Thursday, November 15, 2007

Painful Dialogue

For the past thirty years I have taught writing in many forms, sometimes only basic composition skills.

I've seen how mangled the language can be in the hands of the ignorant and inexperienced. I feel good coming to their rescue and showing them the path to literary enlightenment and shaking off the shackles of inept communication chains.

But there is a dialogue trend in movies and television that greatly upsets me. When I hear it, I feel my stomach churn and my brain moving inside my skull in a frenzy shouting "Make it stop! Make it stop!"

I know you've heard the painful dialogue too. Here it is:

"You don't get it, do you?"

And lines that end with "okay?" "I'm trying to figure it out, okay?" "I didn't see her coming, okay?"

I first became aware of this alarming trend while watching low budget horror movies. Whenever I moved to major motion picture or prime-time TV fare, I started hearing the painful dialogue again.

So why painful? It's an opportunity missed to put more texture in a scene, to engage the characters in the scene in dialogue that defines them for us. Instead of saying "You don't get it, do you?" the character speaking could further explain the situation or find fault with the other character; either choice raises the stakes in a scene and engages the characters. "You don't get it, do you?" tells us nothing of value.

The statements that constantly end with "okay?" as if asking permission to be however the character is at that moment or in explainment himself/herself likewise is an opportunity lost for the character to tell us why he or she did something and how he or she feels now about it. It can express fear or loss of hope - so many possibilities to put in the place of "okay?" in a character's dialogue.

If you see a movie or TV show with either of these painful lines, pray for the writer and the character. It could have been so much better with at least one more rewrite.

1 comment:

Duffy said...

While I agree that the "Okay" thing grates on the ear, there is a certain amount of realism there.

"You don't get it, do you" is classic bad writing for the bad guy. Usually precedes the villain telling the hero his intricate plans and leaving him to die only to be shocked, shocked! when the hero turns up later to foil said plans.