I be a good righter.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

What Did She Say?

When I was a kid I wanted to be an actress. In high school, I was in all the school plays and musicals. In college I studied theater. On occasion I may have referred to it (in all seriousness) as "The Theatah." Any success I've had as a writer I attribute to studying theater and playwrights and eavesdropping on people's conversations. I have two favorite playwrights (actually three, but these two fit my post's topic, so we're going with two). Their names are David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin. Both of these gentlemen have an insane gift for, what I believe is, truthful dialogue.

I went to hear Mamet speak a year or so ago. He told this story about how, when he was first starting out, he used to drive a cab to make money. But, he would also write plays, and if those plays were well received, they'd go on for longer runs, and he wouldn't have to drive the cab. There were times when he'd write a play, and it'd get a one weekend run, and back to the cab he'd go. So, his motivator was to not be in the cab. "But," he said, "driving that cab, helped me shape my ability to write dialogue." And, it shows.

Now, most people think of Mamet and how much his characters say "Fuck." I think of Mamet more as not having fluid dialogue, because real people don't speak the way most people write them. As in, one person speaks, then patiently waits for the other person to finish speaking before he speaks again... no. There are tons of interruptions in dialogue. And, a lot of repetition. So, here's my very bad take on Mamet (watch a few episodes of The Unit, and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about, if you're not a Mamet-o-phile):

PERSON A: Oh come on. Come on. You don't seriously think --
PERSON A: You can't seriously. No, you can't think that I'd be responsible for --
PERSON B: I'm --
PERSON A: Because I wouldn't do that. You understand? Fuck. I would not do that.

Sorkin, also a theatah guy, has incredibly relatable dialogue. Take The West Wing (first couple of seasons -- ensuing ones don't exist in my world), rapid fire dialogue about a briefcase. Or, a prostitute (from the pilot):

Sam Seaborn: About a week ago I accidentally slept with a prostitute.
Toby Ziegler: [pause] Really?
Sam Seaborn: Yes.
Toby Ziegler: A prostitute?
Sam Seaborn: A call girl.
Toby Ziegler: Accidentally?
Sam Seaborn: Yes.
Toby Ziegler: I don't understand. Did you *trip* over something?

Okay, this is not a typical conversation. Or its content is not. Because, most of us don't know people who slept with prostitutes. Well, I don't, that is. But the flow, the cadence, the repetition of words... it's just how people speak. in fact, my husband and I had a long conversation about toast this morning. The word toast was repeated a lot. World's most boring conversation, right? Who the fuck cares about toast?

But, it was during this conversation that I knew that we were having a conversation that was not unlike Sorkin's style of dialogue with a hint of Mamet. I realized, it's a fairly typical conversation with most couples, or people who've hung around each other for long periods of time, like work colleagues. Words get repeated. There's a cadence. And, Aaron Sorkin noticed it, and brought it into his plays, movies and his TV shows. As did Mamet.

So, I'm grateful for my theatah experience. I'm grateful for having worked in a coffeeshop through college, being privy to all varieties and flavors of conversation.

Now, if I could just figure out how to tell a story well. Speaking of, there's a deadline looming (if you didn't know given my influx of posting recently)...


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