SCRIPTWRITING 101: DIALOGUE
Recently, a commentary from two “high brow” observers of komiks and comics, annoyed a lot of komiks talents when these two bozos (who badly need to take Philosophy 101 - Logic) argued and argued nonstop with reasoning only ignorant people like them would understand. One of these guys accused me of using HIGH FALUTING (sic) dialogues in a short komiks story which he claimed was forgettable, yet he remembered who wrote it, and remembered the story, and remembered the dialogues. Yet, he said it was a forgettable story. Forgettable, but he remembered everything about it, including the so-called “High Falutin” dialogues.
My understanding of his “high faluting” description, is its current use here in north America. I thought he meant my dialogues were “Showing off, ostentatious, pretending to be above one's station in life, putting on airs.” This is the context now of this word here in north America. But, it turned out that the guy using this word, must have meant : “bombastic speech,” a context which was the status quo in the 1950s. Today, in north America, if you tell someone “high falutin”, it will always be interpreted as “Showing off”. Example, if there is an exclusive, pricey restaurant where only the people who have extra money would go, chances are people in the south or Midwest would say: “Them rich guys will all go to that high falutin restaurant called TURO-TURO.” Nowadays, if your dialogue or speech is bombastic, it will be labelled: STILTED, not “high falutin.” If you call a dialogue high falutin, it will be the same as saying GAY because you’re HAPPY. But of course, that was in the 1950s. If you say the word GAY these days, it would only mean one thing: HOMOSEXUAL.
Well, since we’re discussing this topic, this is the best time to discuss DIALOGUES in scriptwriting. In the old komiks industry, even in our old tagalog movies, TV and radio dramas, dialogues were never utilized to ADVANCE THE ACTION OF THE STORY, or to suggest an incident in the past to make the scenes interesting. This does not encompass all the writers, but many were guilty of this shortcoming.
What exactly is the main purpose of dialogues?
• Dialogues must sound convincing and natural, but should also be entertaining
• Dialogues should be in keeping with a character, even emphasizing his/her traits and disposition
• Dialogues must build & advance the action of the story. It should give foreshadowing, state facts and other information that can’t be shown in the action
• Dialogues must intensify, reveal – the emotions of the characters
• Dialogues should be fragmentary just like in real life, simple, but witty. If you can keep them short and crisp, the better
and the most important of all, avoid:
• Tired, worn-out phrases! If you have heard it too many times before on tv, movie, or even in real life – don’t use it as is! Re-invent it. You don’t want to write clichés:
“The devil made me do it”
“I’ve got a bone to pick”
“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
Think about the image a phrase can convey, and reword it:
“Jeffrey Dahmer’s soul made me do it!”
“I’ve got a fish to scale”
“Don’t twist the hand that holds your paycheck!”
When I was writing for TV in RP, I have always opened my dialogues “after the scene has already begun”. This way, I could inform the audience of what has happened before, the characters would discuss it, ponder it over here and there, maybe worry about the past action, and wonder what might happen because of it.
So, instead of:
“Magandang umaga, Kiko.”
“Magandang umaga naman, Kikay. Kumusta?”
This sort of exchange of words is lifeless. Empty. Static.
“Magandang umaga, Kiko. Akala mo di na titigil yung ulan, ano?”
“Oo nga, e. Mabuti nga’t nakauwi ng walang problema si Lagring”.
By putting an incident in the dialogues, the audience will pick-up the past action.
For smoothness, use connective words whenever possible.
“Tumakbo yung aso patungo roon sa tambakan ng basura!”
“Ano’ng klaseng aso?”
“Sigurado ka ba?”
“Oo, sigurado ako.”
• In TV and movie scriptwriting, SHOW, rather then TELL as much as possible. Use dialogues only to explain and to build interest and suspense – use only when necessary. Make the dialogues speed up the plot. Stress the visual. Use pictorial story-telling all the time.
• Avoid too much dialect. Suggest his nationality by using one or two foreign words, but don’t overdo it, unless subtitles will be used in the actual film. If the format is TAGLISH, finish all the english and don't insert the Tagalog in between. It will be too confusing to the readers or to the audience. So, if taglish is what the characters speak, spare us the agony. Please finish the sentence in full tagalog, then begin another sentence in English and finish the whole sentence in English. It will be wishy-washy to mix the tagalog and english together in one sentence. Avoid this as much as possible.
What leads to a better dialogue?
• Well-developed characters and contrasting characters will reveal their uniqueness. As a writer, you don’t even have to force the words. They will come out naturally.
• Listen how people talk in real life. Use the idea, but make sure that their conversation is arranged with splendor of order. Real life dialogues are meandering at times. This characteristic must not be included in your dialogue. Make the dialogues sound like in real life, but arranged artistically, and must move the plot forward, not hinder.
If you watch tagalog movies and/or tv shows, you will notice one very big problem. Almost always, if, say, there are two characters having a conversation, they would talk about something that they already both know from the past, and yet they are now talking about it because the writer’s intention is to inform the audience (expound) about this past. This strategy is a no-no. It’s purely schlock writing.
“Grabe ang tiniis natin sa buhay noon, di ba, Mystica?
Lasenggo si itay, labandera si inay. Tuwing uuwing
lasing si itay, laging sinasaktan
“At lagi tayong umiiyak, ate Auring, kadalasan ay
nakakatulog tayong walang laman ang sikmura at
may mga luha sa mga mata.”
This kind of dialogue is always used by many RP writers. Both the characters talking to each other knew all the facts from way back when, yet they are saying these facts to each other! What for? To inform the audience of the past. Isn’t this awful?
“Sino ang mag-aakalang makaka-ahon rin tayo
sa dati nating buhay? Hanggang ngayon ay hindi ko
pa rin maintindihan kung bakit naging lasenggo si itay.
At ewan kung paano hinayaan ni inay na saktan siya
ni itay nang paulit-ulit?”
“Kung hindi naging lasenggo si itay, hindi sana tayo
nagdanas ng katakut-takot na hirap sa buhay.
Naalala mo pa ba, kung paano tayo natutulog nang
walang laman ang ating mga sikmura?
This second alternative is more logical. The characters are reminiscing the past without the OBVIOUS unabashed spoon-feeding dialogues of the first example. Also, you'll notice how the two characters never addressed each other with their names. There is no need for that. When we talk to someone, WE DON’T SAY HIS/HER NAME each time we begin to say something like in the first example. As a writer, take note of this.
BTW, Madam Auring and Madam Mystica are both pop icons in RP. He-he-he. May ASIM pa silang dalawa. Damang-dama ko ang kanilang mga alindog. Sana, kayo rin.