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.