Script Analysis: “12 Years a Slave” – Part 5: Dialogue

February 5th, 2016 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Dialogue. You may download a PDF of the script here.

Screenplay by John Ridley based on a “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup.

IMDb plot summary: In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

Some questions to consider in relation to dialogue in 12 Years a Slave:

* What do you consider to be the most memorable lines… and why?

* Any notable callbacks (a line used once, then used again later in a different context)?

* How about set-up & payoffs?

* Any exposition that caught your eye for being handled exceptionally well?

Head to comments and let me know what dialogue in the script made the most impact on you.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read Plot analysis, go here.

For Part 3, to read Character analysis, go here.

For Part 4, to read Themes analysis, go here.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

12 Years a Slave – Georgevine Moss
Beasts of No Nation – Jacob Holmes-Brown
Bridge of Spies – Scott Guinn
Carol – Jillienne Bee
Celeste and Jesse Forever – Ryan Canty
Diary of a Teenage Girl – Cynthia
Ex Machina – Nick Norman-Butler
Frozen – Doc Kane
Inside Out – Katha
Legend – Olivia
Leviathan – Piotr Ryczko
Locke – Megaen Kelly
Macbeth – Trung
Man Up – Kristy Brooks
Monsters University – Liz Correal
Mud – Kevin
Nightcrawler – DJ Summit
Pawn Sacrifice – Michael Waters
Steve Jobs – Angie Soliman
Straight Outta Compton – Timm Higgins
The End of the Tour – Steve F
The Iron Lady – Leslie
The Way Way Back – The Deuce
Trainwreck – Joni Brainerd
Wreck It Ralph – Kenny Crowe

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series – free and legal – by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 52 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

And for those of you who have volunteered, please send me your scene-by-scene breakdown as soon as possible!

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: 12 Years a Slave.

Movie Analysis: “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” — Dialogue

January 29th, 2016 by

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

This week’s movie: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt, based on characters by George Lucas.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. If you have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

(more…)

Script Analysis: “Trainwreck” – Part 5: Dialogue

January 22nd, 2016 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Dialogue. You may download a PDF of the script here.

Written by Amy Schumer.

IMDb plot summary: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read Plot analysis, go here.

For Part 3, to read Character analysis, go here.

For Part 4, to read Themes analysis, go here.

Some questions to consider in relation to dialogue in Trainwreck:

* What do you consider to be the most memorable lines… and why?

* Any notable callbacks (a line used once, then used again later in a different context)?

* How about set-up & payoffs?

* Any exposition that caught your eye for being handled exceptionally well?

Head to comments and let me know what dialogue in the script made the most impact on you.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

12 Years a Slave – Georgevine Moss
Beasts of No Nation – Jacob Holmes-Brown
Bridge of Spies – Scott Guinn
Carol – Jillienne Bee
Celeste and Jesse Forever – Ryan Canty
Diary of a Teenage Girl – Cynthia
Ex Machina – Nick Norman-Butler
Frozen – Doc Kane
Inside Out – Katha
Legend – Olivia
Leviathan – Piotr Ryczko
Locke – Megaen Kelly
Macbeth – Trung
Man Up – Kristy Brooks
Monsters University – Liz Correal
Mud – Kevin
Nightcrawler – DJ Summit
Pawn Sacrifice – Michael Waters
Steve Jobs – Angie Soliman
Still Alice – Audrey McKenzie
Straight Outta Compton – Timm Higgins
The End of the Tour – Steve F
The Iron Lady – Leslie
The Way Way Back – The Deuce
Trainwreck – Joni Brainerd
Wreck It Ralph – Kenny Crowe

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series – free and legal – by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 50 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

And for those of you who have volunteered, please send me your scene-by-scene breakdown as soon as possible!

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: Trainwreck.

Movie Analysis: “Creed” – Dialogue

January 15th, 2016 by

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

This week’s movie: Creed, screenplay c-written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, story by Ryan Coogler, based on characters by Sylvester Stallone.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. If you have seen Creed, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

(more…)

Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Embarrassment

October 24th, 2015 by

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Embarrassment.

A Fish Called Wanda (1999)

Consecutive days of Daily Dialogue posts: 2,718.

Embarrassing moments on film. Surely we can come up with 7 great suggestions!

The usual drill:

* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDb Quotes or some other transcript source.

* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.

I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway related to the craft of writing? If so, feel free to lay that wisdom on us.

Our upcoming schedule of Daily Dialogue topics:

We need a whole new set of topics. Suggestions?

If you have some Daily Dialogue themes to add to the roster, be my guest to post in comments. But be sure to post your ideas for this week’s theme: Embarrassment.

Thanks to all you loyal Daily Dialoguers! You rock!

The Mysteries of Writing Dialogue

September 21st, 2015 by

There are many intangibles about the craft of screenwriting. Much of that derives from the fact that story itself is organic. Stories — good ones, at least — are not formulas. They are not widgets. Rather they are living, breathing entities with a heart, soul, and even will of their own. They slip and slide as we develop and write them, creating a series of challenges as we try our best to solve their mysteries.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with dialogue. When I pose the question, “How do you write dialogue” to professional screenwriters, the most common response is basically this: I don’t know.

Common advice as to how to learn to write good dialogue:

* Listen to real-life conversations to get a sense of how people talk.

* Read scripts and watch movies – or better yet listen to moviesin order to grasp the feel and flow of film characters talking.

* Simply keep writing, that the more you pound out pages and knock out original screenplays, you will develop your ear for dialogue.

All of those are reasonable points. But aren’t there principles and practices we can learn to help bring into focus a writer’s ability to craft compelling, entertaining and effective dialogue?

That was my thinking when I sat down to create the fifth class in the Core curriculum – Core V: Dialogue.

As with everything I teach about screenwriting, it starts with character. Isn’t it obvious the more you know and understand about your story’s characters, the more likely their respective voices will emerge into your consciousness?

Beyond that, it’s not just about hearing them, it’s about choosing the most impactful dialogue to support the point of each scene and drive the plot forward.

Hence the fifth Essential Screenwriting Principle: Dialogue = Purpose.

In a screenplay, there is almost zero room for extraneous dialogue, rather every line should tie into the Plotline and/or Themeline.

In Core V: Dialogue, we dig deep into this subject through 6 lectures I have written:

Lecture 1: Introduction to Dialogue
Lecture 2: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Inward Journey
Lecture 3: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Outward Expression
Lecture 4: Subtext
Lecture 5: What Is Not Said
Lecture 6: Realistic Dialogue

In addition there are several Insider Tips, analysis of several movie scripts, opportunities to workshop dialogue in some of your own original scenes, a 75-minute teleconference, and much more.

A testimonial from a writer:

“Scott is so generous with sharing his knowledge and it’s a great blessing to those of us who are just starting off/been doing it for years/need a reminder/need inspiration. I just completed the Core Dialogue course and I can honestly say he delivers back your investment threefold.” — Sabina Giado

There is no right way to write. Every writer is different. Every story is different. And you can learn everything you need to know about the craft of screenwriting by doing three things: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

However if you want to explore the subject of dialogue in an immersive fashion and from a distinct character-based perspective, I invite you to join me for this 1-week online class which begins Monday, September 28.

For more information, go here.

Saturday Hot Links

September 19th, 2015 by

Time for the 204th installment of Saturday Hot Links!

TIFF: Toronto Brings Oscar Schedule Changes, as the Strong Edge Out the Weak.

TIFF: THR Critics Rank 15 Films From Best to Worst.

TIFF: Spotlight, the Catholic Sex-Abuse Drama, Is a Worst-to-First Triumph.

TIFF: Hollywood Grapples With China’s Growing Clout at Box Office.

TIFF: Dozens of Indiewire Movie Reviews.

TIFF: Actors Outshine Their Films, Women Rule.

All-Male Late-Night ‘Vanity Fair’ Photo Highlights Sexism in Industry.

Showrunner Gender Has Major Effect on Key Employment Off Screen, Study Says.

How Did Hollywood’s Big Summer of Female-Driven Movies Measure Up?

Diverse Films Won the Box Office This Summer, and That Shouldn’t Come As a Surprise.

Hollywood Gorilla Warfare: It’s Universal vs. Legendary Over ‘Kong: Skull Island’.

King Kong and the Beginning of Movie Characters Jumping to Other Studios.

First Hit Piece of Awards Season is an Inside Job.

Brad Bird Gives an ‘Incredibles 2′ Status Update.

Pacific Rim 2 Probably Is Not Happening Anymore.

Joss Whedon Prevails in $10 Million ‘Cabin in the Woods’ Copyright Lawsuit.

Screenwriter Strife Hits Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘Joy’.

Paramount Buys Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Anomalisa’.

‘Citizen Kane’ Scripts Going to Auction in California.

‘Transformers’ Writers Room Wraps.

Bob Gale’s Guide to ‘Back to the Future’ Celebration Events Coming in October.

Attention, Screenwriters: The Baumi Script Development Award is Now Accepting Submissions.

Mad Max: Fury Road Should Qualify For the Original Screenplay Oscar.

How Jason Blum Plans to Upend Film Distribution With ‘Green Inferno,’ ‘Delirium’.

Denzel Washington Is Bringing All of August Wilson’s Plays to HBO.

An A-Z Of The Upcoming 2016 Oscar Race.

Disney to Reboot ‘Mary Poppins’ With Director Rob Marshall.

Mary Poppins Proves Disney Isn’t Satisfied with World Domination.

Village Roadshow Completes $480 Million Recapitalization.

China’s Tencent Makes Entire ‘Star Wars’ Saga Available Online.

Universal Signs Deal for Beijing Theme Park.

Here Are All the Movies Opening This Weekend: What Will You See?

Top Student Academy Awards Go to USC, AFI, Chapman and Academy of Art University.

Student Academy Awards: Meet the Winners.

42 New TV Season Picks: All the Must-See Broadcast, Cable and Streaming Shows.

Mining the Movies for the Next TV Hit.

‘Fargo’ Showrunner Noah Hawley on Season 2 and Thinking Like a Coen Brother.

Emmys 2015: Why Broadcast Comedies Dominate While Dramas Are Dead in the Water.

Which Fall Shows Are Getting Broadcast Networks’ Extra Love (and Money).

It Takes More Than Low Ratings to Kill a TV Series These Days.

2015 Fall TV Preview: Burn It All Down.

Craig Ferguson to Host Historical Talk Show on History.

David Letterman’s First Post-‘Late Show’ Gig Will Be Nat Geo Climate-Change Doc.

Emmy-Nominated Writers On How TV Is No Longer “The Idiot Box”.

‘Breaking Away’ Cast Reuniting in Las Vegas to Celebrate Cycling Film: It “Still Resonates”.

‘Scream Queens’ Star Jamie Lee Curtis Re-Creates Mom Janet Leigh’s Iconic ‘Psycho’ Shower Scene.

The 22 Greatest Mob Bosses In TV & Film.

Every Single Movie That Jimmy Carter Watched at the White House.

BBC to Launch Streaming Service in US Next Year.

Fan-Fueled Site Moviepilot Raises $16 Million, Plots Move Into Video Games.

Snapchat Inks NFL Deal to Bring Football Into Its Live Stories.

Streamy Awards 2015: Winners List.

James Franco’s Movie Column: Why ‘Goodnight Mommy’ Is a Fresh Take on the Horror Genre.

Tess Morris: As long as there is love, there will be romcoms.

Gavin Polone: How’s TV’s Golden Age Is One Big Hallucination.

Doug Richardson: Producer Pig Pile.

Scriptnotes: Episode 215.

Watch: Neo ISN’T The One in The Matrix Trilogy [video].

Watch: What Sex With The Coen Brothers Must Be Like [video].

Watch: Passion is Pitted Against the Hays Code in Hitchcock Kissing Supercut [video].

Watch: Charlie Kaufman Explains Why Making Movies ‘Sucks’ [video].

Watch: Five Alternate Movie Endings That Could Have Been [video].

Watch: 15-Minute Video Essay Breaks Down “What’s In Box?” Scene From David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ [video].

Screenwriting Master Class tip of the week: There are many intangibles about the craft of screenwriting. Much of that derives from the fact that story itself is organic. Stories — good ones, at least — are not formulas. They are not widgets. Rather they are living, breathing entities with a heart, soul, and even will of their own. They slip and slide as we develop and write them, creating a series of challenges as we try our best to solve their mysteries.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with dialogue. When I pose the question, “How do you write dialogue” to professional screenwriters, the most common response is basically this: I don’t know.

Common advice as to how to learn to write good dialogue:

* Listen to real-life conversations to get a sense of how people talk.

* Read scripts and watch movies – or better yet listen to moviesin order to grasp the feel and flow of film characters talking.

* Simply keep writing, that the more you pound out pages and knock out original screenplays, you will develop your ear for dialogue.

All of those are reasonable points. But aren’t there principles and practices we can learn to help bring into focus a writer’s ability to craft compelling, entertaining and effective dialogue?

That was my thinking when I sat down to create the fifth class in the Core curriculum – Core V: Dialogue.

As with everything I teach about screenwriting, it starts with character. Isn’t it obvious the more you know and understand about your story’s characters, the more likely their respective voices will emerge into your consciousness?

Beyond that, it’s not just about hearing them, it’s about choosing the most impactful dialogue to support the point of each scene and drive the plot forward.

Hence the fifth Essential Screenwriting Principle: Dialogue = Purpose.

In a screenplay, there is almost zero room for extraneous dialogue, rather every line should tie into the Plotline and/or Themeline.

In Core V: Dialogue, we dig deep into this subject through 6 lectures I have written:

Lecture 1: Introduction to Dialogue
Lecture 2: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Inward Journey
Lecture 3: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Outward Expression
Lecture 4: Subtext
Lecture 5: What Is Not Said
Lecture 6: Realistic Dialogue

In addition there are several Insider Tips, analysis of several movie scripts, opportunities to workshop dialogue in some of your own original scenes, a 75-minute teleconference, and much more.

A testimonial from a writer:

“Scott is so generous with sharing his knowledge and it’s a great blessing to those of us who are just starting off/been doing it for years/need a reminder/need inspiration. I just completed the Core Dialogue course and I can honestly say he delivers back your investment threefold.” — Sabina Giado

There is no right way to write. Every writer is different. Every story is different. And you can learn everything you need to know about the craft of screenwriting by doing three things: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

However if you want to explore the subject of dialogue in an immersive fashion and from a distinct character-based perspective, I invite you to join me for this 1-week online class which begins Monday, September 28.

For more information, go here.

Questions: What’s Your Favorite Line From A Movie?

July 29th, 2015 by

Another in great videos from the Academy Originals series. Here filmmakers share their favorite lines from movies.

Some great lines mentioned here by a bevy of people involved in the film business — writers, actors, producers, production designers, editors. And a nice treat, most of the lines are featured on an actual script page, a nifty nod to screenwriters.

HT to @amandapendo for the link.

To check out more Academy Originals videos, go here.

2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge

January 19th, 2015 by

Several years back, I coined this screenwriting mantra: Read Scripts. Watch Movies. Write Pages.

To encourage GITS followers to embrace these three key practices, I have run a variety of blog series.

Read Scripts

30 Days of Screenplays [2013]

30 Days of Screenplays [2014]

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis

How To Read A Screenplay: Parts 1-7

PDF Script Download – Free and Legal [closing in on 100 scripts]

Watch Movies

60s Movies

70s Movies

80s Movies

90s Movies

I continue to try to conjure up ways to get writers to read scripts and watch movies. For example in 2015, we are continuing with the Script Reading & Analysis series on a bi-weekly basis. And later on this year, we will explore classic 50s movies as we expand our archives, hopefully to inspire people to fill in gaps they may have in terms of great films. But what about the third part of the mantra?

Write Pages

The last two years we have done this:

Scene-Writing Exercises [2013]

Scene-Writing Exercises [2014]

I plan to run another in the Scene-Writing Exercise series in August. But then I had an idea: What if in February, we put the spotlight on writing dialogue?

A Dialogue-Writing Challenge!

Here’s my idea: We crowdsource a bunch of dialogue-writing prompts. From that, we choose the 20 best ones. Then next month, Monday through Friday, much like the scene-writing exercises, I invite people to take each prompt, use it to write dialogue, then upload the dialogue to the site for peer feedback.

Plus there’s this: To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Craft classes to Dialogue-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Craft classes highlight key principles and practices tied to the nitty gritty of writing a script. Here is the Craft lineup, the only time I will teach each of these courses in 2015:

January 19: Craft: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling

February 2: Craft: Story Summaries

February 16: Craft: Handling Exposition

March 30: Craft: Character Development Keys

April 27: Craft: Create a Compelling Protagonist

May 11: Craft: Write a Worthy Nemesis

May 25: Craft: Scene Description Spotlight

June 22: Craft: The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 7 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting.

To qualify to take one of my Craft classes for free, write and submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. The former to get you writing, the latter to work your critical-analytical skills.

You’ve heard, “Put your money where your mouth is”? I recently added up how many free Screenwriting Master Class courses I have given away through various GITS contests and challenges. It is the equivalent of over $32,000.

That’s a symbol of my commitment to do whatever I can to encourage you to write pages.

So here’s where I can use your help: Provide me with some good dialogue-writing prompts. Here are some examples:

* A monologue where a character confesses a shocking secret.

* A one-sided telephone conversation in which a character has an argument with the person on the other end of the phone.

* A ‘conversation’ one character has with a loved one who lies buried in a cemetery grave.

I want suggestions. Lots of ’em! Think about what challenges you most in writing dialogue, then brainstorm what would be a good prompt for an exercise in going directly at that troublesome issue. Subtext. Realistic dialogue. Exposition. Whatever the prompt, let’s see if we can generate enough of them to have 20 really solid ones for the challenge next month.

Who’s up for this? Who needs to work on their dialogue-writing chops? Who is willing to kick around possible dialogue-writing prompts? Who wants to win a free Craft class with me?

Consider this a Call To Adventure. Will you answer the Call?

I look forward to interfacing with those of you who do.

Onward!

Monologue as ‘sales pitch’

September 23rd, 2014 by

I just concluded the Screenwriting Master Class one-week course Core V: Dialogue and as with all of my classes, I came away stimulated by the ideas that emerged in our online conversations.

For example in addition to the six lectures I wrote which were made available, I also posted six Dialogue Tips, techniques to help engender good dialogue-writing practices. One of them is Monologues:

Specific to dialogue, monologues are a valuable character development tool. For when you sit down in front of a computer or place pen onto notebook, close your eyes, and imagine the words you write are their words, at some point, they become their words.

You find yourself writing down their ideas. Thoughts. And the way they express their thoughts.

You see insights into who they are through their observations.

You begin to get a feel for the rhythm of their verbal communication.

You can start to see some aspect of their world view round into shape and come into view.

Don’t judge. Don’t critique. Just put yourself in their shoes and let their words flow through your fingers.

Whether you use the monologue in the script or not, it’s a great way to coax a character to ‘speak’ to you. In response to this idea, one of the writers in the class Jonathan Melikidse posted this:

It seems many of the most interesting monologues, and I notice this in many of those written by QT [Quentin Tarantino], tell a story, a metaphor of sorts, that encapsulates a key point to the story. This is not really “show don’t say,” but it feels kind of like showing by telling. The monologue is vivid. It puts you in the moment. It reaches your subconscious.

In sales, they teach you to connect with the buyer (create a problem), show them what you are offering them (the remedy), then remind why your offer is the best choice (the solution). These monologues often feel like one of the steps within a sales pitch.

Grab their interest. Show them why they are interested. Close.

That got me to thinking, so I posted this:

I’ve worked sales twice in my life: For four summers at a rug and carpet store in Va. Beach to help pay my way through college, the owner a real New York guy with the gift of gab. Before I went off to Yale for grad school, he actually offered me a top position with the company with the prospect of taking over the business someday. That is one of my parallel lives!

The other sales gig was for 7 months, working in The Guitar Center in San Francisco (1980-1981). My boss there Larry Thomas now heads up Fender, the guitar company. And he taught us, over and over again, the three stages of a sale:

Qualify. Pitch. Close.

That aligns with your thing:

Qualify – Learn the customer’s problem.

Pitch – Give them the remedy.

Close – Finalize the deal with the solution.

It would be interesting to check out Howard Beale’s monologues in Network per this three-part scheme.

He starts every speech by citing instances of the listeners’ lives, identifying their problems and thus, creating a connection to himself.

He then posits a form of action: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.”

Then incites them to a response, basically closing the deal.

Of course, this all echoes Aristotle and his articulation of Beginning, Middle, End.

With that, let’s see if we can divide one of Howard Beale’s monologues from Network into the three parts of a sales pitch:

Part 1: State the Problem

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’

Part 2: Offer a Remedy

Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’

Part 3: Close With the Solution

So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

Works pretty well, doesn’t it? Now check out the brilliant performance by Peter Finch and track the rhythm of the monologue:

Notice how the camera stops on a close-up just as he lurches forward with the line, “Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone,” accentuating the transition into Part 2. Especially noteworthy is what he does after he says, “My life has VALUE!” Beale stands up and starts moving toward the camera, marking the transition into his closing argument.

So this monologue, along with having three parts a la Aristotle, also works as a sales pitch. It’s an interesting touchstone, isn’t it, particularly for monologues in which a coach tries to inspire a team before a big game… or the leader of an army gives an inspirational speech on the cusp of a battle.

What other movie monologues can you think of that might fit this pattern?

Thanks, Jonathan for that observation and to all of the members of the Core V: Dialogue class. It was an excellent session where everyone – including myself – acquired new knowledge about this aspect of the craft.

UPDATE: As I think about it, isn’t it possible to use the three beats of a sales pitch as a metaphor for three act structure?

Act One: In setting up the story universe, the central problem of the story, particularly related to the Protagonist, emerges into view.

Act Two: The Protagonist faces a series of challenges which make clear what the remedy to the problem is.

Act Three: In facing the Final Struggle and succeeding, the Protagonist, in effect, closes the deal.

There’s even this: Notice how oftentimes a Protagonist begins a story with a specific goal in mind, but switches goals during the course of their journey? They think they want the big job promotion, but in the end what they really want is to be with their family. Part of sales is to take a customer through a process whereby whatever preconceptions they have shift to align with your pitch. So another bit of relevance.

Regardless of anything else, this idea confirms once again the value of the three movements in story as elucidated by Aristotle: Beginning. Middle. End.