Home Contact Biography Works Media News

Jane Recommends
Who Hates Whom / Bob Harris

Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up A Woefully Incomplete Guide by Bob Harris

"The geopolitical equivalent of scorecards that get hawked at ball games. Only Bob could make a user’s guide to our increasingly hostile world this absorbing, this breezy, and—ultimately—this hopeful."
~ Ken Jennings, author of Brainiac


Jane in Print
Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, edited by Jane Espenson

Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, edited by Jennifer Crusie and including Jane Espenson's short story, "Georgiana"

Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly, edited by Jane Espenson and Glenn Yeffeth

Jane in DVD

Jane in DVD

Now Available:
+Battlestar Galactica Season 3
+Dinosaurs Seasons 3 & 4
+Gilmore Girls Season 4
+Buffy: The Chosen Collection
+Tru Calling
+Angel: Limited Edition Collectors Set

Jane in Progress


Home » Archives » May 2010 » It's Not What You Said, It's How You Said It
[Previous entry: "The Dangling Kitten"] [Next entry: "Pilots Speak Out"]

05/23/2010: It's Not What You Said, It's How You Said It

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in the audience at a classic film festival here in L.A. and I overheard two young women having this exchange:

Have you seen "Seventh Heaven"?

I've seen the television series.

Have you seen director Frank Borzage's classic 1927 film "Seventh Heaven"?


You've probably got a good sense of how these lines were said. I've helped cement this impression with the names. But here's how they were actually said:

Have you seen "Seventh Heaven"?

Ditzy hesitates. She knows this isn't the right answer, but:

I've seen the television series.

(affectionately amused)
Have you seen director Frank Borzage's classic 1927 film "Seventh Heaven"?

(laughing at herself)

What I love about the way this exchange actually happened is that it was unexpected and warm and human. It's got subtler shadings than just a dumb girl irritating a bossy one. Sure, Ditzy is still a little ditzy and Bossy is still a bit bossy, but they're tempered and real, more like people we know. That makes me more interested in getting to know them. Some might say that drama has been lost, but I think the old "drama is conflict" mantra can be a dangerous oversimplification. Simple conflict is less interesting than subtle conflict, even if that subtler conflict is less conflict-y. And you don't need conflict between every pair of characters that has a scene together. Complicated shaded friendships are really interesting to watch, too.

I chose this example because I enjoyed overhearing this interaction. It made me start speculating about the girls. I imagined them to be college classmates who didn't know each other very well. Perhaps they'd met up at the theater by chance, not design? I got curious because the interaction seemed to reveal so much about them -- about Ditzy's desire to be liked, about Bossy's ability to make clear she was laughing with, not at, the other girl. There was a lot going on in a very few lines.

Pay attention to conversations around you when you're out on your own. See if you can identify conversation molecules, the smallest pieces of conversation that capture important facets of all the characters involved. It's really good training to help you write conversations that sound like they were lifted from real life, not from other writers' screenplays. Even without collecting examples, I think you'll find it's a simple adjustment to look at dialogue you've written and play around with subtling up the attitudes.

Lunch: a BLT with a fried egg. It would be a BTLE, but the E is silent. Delicious!


Get Blog Updates Via Email

Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz


Walt Disney Writing Fellowship Program
UC Berkeley
Jane recommends you also visit BobHarris.com



May 2010

Valid XHTML 1.0!

Powered By Greymatter
Greymatter Forums

Home | News | Works | Biography | Frequently Asked Questions

Site design Copyright © PM Carlson
This is a fan site owned and operated entirely by PM Carlson with the cooperation and assistance of Jane Espenson. This site is not affiliated in any way with Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox or ABC.