Dialogue in an Art Film

Jan Svankmajer – Dimensions Of Dialogue Part 2 (1982)


Thought this was an interesting interpretation of dialogue through art. Both parts of the film seem to deal with the power of love and the destructiveness of hate. It’s amazing how both love and hate can feed off each other so quickly. Fights turn into bad situations that turn into worse situations that turn into wars. And eventually status quos. Love can go from a smile to an idea to a text to hundreds of millions of dollars in aid relief within a week.


The project is slowly starting to take form. I am finding that the bulk of the research is coming from books and video clips as opposed to articles from scholarly journals. I’m am trying to incorporate as many genres pertaining to dialogue that I can come up with. In a class it might be neat to explore dialogue from different genres of movies and then find the aspects of dialogue that all movies, regardless of genre, have. We could also incorporate the different ways films go about story-telling. I’ve seen many films that start with a brief clip right before the climax of the movie and then take you back in time “2 days earlier” before the climax actually happens. When the story finally catches up to the climax scene that the movie started with, the “Oh – I get it” light bulb usually goes off (if it hadn’t already).

For my upcoming crots I think I’m going to write a poem, a lesson plan, and a haiku. So far I’ve done the movie scene and that the song “Subtext Rag”. Ideally, I’d like the repetend to kind of incorporate some of the crots – so far it’s mainly been interweaving the research. It’s amazing how many different ways dialogue pops up in everyday life – real life conversation, phone calls, text messages, instant messaging, walkie-talkie, email, mail, video-chat (skype), etc.

I’m re-realizing that there’s a small mountain of components that come together to make interesting dialogue in stories. One of the biggest blunders in comedies is when dialogue gets ungrounded in reality or the reality of the character. It’s really important to believe characters when they say things – when it sounds contrived, or over-the-top, or out of place, it can make you cringe. I love bathroom humor has much as much as most guys, but the biggest laughs usually come from the situation – though a couple zingers don’t hurt. Too many zingers run the risk of getting annoying and painful to watch.

Works Cited

Jan Svankmajer – Dimensions Of Dialogue Pt:2 (1982) [Video]. (2008). Retrieved February 19, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaMIR7uRTLo

Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dialogue with Lajos Egri

Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing was Originally published as How to Write a Play by Simon and Schuster in 1942. Egri’s work was later revised and re-published. The books is highly regarded as one of the best books on the subject of playwriting, but its insights have been adapted for writing novels, short stories, and screenplays. Below are some of my favorite thoughts by Egri.

“Only a rising conflict will produce healthy dialogue. We have all experienced the long, dull period when characters sit about on a stage trying to fill the space between one conflict and the next. If the author had provided the necessary transition, there would have been no need for this bridge of chitchat. And no matter how clever connective dialogue is, it is always very shaky because it has no solid foundation.”

“Good dialogue is the product of characters carefully chosen and permitted to grow dialectically, until the slowly rising conflict has proved the premise.”

“There is only realm in which characters defy natural laws and remain the same – the realm of bad writing. And it is the fixed nature of the characters that makes the writing bad. If a character in a short story, novel, or play occupies the same position at the end as the one he did at the beginning, that story, novel, or play is bad.”

“Regardless of the medium in which you are working, you must know your characters thoroughly. And you must know them not only as they are today, but as they will be tomorrow or years from now.”

“You may think you know someone who has never changed, and never will. But no such person has ever existed. A man may keep his religious and political views apparently intact through the years, but close scrutiny will show that his convictions have either deepened or become superficial. They have gone through many stages, many conflicts, and will continue to go through them as long as the man lives. So he does change, after. all.

"The only thing that one really knows about human nature
 is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can
 predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that
 rely on the permanency of human nature, and not its
 growth and development."
             -Oscar Wilde, Soul of Man Under Socialism 


The overarching theme of Egri’s work seems to be cause – the why? Every sentence in dialogue should have a reason behind it. Egri pushes the writer to be aware of the story before it gets written – you also have to know each of your characters like a best friend. You must know why your story is worth hearing. What does it reveal about life? What does it reveal about people?

Growth and change is what drives interesting stories. What do your characters learn? What don’t they learn? You unveil your characters through their words, which is why arbitrary filler dialogue can work against you. Not only do you reveal your characters through dialogue,  but you ultimately reveal the entire plot.

Works Cited

Egri, Lajos. The Art of Dramatic Writing. Wildside Press LLC, 2007.

Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Break-up Letters: Repetend #3


I put that tape in the replica earn so mom wouldn’t sell it at the yardsale. Speaking of which, I’ve decided she’s gonna continue living with you – don’t mention it! You were right about talking with Trandon, he really needs to take the fall for this. If he hadn’t asked for that goddamn thermos, we’d probably still be together.

The kids and I are taking a permanent vacation. You’ll soon be hearing from my attorney, Mr. Misterson.

Happy garbage day,

FYI – I’m writing a memoir about all of this. I’ve taken most of your books.

Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Song: Crot #2

Subtext Rag
by the inglishologist
Wake up - make somebody cry
Sit down, plan you're alibi
Go out and be a bastard for a day
You gotta lie, you gotta cheat
You gotta always hide your feet
Doing that rag, that wild rag, sorta known as the subtext rag

Cheer up - steal a woman's heart
Drive fast, tear the road apart
Stay in and wear the same shit for a week
You gotta snore, you gotta smoke
You gotta drink, you gotta toke
Doing that rag, that crazy rag, kinda known as the subtext rag 

You might dance and hide your tears
Take a chance and snort your fears
Just don't talk about it as you blow it

You may look up at the sky
Punch a grandma in the eye
Everyone but you should kind of know it

Well the whole wide world will see
All things your body speaks
So tone it down and don't say everything you think - wink wink

Show up - forty minutes late
Walk out, slightly hesitate
Go out and be a new man for a night
You gotta shout, you gotta cuss
You gotta smile on the bus
Doing that rag, that lovely rag, semi-known as the subtext rag


That was the lesser-known diddie about Jack and Diane. One of the most critical aspects of dialogue is subtext. Subtext is essentially the information given to the audience from the action that is not spoken. An intuitive screenwriter, playwright, or television writer can use subtext to let the viewers see and feel what might be going on inside of a characters head. This is what enabled silent films to work. Dialogue alone can tell a story, but dialogue in conjunction with subtext can usually tell it much better.

Subtext Article Worth a Gander

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thanks Google Books

On several occasions over the course of my childhood I heard comments about my great-grandparents being writers – nobody ever really talked about it though. I recently went to google books, typed in their names, and found some gold – I had no idea they’d been published.

My grandfather was adopted in 1924. It turns out that the couple who took him in were quite the eccentrics. My great-grandmother, Agnes Ryan, was a poet and managing editor of the Woman’s Journal, a suffragist newspaper. She also organized the New Hampshire Peace Union. My great-grandfather, Henry Bailey Stevens, was a playwright, staff writer for the Woman’s Journal, and worked at the University of New Hampshire.

Interesting facts

-Agnes chose to retain her maiden name upon marriage. This was highly unusual for the time.

-Henry lectured at the First American Vegetarian Convention in 1949.

-Henry was 12 years younger than Agnes, when he proposed. He was 24 and she was 36 when they were married. Again, this was highly unusual for the time.

-Henry wrote a book Rhymes for Meat-Eaters. On google, I found a semi-famous quote of his taken from that book.

“With lentils, tomatoes and rice, olives and nuts and bread,
Why does a man care to gnaw a slice of something bleeding and dead?”

-My response: because it’s 89 cents at Wendy’s and it tastes like love.

“A Whiper of Fire”
by Agnes Ryan 1919

“A Cry Out of The Dark, Three Plays: The Meddler, Bolo and Babette, The Madhouse”
by Henry Bailey Stevens 1919

Johnny Appleseed & Paul Bunyan: A Play of American Folklore in 3 Acts w/Prologue
by Henry Bailey Stevens 1929

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 6:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Dialogue with Tom Chiarella

Below are some of my favorite thoughts of Tom’s in regards to writing dialogue.

“Good dialogue is like no other part of a story in that it can, and it ought to, give some sense of being an event unto itself. Good dialogue lends the readers a sense that it is happening outside the writer’s control, while clearly it is anything but outside his control. Good dialogue comes close to reflecting the world accurately, if only for a flash.”

“You create a character. As you write, you begin to know her, until you feel, finally, that you understand her. When she speaks, you might expect to feel that it’s like turning on a faucet, that the words ought to flow out of her in a torrent. Only if you’re lucky. Whether they do or not, you’ll find that writing dialogue is not a matter of everything that’s said. This is a physical and intellectual impossibility. Writing dialogue is a craft that demands that you shape what a character says so that it’s representative, artful, revealing and honest.”


I really liked Chiarella’s idea of your writing coming through as though it’s out of control. Sometimes I see jazz musicians playing around with dissonance – and it kind of does the same thing. They’ll take a song just close to the point that it sounds and feels like everything is on the brinks of coming apart, and then, at the last second, they bring it together and go back into the groove. Charlie Kaufman’s work is a great example of this kind of control. His films include Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Human Nature.

When a story gets ultra chaotic and you kind of forget that it was written by someone a good story is usually underway.  The litmus test is if you have to use a fake cough or fake nose wipe to get rid of some tears.

Works Cited

Chiarella, Tom. Writing Dialogue: How to create memorable voices and fictional conversations that crackle with with, tension and nuance. Cincinnati: Story Press, 1998.

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 12:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Movie: Crot 1

Scene From a Norwegian Hot Dog Shack in Brooklyn
by the inglishologist

Tomothy and Phineas are post-college graduates who work at a hardware store in the city.  In this scene they grab some lunch at Reggie’s Norwegian Hot Dog Shack and discuss the screenplay they’re writing. Chenn Lee is a short-order cook there.

Tomothy: So, you do any writing last night? I liked your idea about Loki being a Chinese finger-trap weaver.  It’s subtle, yet telling.

Phineas: Yeah, I don’t know. I didn’t get much done last night – Oxana was over and Lost was on. I think the dialogue’s got some issues.

Tomothy: What- Lost?

Phineas: No, the screenplay. Lost has no dialogue – that shit’s like triple dosing on Mescaline then watching a telenovela dubbed over in Mongolian.

Tomothy: Dude, Lost is badass. You just don’t like it cause you don’t understand it.

Phineas: Are you serious? There’s nothing to understand – that show literally almost succeeds in making Glenn Beck sound like a human.

Tomothy: Then why do you watch it?

Phineas: Cause Oxana likes it. It’s my – ticket to ride. You know how stuff works.

Tomothy: Yeah, whatever. Lost is by far the best show on TV right now.

Phineas: Tomothy, you’re living a lie.

Tomothy: Well at least I’m not still living with my parents…

Phineas: That hurt. These ice cubes are fucking amazing. We got to come here more often.

Tomothy: Yeah, they totally nailed it.

Phineas:  Their texture is absolutely incredible. It’s like each cube has been hand-chiseled for me to chew. Too bad they don’t have Nobels for this kind of shit.

Tomothy: Word. I was kind of wondering how they did it.

Chenn Lee: Secret family recipe. I tell you one day when you’re a little older.

Tomothy: I’ll allow it.

Phineas: So last night I was kind of thinking our scene with Demetrius needs a little help.

Tomothy: What? Why? That part’s solid gold.

Phineas: I know, man, I dig it too. It’s just – I think his dialogue’s kinda over-the-top for his character and stuff. He says fuck like 20 times in his three minutes on screen.

Tomothy: But that’s the whole point. That’s who he is.

Phineas: I thought he was supposed to be an 83 year-old paraplegic pet psychologist with a voice box.

Tomothy: Exactly. That’s why it’s hilarious.

Phineas: Yeah, but it’s not realistic – Demetrius needs to have some depth.

Tomoty: Cool, that sounds stupid.

Phineas: I don’t know – I just think we should hold off on the f-bombs until he actually talks with the parrot. Like he’d be real professional with the pet owners and stuff, but when he talks “pet language” he just unleashes – that’s how he connects with them.

Tomothy: No, yeah, I hear what you’re staying. It’s actually a lot funnier that way.

Phineas: Sweet. Yeah, the payoffs a lot sweeter this way.

Tomothy: Yeah – well I gotta go the post office. I’ll catch you later tonight?

Phineas: Sounds good.

Tomothy: Alright man, toodles.

Phineas: Godspeed.

Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 6:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Dialogue with Anne Lamott

Below I’ve listed some of my favorite thoughts from Anne in regards to writing dialogue. Her book  “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” was published in 1994.

“Dialogue that is written in dialect is very difficult to read.”

“Nothing can break the mood of a piece of writing like bad dialogue.”

“Keep exposition to a minimum in dialogue.”

“The better you know your characters, the more you’ll see things from their point of view.”

“As you learn who your chracters are, your compassion from them will grow.”

“There shouldn’t be just a single character in your work for whom you have compassion.”

“The villain has a heart and the hero has flaws.”


Lamont makes some great points about trying to humanize most of your characters. Life is complex – people usually aren’t just “good” or “bad”.  Villains with redeeming qualities are not only more realistic, but more interesting to watch. By humanizing a “bad guy” you give their conflict depth. The same goes with the “good guys”. Almost everybody has either a few bad habits, some skeletons in the closet, or some character flaws.

Works Cited

Lammott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

Published in: on February 14, 2010 at 9:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dialogue in a Short Film


The dialogue in this little movie is great. Miranda July definitely has a quirky sense of humor, but it never comes off as contrived. It’s real. I didn’t realize she was also a performance artist until recently. She’s excellent at provoking thoughts – amusing, serious, and hilarious. I find that when an artist can provoke multiple feelings, their work sometimes gains extra dimensions.

This short film is both realistic and telling of the characters – none of it seems forced. The characters actions, interactions, and reactions are also spot-on believable.  When the guy with oranges tells John C. Reilly’s character that he has a girlfriend, John C. Reilly’s reaction is great. He hesitates, softly expresses some confusion, and then empathizes a bit by offering the man an extra orange. Bliss.

Works Cited

Are You The Favorite Person of Anybody? [Video]. (2008). Retrieved February 10, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-t-5PLQgcSA

Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Break-up Letters: Repetend #2

Dear Jane Jean,

Sorry about getting your name wrong again.  I’ve been thinking…if Trandon asks about our divorce, we should probably just be upfront about it and let him know the truth: everything was entirely his fault. He’s six years old for Christ’s sake, he’s gotta grow up sooner or later. Besides, honesty’s the name of the game.

Also, I found that tape. It was actually in Tar-Tar’s replica earn – I guess I must’ve missed it. The replica ashes definitely rendered it useless. I’m keeping your Chaplin collection. Don’t take this wrong way, but I’m pretty sure he said more with no words than you have with eleventy-million.

Your mom’s still here – you should probably come pick her up,

P.S. I need that $300 for Theadosha’s dog yoga bill.

Charlie Chaplin in the Lion’s Cage

Works Cited

Charlie Chaplin – The Lion’s Cage [Video]. (2007). Retrieved February 10, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79i84xYelZI

Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 12:31 am  Leave a Comment