Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pet hates

We all have them. Here's one of mine.

JOHN
Lovely to see you again, Karen

KAREN
You too, John.

hate it hate it hate it. Why the names? And I can guarantee exchanges like that will be peppered through the script.

NO ONE SPEAKS LIKE THAT. Not in normal conversation. Yep it's an easy way of introducing your characters' names to the audience. But it's lazy and dull and grating. It's also an indicator that the script as a whole will be over written.

Overwriting usually takes place when the writer forgets they are creating a template for a visual medium. A look or an action or a carefully chosen phrase can easily replace half a page of over- expositional dialogue.

As far as character's names are concerned, trust the audience that they won't get confused if they don't know from the opening dialogue who is speaking to who or whom. Good writing will make it clear, and a lot more subtly than 'Could you pass the salt, Sir Lancelot?'

6 comments:

potdoll said...

Point taken English Dave.

Matt Cruse said...

This is a 100% genuine dialogue exchange from a script someone sent me for assessment once:

JOHN: Morning, Dave.
DAVE: Morning, John.
JOHN: Dave, as you know, I've been your brother for 38 years.

And another one from a different script:

VAL: Katy is going camping with the school.
MAUD: Who's Katy?
VAL: My daughter, your niece.

Sigh... tragic!

David Grenier said...

I think its the job of the casting director to make sure that the people cast are distinct enough that the audience can more easily remember who's who. When I watch a movie about five dudes that look really similar, I can't keep anything straight. So I turn it off and read a book.

By the way, you know what movie is awesome for dialog-as-exposition? Big Trouble in Little China. It's just hilarious the way the characters introduce themselves. I assume it was done to be campy.

Young.Angry said...

I know this is stating the obvious but it only works if it's natural to the character and situation. Exposition is an unnecesarily dirty word. It only becomes pejorative if it's grossly unnatural. Really a whole script is pure exposition.

When do people say each other's names? Mostly when they're trying to get their attention. "Sir Lancelot? Could you pass me the salt?" is natural if Sir Lancelot is at the other end of the table engrossed in conversation with Guinevere. Or when they're exasperated or angry with the other person. MUM! ENGLISH DAVE! Or an "emotionally intense" moment 'I LOVE YOU ENGLISH DAVE!"

I've got to be honest with you - I find it hard to take in names. I watched Gosford Park the other day and had real trouble following the names. What got me a hold on the character was what they did - the bloke who was after the business deal. Or the woman who wanted the allowance. I think it's a quality film but the characters you remember are the big ones with the compelling relationships - like the Maggie Smith one and her servant. It's not just the look of the character - it's how the interact.

English Dave said...

very true young and angry, my comments re hate were directed towards the lazy and unnatural as per the truly awful examples above and their junior partners.

I'm not saying never do it. I never say never do anything. I'm just saying I hate it when it is used lazily.

Boz said...

"Merlin, be a darling and wing us over the HP sauce.."

Using names makes every conversation sound like a strange boardroom presentation.