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Home » Archives » October 2006 » What's Wrong? Truth Got Your Tongue?
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10/03/2006: What's Wrong? Truth Got Your Tongue?

I was sitting here writing just now -- working away on my pilot script -- and I had a little epiphany. A very small one. Just a 'phany really. Something I'd known and employed forever, but had never really thought consciously about. But it's true and it's important and it clarifies some stuff you're probably already doing instinctively when writing dialogue. So I thought I'd sneak on over here and whisper it to you guys.

People get inarticulate when they have to tell the truth.

I don't mean all truths. I mean here the kind of truth that either makes the speaker vulnerable, like a proclamation of love, or the kind that has the potential to hurt the listener, like a retraction of a proclamation of love.

This has two consequences. Number one, it should make you write hesitations, false starts and circumlocutions in moments like these . Number two, it means that a reader or a viewer, encountering a character engaging in hesitations, false starts and circumlocutions KNOWS that a truth is at hand. Even if she doesn’t yet know what it is. You can use this to create suspense.

Why did you want to see me?

Oh. Right. You… There was this thing you did earlier… And I just wanted… Um, do you want to sit down?…

And, of course, one natural reaction to suddenly finding oneself inarticulate is to push too hard to get through it. And then you get the blurt. Also effective, and also all wrapped up with the truth. You don't blurt a lie. (Unless you're a really good liar who is turning the above principal to your own advantage by feigning a spontaneous blurt.)

Truth implies tongue-tied. Tongue-tied implies truth. Only the liar is glib.

Lunch: Chinese chicken salad and edamame at Universal


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