Posted by: michellemuldoon | January 24, 2011

Figure It Out

I don’t know about you, but I can talk till the cows come home. That’s not a problem, but you know, sometimes listening can be a good idea, too.  We’ve already talked about taking time to listen to conversations around you, and as important as I think that is, I’m not going to post about that again. Let’s face it, blog as confessional can get a little tiring.  Instead, I’d like to talk about how much talking a character does, or more specifically, how important it is for them not to say too much.

Yes, we’re talking about subtext. A good script is loaded with it. And that’s the hard part about writing dialogue. If there’s too much text to it, then there isn’t enough subtext.

If everyone in a script said exactly what was on their mind, we wouldn’t have tension, plot development, character development, or a story.  If everything was clearly laid out, then the text would be “on the nose”.  In other words, it would be boring.  How entertaining would it be to see everything laid out in dialogue, without leaving much to the imagination.

Think of good dialogue (with subtext) as a verbal joust, a game of cat and mouse. The writer wants you to understand “that thing”, but they aren’t going to tell you what “that thing” is. They’re going to lead you to the story and the character reveals, but they aren’t going to hand it to you. They make you figure it out as the story, or the specific conversation, develops.  It’s a game of power dynamics between the characters, and in some ways, a game of Clue between the writer and the viewer.

We all love a good word game. Let your love spill all over the page, and always leave the audience with something to figure out.   After all, it’s a lot more fun filling in the gaps, than it is to have all the answers on the tip of the nose.

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