Where portfolio students talk.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lessons from a Genius

(Note, in using the term genius I am referring to a definition posted on Advertising for Peanuts a couple weeks ago.)

This isn't necessarily a post about advertising per se--but it is a post about great writing, particularly writing great dialogue. And that's worth significantly more than a dime a dozen (but probably less than their weight in gold). Here's an excerpt from David Milch, writer/creator of Deadwood and John from Cincinnati:

Dialog Step

Perhaps the most important aspect of writing truly great television (and naturally something I've always been good at) is coming up with dialog that just barely resembles what each character is trying to say. When people have to work to understand what the hell is going on, they presume (correctly!) that they must be watching fine art.

I could explain this, but I'm not that good of a writer so I'll just show you through an example. Casey does not want a drink that his friend Adam is offering, but he does want to use his phone.

Adam: Want a drink?
Casey: No thanks. Mind if I use your phone, though? It's a local call. I'll make it quick.

That's horrible. Now let's punch it up by making that exchange harder to follow.

Adam: As I would offer to others who were in my house if they were here and desired it, what say you to a serving of this not-air not-earth not-fire element?
Casey: If I were to answer you in the positive I would be the embodiment of the title of that Henry Rollins Band hit from the mid-90's, and half the embodiment of the title of that Jim Carrey lawyer movie. How much of a strain on our friendship would it be if instead I asked for a rendezvous with one of your appliances which I hold close to my head and stimulate with my mouth?

Better. Not quite there yet, but better. As I learned from Deadwood, cursing is the ultimate hot sauce. It goes great with everything. Let's revise the exchange accordingly.

Adam: As I'd fucking just as soon offer it to others, I'm telling you that a glass of that liquid pleasure can pass between your cocksucking lips if you indicate in the affirmatory.
Casey: Much as I appreciate your gesture of motherfucking kindness, I'd like to communicate with another cocksucker via your telephonic voice relay device.

Now we apply the lessons learned from John From Cincinnati. Anger, insanity, mystery.

Adam: (to a chair) I'd offer it to him, but I doubt he'd... no, no. You're right. (long shot of the chair, with the camera slowly zooming in) Hey, you shitbird! Why don't you partake in this once in a lifetime offer of what some who appreciate potables might accept gladly?
Casey: (pushes Adam onto the ground and pulls out a gun) This is the cocksucking end. I wanted to ask of you a question that would possibly lead me to using your receiver and dialing pad but the device communicated with me directly from across the room vis-a-vis my left and right hemisphere. It told me... (an old scar on his cheek vanishes) These things cannot be undone unless we have fucking started them. All is Babylon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really? You have to struggle to understand something that is supposed to be great? Am I missing something here? I think there's a time and place for this kind of pseudo style dialog nouveau. The best exchanges take you along on a coherent ride down uncharted paths. I like conversations I get right then and there. Even if the lingo is foreign to me. Like when I met this dude who had just received some good news say, everything is Cadillac. I had never heard such a saying. But I immediately understood the meaning. To me that qualifies as linguistic art. But whatever man, I'm producing shit work anyways. So, I'm sure I'm full of the same.