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Monday, April 09, 2007

Go for Broke

Dialogue is a big thing for me. I guess you could say I pride myself on it. When coverage comes back saying my dialogue sucks or is even just the tiniest bit dodgy, the world stops as I feverishly try to do something about it. For example, when both Dom and Danny suggested my dialogue in a past Draft of ECLIPSE was "a little bit Buffy The Vampire Slayer" about three months ago, I was mortified. Buffy The Vampire Slayer! One of the programmes I like to take the mickey out of 'cos of its Geek following and its general teenage POV?! Noooooo! Though fun and gory, ECLIPSE is a story of revenge for past actions, of adult sexual themes and of course, my fave notion of responsibility and facing up to who you are. So I got to work...I will not rest until it is ironed out! I am Dialogue Queen of the Planet Talkalot and no rubbish or cliched phrases will slip past my eminent throne and into The World of Spec Scripts. So there.

Imagine my surprise then when it was reccommended I read Robert Mckee's Story book's insight on dialogue, since apparently the person in question was unsure I understood the notion of dialogue revealing character and pushing the story forward. Of course, there was much gnashing of teeth, swearing - in the general direction of "bloody McKee, I've done a DEGREE in this shit, who do they think are, rah, rah rah..." And that's some of the TAMER stuff - but it brought home to me, YET AGAIN, that in this game there is absolutely no such thing as objectivity.

Subtext is described in the dictionary as:

sub·text (sŭb'těkst') n.
1.The implicit meaning or theme of a literary text.
2. The underlying personality of a dramatic character as implied or indicated by a script or text and interpreted by an actor in performance.

Immediately we can see some of the problem. Whilst my most recent Reader for the script in question (and I still haven't forgiven you: Robert Mckee - GAH!) saw my dialogue as "losing impact for my story", the one before that had this to say: "I thought you created distinctive, attractive and likable characters." The one before that: "A really visual idea." The one before that even, "Visual, entertaining, great for the kids."

I believe absolutely in Adrian Mead's Power of Three: as he was at great pains to point out during his seminar the other week - imagine if you show your script to just one person and they didn't like it. You'd lose all your confidence. Equally, you may be showing this script to the wrong person. We all have our pet peeves and likes and even constraints: if I was an Exec and you show me a script about werewolves and I have no money, I'm going to say no - even though I love werewolf stories. Conversely, show me a low-to-no-budget script about Fathers' Rights in separation over The Mother's and I'm probably not going to be too interested, no matter how good it is. Why? Because I've had a tug of love with my own son with his Dad, that's why. No way would I want to make a film about it too, thanks.

Everyone is the victim of subjectivity. It's no good saying you are somehow exempt in my view (and what is that but a subjective statement??), because even if you don't realise it, philosophically speaking everyone is a product of their environment in some way or another, as outlined by my post on Rationalism and Empiricism. Subjectivity is defined as:

sub·jec·tive (səb-jěk'tĭv) adj.

1.Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world: a subjective decision.
2. Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.
3. Moodily introspective.
4. Existing only in the mind; illusory.

Because it's not the external world that is affecting someone's view of your script, but the world within their own minds, arguing your case is not going to change a damn thing. I could have written back to the guy about Robert McKee, pointing out that of COURSE I've bloody read it, of COURSE I know dialogue pushes the story forward and reveals character and here is my explanation, page by page, where I did just that. Would he say, "Aaah! I see I am wrong, oh mighty Lucy, forgive me!" No. Of course not. He'd think I was a prize tit and tell everyone I was. And to some extent, though I might disagree with his view of my script, in that regard he'd be damn right.

Sometimes people won't like or "get" parts of your script. Though 9 times out of 10 it's wise to listen if the same feedback crops up again and again (like Dom's and Danny's about BUFFY, meaning I had to do something), sometimes it will just be a matter of subjectivity. Sometimes it's even a culture clash. I have one script that is LOVED by English and European Readers and positively HATED by American Readers. No kidding. Whilst Brit and European Readers have called its dialogue "Brimful of rich and subtle wordplay, the recurring motif of "You know what will happen" especially good in all its guises", without a word of a lie most American Readers have called its dialogue "On-the-nose, then confusing...You could cut most of it." You can't get a wider chasm than that. But it leaves a dilemma: should I do what the Americans want and make it a straight-forward, cut-to-the-chase script? Or leave it as The Brits like it, complicated and ultimately, surreal?

The answer is in what story you're telling. Though I would never sanction arguing with consultants, Execs, directors, whatever, sometimes you have to go for broke. Sometimes no one will get you; only you will. So take that risk and go for it. That doesn't mean swimming against the tide for the sake of it and telling people more experienced than you that they're wrong and you're right: that's hardly going to win you any mates. But sometimes, just sometimes, popular opinion can be wrong. Sometimes, you find yourself in a place where some people like it and some people don't. So what do you do? It's one of the few occasions in this game you go with your heart, that's what. The script in question here was conceived as a surrealist piece, chockful of dark, Catholic imagery of redemption and sacrifice, influenced by my love of spooky Churches, Dracula, London, TWIN PEAKS and the work of Clive Barker. To change it to what others want would take all of that away and effectively kill off the effort I put into it. Then what was the point of writing it?

So what if no one ever makes it. It was part of my writer's journey. And it's a good script: of all of my scripts, I know it's my best and I'm proud of it. Sometimes you have to do what you gotta do.

Even if NO ONE likes it...


Sheila West said...

I guess you gotta go with your strentghs. If you KNOW you write feck-all good dialogue--dialogue the likes of which would make Quentin Tarantino cry--then don't back down. Just go with it.

Lucy V said...

Absolutely Sheila - change for change's sake helps no one in the end... You'd end up changing the script for every Reader. Hence the Power of 3 being such a good idea: it means everytime you get 1 bad feedback you can say, "Well, 2 others thought the opposite..." It's sanity-saving. When I first started out, I literally did change stories etc for every Reader I got feedback from and as a result my first script not only took a year and a half to write, it ended up getting thrown in the bin as an absolute mess!! : )

Lianne said...

I keep hearing again and again that producers and developers are looking for original or distinctive voices in new writers. If you start changing the things that you feel passionately about to please one reader, you'll loose what's distinctive about your writing. Stick to your guns!

Lucy V said...

Aaaah yes Lianne, gotta be original...WITHIN THE CONSTRAINTS OF WHAT IS CONSIDERED THE DONE THING! "Constrained originality" in fact...An oxymoron if ever I heard one.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Nothing against Dom or Danny but bottom line for every screenwriter is that as much as we all need a little help and objective advice from our friends, when that last drop of blood actually hits the page, it's your story and YOU are the expert.

Lucy V said...

Absolutely Maryan, tho I actually agreed with Danny and Dom about my Buffy dialogue, they were well on the money... In direct comparison to the Mckee Reccommender, IMO.