Behind the Shades

Dialogue: Never speak to me like that again!
DAJB at 10:56AM, June 28, 2011
posts: 1,462
joined: 2-23-2007
As I've mentioned in many places, one of the things I aimed for in Shades was a realistic kind of dialogue. This meant very deliberately going through the early drafts of the script and removing/changing any lines that sounded stereotypically “superheroic” - you know the kind of thing: glib one-liners, bombastic threats and battle-cries, pro-wrestling style trash-talk, etc.

But there were other lines that I was just as determined to keep out of the final script. The kind of hackneyed lines that we hear so often on TV and in movies that we start to think of them as normal, everyday expressions even though - if you stop and think for a minute - you'll realise you've probably never, ever heard anybody say in real life. At all. Just in case there's anyone else out there who doesn't want their characters to sound like refugees from prime-time TV, here are some examples of the lines I mean:

Here's the thing …
You know this one. Girl or boy has something they need to tell the other. Maybe he/she wants to declare their undying love but doesn't know how. Maybe they want to break up. So they stare at each other for a few awkward moments and then one says: “So, here's the thing …” Except they don't, do they? Not in real life. Or maybe it's just a New York thing. It's a staple of US sitcoms like Friends and pretty much anything with Julia Roberts in it, but who says it in real life? No one I know, that's for sure!

What part of do you not understand?
Ah, such a witty put-down, isn't it? Nope. Not outside of sitcom-land it isn't. I have worked with some of the most witty and some of the most rude people imaginable. Exactly the kind of people who regularly spout this little gem on TV. And not one of those real life people has ever said this. Not to be funny; not even to be rude. It just doesn't happen.

Did I stutter?
Oh dear. Apart from being potentially offensive to any readers who do suffer from a stutter (and therefore alienating part of your readership!) has anyone ever said this outside of a high school soap? Again, if you have a character who's so mindless that he's meant to be borrowing his attempts at humour from assembly-line TV, then that's fine (but make sure your readers understand that's the point). Otherwise, scrap this and ask yourself what someone might really say. It may be pretty mundane and it may not be especially witty, but then … nor is this.

Who are you and what have you done with ?
This line must have seemed hilarious when it was first used, possibly back in the 1980s. Now it's just tired and old hat. Professional screen writers still use it, of course, but let's face it - no one expects originality from a movie written by committee. The last time I heard it used was in one of the Harry Potter films. The last time I heard it used outside of a film was … Oh no, that's right. I never have!

How's that working out for you?
Let me know how that works out for you.
Oh, yes. Character A has a big plan. Character B has reason to suspect it's not going to work or, from the look of Character A, it's quite clear it's already failed. What's the next line? Well, it can be anything, I suppose. Anything except either of these two lines. Yeah, they were funny once but that was a long time ago and, even if it wasn't … oh, you've got the idea by now. Real people just don't say it!

I got nothing.
Heroes in dire peril? Time for a great idea! Boyfriend caught in an embarrassing situation? Time for best friend to conjure up a great excuse! We turn expectantly to the comedy side-kick who says … Well, if he's Joey from Friends, he says “I got nothing.” If he's not Joey from Friends then, for the love of all that's original please make him say something else. Anything else!

What have I done?
There's nothing quite so satisfying as seeing the bad guy finally hoist by his own petard. Maybe, like Frankenstein, his monstrous creation turns against him. Maybe he realises his plan to rule the world will actually destroy it. Whatever it is, his realisation that his evil schemes are going to bring about his own undoing should be a sublime moment. It's his big scene, right? Or it should be. Unless, like Magneto in X-Men 3, he mutters "What have I done?!" No, no, no, no, no. God, no. There's nothing quite like a cliche to ruin a big plot moment!

I've got a bad feeling about this.
This is an odd one. In real life, people do actually say this. A lot. The trouble for fiction is that it's now become so universally associated with Star Wars that it's impossible to use it in a comic or a film without it sounding as if the character is quoting from George Lucas's space opera. So, unless they are, find another way to say it. This is not the line you're looking for.
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM

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