Writing – art imitating life.

Romeo! Romeo! Hurry up it’s fucking draughty up here!

This has the potential to be a slightly embarrassing subject for me, but I thought I’d go for it anyway. I have this mole…

I don’t have a mole. Sorry, couldn’t resist, but I use humour as a defence mechanism. Seriously. Only last week I smacked a burglar with a joke book…

That didn’t happen. Anyway, this could go one of two ways. Other writers could read this and say “actually, I do that too” or there could be some pointing and laughing involved. Either way, I would strongly advise you to consider trying your hand at a little acting.

Dialogue can be tricky because these characters don’t speak like you, they are NOT you (at least not all of them) and their dialogue has to flow naturally. It has to feel real; it has to sound like the sort of thing a person might say at that moment and in that context. Darth Vader’s famous, “No. I am your father,” line is a fantastic example. This is a PIVOTAL moment in that movie and the franchise as a whole and, I’d be willing to bet, one of the most commonly (and incorrectly) quoted lines of dialogue of all time. Spot the difference a moment:

“No. I am your father.”

“Actually you labour under a misapprehension. It is I that must claim parental responsibility.’

How shit does that second one sound? Of course, no-one would have written that line of dialogue and it’s an over-blown example of what I mean, but what if it was a close run thing? What if it was a tossup between that and “I did not kill your father. I AM your father.” That’s not half bad, but which is more natural? Which sounds like a retort and which one sounds like a carefully prepared line? See, the line was spontaneous. Darth didn’t sit up all night, looking in the mirror and going over the possibilities for when he bumped into his son. “Actually, funny story… no, that’s not right. Your father is I! No no no, that’s not it! PUT THAT LIGHTSABRE DOWN AND GO TIDY YOUR FUCKING ROOM! Is that something a father would say? Oh I don’t know… maybe I should ask Palpatine…”

He had it in mind that now was the time to do the big reveal, but that line was delivered like a blade. In that moment, with Luke at his mercy, he finished the deal with five words that lead to the girliest scream in cinematic history. That line is perfect in that context and as such, it is one of the most easily recognisable lines ever delivered, even to people born years after the first three films were made.

Now, my characters are somewhat… caustic. My universes are unforgiving and the trials I put my protagonists through… horrible. These people are hammered by life in a way that I simply can’t relate to off the top of my head all the time so I’ve gotten used to saying “right, that doesn’t work” and acting the lines out to my shadow like a scene partner. Sure, you feel like a bit of a prick at first (I don’t do this when anyone is around) and it’s so tempting to scream “Gimme the keys you fucking cock-sucker-mother-fucker-aaaaaaaaargh!” but once I’ve had a few moments, I can usually tell whether or not something works. Has the speaker just been punched in the face? Trying delivering that long line while cradling your swollen jaw. Try speaking at length when you’re gasping for breath after a run. Trying firing that retort quickly and seeing how it feels.

Of course our protagonists have the luxury that everything they say has already been filtered by you, the writer, so it isn’t as spontaneous as it sounds, but believe me, this is a fantastic way to make it sound the way you want it to. Soon enough you’ll be able to get right into that character’s shoes without having to do any amateur dramatics at all, but it’s a great technique to refer back to.

Other than dialogue, I would definitely recommend this for fight scenes. I have the luxury of a modest degree of fighting ability and a comfortable knowledge of technique, so I know roughly what moves link one to another. Most of you with common sense will have worked out that you generally can’t deliver a knock-out blow as you’re flying backwards away from the target. You know that if you’ve taken a knee to the stomach you are NOT likely to do much more than go WOOMPH and bend over like an enthusiastic soap hunter, unless you have justified such a capability within the story.

Stand up and act out each strike, block, parry and counter attack in super-slow-motion and see if it’s possible. Go through the motions, make it real and be rewarded by breathing a shit-load of realism into your work. Watch UFC videos on Youtube, do your research and you won’t go far wrong. Prime example: elbow strikes. Seen those in movies, where a guy gets six elbows to the face in quick succession and stumbles back but, unbleeding, continues to fight? Bullshit. Think of the skinniest, least threatening kid at your school and think of the toughest. That kid, connecting ONE solid elbow to the face, probably just won that fight. No shit you have NO IDEA how much power a knee or elbow can deliver and believe me, you want to find out by watching it happen to someone else or not at all.

That’s it for today so the message is this: learn by doing. Sure you’ll feel a right prat if someone walks in and catches you at it, but hey… I bet there’s a least one thing you do regularly that you wouldn’t want to be caught doing and at least this is productive…


About Alec

An aspiring writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror based in Cornwall, at least when I'm not working as a purchaser for the family Architectural Ironmongery firm. I am a father of two boys and the owner of perhaps the most ridiculous dog to ever chase its tail. View all posts by Alec

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