one's "personal-stake" in a subject, they will augment or diminish the gist of their statements accordingly, and in ratio. Particularly in the areas (or should I say arenas) of career, and sex/romance.

              "Im an independant documentarian." (wedding videographer)

              "I'm a business-support-technician." (temp)

              "I'm in the culinary-service-industry." (paper hat/name tag)

              "I'm a sequential-artist." (wannabe/unpublished cartoonist/comics-artist)

              "I'm a cyber-journalist." (is allowed to write a rant page for a friend's free web-site)

              "I'm an interactive-entertainment-designer." (writes for a nearly-unknown RPG company)


              "I'm too busy in my career to see anyone right now." (Go away, you're not my type)

              "I'm seeing a few people, but it's only casual, so yeah, we can have lunch or something." (I am dating several people, but you are my type, so I wanna date you too)

              "My partner/spouse and I are exploring new possibilities." (We're swingers and want you to have a threesome with us)

              "Oh, don't worry. My partner isn't jealous." (I have my partner cowed and they won't say squat if I flirt with you, or worse)

              "We just hang out." (We have sex, but no matter the circumstances, I'm willing to sleep with you/others too)


              Ah, yes, the landmines between the lines. Hey, that's catchy! Time to log-line that in somewhere, or write it into the comic...

              Luv ya Bill!


              • #8
                What about th euse of slang and so called "street lingo" I carry a small notebook around and write down little peices of conversation that we hear every day.Mostly the sayings that ksk2 mentioned.


                • #9
                  Kosk, regarding your career-related euphemisms, here's a commonly heard one (esp. here in the Bay Area) that you failed to mention:

                  "I'm an independent consultant." Read: person is either unemployed or has a "problem" coloring within the lines when it comes to corporate serfdom.

                  Bill, this is a great thread. I'm always on the lookout for truisms, be it in the way people speak between the lines or exhibit subtle but yet universal body language. I try to incorporate this as much as possible into my characters as it gives them greater dimension and makes them far more interesting.

                  Truisms wrt human behavior are the rich cousins of cheap stereotypes. For a beginning writer like myself there exists a fine line which divides truism from over-generalization. When done well, effective layering of truisms to a character adds texture and nuance. Too much layering of truisms leads to the creation of embarrassing stereotypes.

                  I'm also interested in the flip-side to this thread--the opposite of the truism: Surprise.

                  Every now and then I get lucky enough to witness people at their surprising best--truisms be dashed and damned! Tonight, for example:

                  I was on a jam-packed commuter flight, San Diego to Oakland. I was one of the last to board the flight and so was stuck sitting in one of the two last rows on the plane where the two rows FACE each other. Upon take-off, there were five of us occupying the two rows of facing seats: A 26-y.o. Black rapper from East LA; a large gregarious 30ish ex-con American-Samoan; two red-necky 50ish construction worker buddies; and myself, a flaming gay liberal disguised as the cool corporate snob that, by virtue of my day job, is my alter ego. I expected that the five of us would have nothing in common or anything more than polite chit chat--if even that--to engage in. For the first few minutes, I was dead-on right. Oh but HOWEVER, the big Samoan had an altogether different agenda, and so pulled out a stack of free-drink coupons and announced to the other four of us, "Hey gang, the drinks are on me!" And from that point forward, the party had begun...

                  Within minutes (and it wasn't the alcohol's effect), due to the spontaneous dynamics of our odd-ball group, barriers instantly crumbled, and the conversation began to ping pong with rather unexpected trajectories. Within the short span of the one-hour flight I sat in visceral amazement, with gut-pleasing surprise, as each of the representative stereotypes crashed through their respective ways and words QUITE unimagined. It's now several hours later and I'm still reveling from the chance encounter; it's the same feeling I'm left with when I see a movie or read a script that deeply impacts me by slamming me with something totally unexpected.


                  • #10
                    Thanks for sharing that, Leandro.

                    One of my greatest delights in life is when people burst our preconceived stereotypes: the delightful seventy five year old woman who complains to the doctor that the cast on her leg is really making sex difficult with her new husband. And then tells me about it. (true, true)

                    The uneducated stage hand who suddenly starts quoting Mencken -- huh?

                    The girl who works at the local convenience store who, when lightly goaded, says the funniest things, every time I go in. She's better than any comic I've ever heard and she doesn't even know it. She just thinks she's pleasantly interacting. Whatever little game you play, she picks up on it immediately.

                    The plumber, here to fix my sink, who suddenly waxes eloquent about my dumb art work, launching into composition, color, intent -- and walks out with something of mine instead of charging me.

                    We make such terrible assumptions about "the others," but isn't it fun when they blow that up.

                    I guess that is why my minor characters keep trying to take over my scripts.



                    • #11
                      Thanks, guys. Here's another behaviour that happens frequently, that might be helpful if you are writing a story involving a crime. Often a witness or suspect has a reason to lie to the police (surprise). They sometimes need to blame something on an unidentified individual that they "saw." The police interviewer asks for a description of the person. The interviewee very frequently will start describing the interwiewer, using the same hair color, eye color and facial characteristics to describe his subject. Smart police interviewers are hip to this.

                      ******** SPOILER *********
                      There was a variation of this in The Usual Suspects where Kevin Spacey used names from calendars, coffee mugs, etc. to describe people and places he made up.


                      • #12
                        I love those job titles, ksk. What I've noticed in Hollywood is that no one is an assistant. They "work in development," are "assistant producers (just forgot to add the "to") or one I ran across recently, a guy who works as a researcher who is a "Research Producer."


                        • #13
                          re: Between the Lines

                          another on crime: people who try to commit suicide by jumping will always take off any eyeglasses, and put them in a pocket or leave them behind. So, if a character is still wearing his glasses when he hits the pavement, he may be a murder victim, not a jumper. (That clue is one of my screenplays)

                          On alibi witnesses: The mistake many people make in giving themselves or their loved-one an alibi is "remembering" far too much detail about where they were, what they were doing at precisely one moment, what clothes they were wearing, etc. Most people cannot remember such detail about any given day unless something very memorable happened, like robbing your local grocery store. These witnesses are pretty easy to trip up.