On-the-noseness considered harmful

As you know, Bob, in addition to as-you-know-bobs, one of the great sins of story-writing or screenplay-writing or any-writing is on the nose dialog. "But what is that?" I hear you cry. Your dialog is on the nose when your characters are talking about exactly what they're thinking. When they say what they mean. Real people just don't do that. Real people don't talk like George Lucas wrote them. They talk like David Mamet wrote them.

Mr Pedia and I have been trading email on this topic today. It is a problem for me, and I've been fussing about how to get better at it. Our thoughts about how to avoid this tragedy:

If you have only one goal in a scene, it's hard not to be on the nose. So overload every scene. Make it do three things. Or more.

A character arc for every character makes small talk easier. Even if it's a very short, stubby arc, like "can I snag the last jelly donut without appearing to do so?"

Sometimes I think the single most important writing technique ever is the one taught by this exercise, a famous one suggested by John Gardner:
Describe a barn from the point of view of a man who has just learned that his son has been killed in a war. Do not mention the son, the war, or the death. (The exercise should run to about one typed page.)
Works for everything, from descriptive passages to dialog. Translated:
Buffy is late coming back from patrol with a particularly nasty demon known to be on the loose. Describe Giles and Xander discussing what happened to the last jelly donut. Do not mention Buffy, the demon, or lateness.
I'll try this if you try it!
  • Current Music: Jon Hopkins : Private Universe : Opalescent
Tags: ,