In an article in Wired magazine, Dan Ariely mentions a study that shows online daters restrict themselves to safe topics, resulting in boring conversations. Hmm, that reminds me of a lot of movie dialogue, especially in scripts from newer writers.
When I bring this up in workshops, the usual reply is, “Yes, but that’s how people talk.” Maybe so, but if I want to hear normal (boring) conversations I’ll go sit at a Starbucks and eavesdrop. When I go to the movies, I want something better than ordinary life.
One solution: put your characters into situations outside of their normal comfort zone. Then they’ll talk in a more interesting way, too. For instance:
When there’s time pressure of some kind. I’m currently writing a script about a man who is dying. That makes him more willing to say things he normally wouldn’t say and it makes the people around him uncertain about what they should or shouldn’t say to him, which makes them blurt out some interesting things.
When they’re in an unfamiliar setting–the ‘fish out of water’ effect. When people aren’t sure what’s appropriate, often they do and say inappropriate things. Inappropriate is interesting.
When they’re trying too hard. Have you ever been around somebody who is trying too hard to sound hip or interesting? Rich dialogue possibilities.
When they have something to hide. Trying to keep a secret often leads to Freudian slips, lies that don’t match up and other disasters for the speaker.
Of course these work only when they’re consistent with the story you want to tell, but at least one of those fits just about any kind of story. Put your people under pressure and what they say and how they say it should get a lot more interesting.
(Jurgen Wolff’s screenwriting blog is at www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com, where you can sign up for his free monthly Brainstorm creativity e-bulletin. His most recent books are Your Creative Writing Masterclass and Your Writing Coach, both published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other booksellers.)