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Home » Archives » February 2006 » A Trick
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02/23/2006: A Trick

I know that I haven't made it especially easy to contact me about this blog. So I'm blown away by the great notes that have made their way to me. Thanks to Pat in Texas who sent me a note on a beautiful post card, and included information on her lunch! I love it! I also got a sweet note from Jesse Jackson. But I think it's not THAT Jesse Jackson. And a great card from Ken in Virginia, who groks my love of scifi as well as of Jane Austin! Thanks to all of you!

The most inspiring letter was from Alicia in Australia who started watching Buffy when she was eight (!) and is going to start studying film-making next year. She thinks she's not a writer, but her letter sounds exactly like a person talking, so I suspect she'd be great at dialogue.

So, let's talk a little about dialogue! You know what your character is FEELING, but you don't want them to just say it out loud, right? So how do you let your audience KNOW what they're feeling? You can't rely on acting to do this -- not in a spec script! Somehow you have to do it on the page. Well, I'm going to show you a little trick. Credit Freud for this one.

Here's a tiny little bit from a Buffy script of mine. Buffy has finally decided to let her boyfriend, Riley, know just how strong she is. They spar, and she throws him across the room. She hurries to him and they have this exchange:

Are you hurt?

I... I'm... I don't think so.

The trick here is having someone START to say something, then change their mind. Riley started to say "I'm..." something. "Okay," probably. Or "fine." That's what you normally say. When he changes his answer to "I don't think so," he has decided not to commit to being fine. We know he IS hurt, even if not physically injured.

In that case, a character started to speak, then realized what they were going to say was a lie, and took it back. The reverse works too, in which a character starts to let the truth spill out, then stops herself.

I wrote an Angel script in which Cordy mourns the life she used to have as the Alpha girl of Sunnydale High. At one point she's looking around at a beautiful apartment and she says:

I... I used to have this. I was...

She decides not to finish the thought, and just trails off there. Someone else speaks, and Cordy never comes back to what she was, but we've heard enough to know that she's thinking about her change of circumstances as a change in what she "was," as a genuine change in identity.

I love this trick. It's easy and efficient. It reveals character without a bunch of words. Give it a try! But only use it when a character is REALIZING something, because that's when they're distracted, when their censor is not engaged, when things can slip out.

Lunch: Chicken and waffles at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. Wonderful as always.


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