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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dialogue in Two Lines--Using Twitter and Joss Whedon to Improve the Craft

Yesterday, we (Tink & I and you if you were cool enough) explored setting through twitter. Today, we're going to see if we can develop a full emotion or the idea of a conversation through two lines of dialogue alone. 
Glowy stick of destiny, used by Whedon for his dark dialogue arts

Impossible? It's the two-liners that make Joss Whedon's screenplay so powerful. If you can, re-watch the scene from the Avengers where everyone starts arguing next to the glowy stick. Not one word is wasted, except maybe the "are you boys really that naive" by our stereotype in spandex. Joss Whedon's power comes from one strong character's line bouncing off the one before it.

For example,

"I thought humans were more evolved than this."
"Excuse me, do we come to your planet and blow stuff up?"
You know from the hoity-toity tone the first line's Thor's. You can hear he's a non-human, and there's all kinds of superiority and shady human activity wrapped up in that quote. You get Nick Fury's Sam L. Jackson tone dripping through the whole second line with the informal diction and the powerful attitude. Even if you hadn't seen the scene, you've already got a general idea of the past conflict, the setting, the genre, and the characters involved. SO POWERFUL.
Here's another:

"You didn't come here because I bat my eyelashes at you."
"Yes, and I'm not leaving 'cuz suddenly you get a little twitchy."

Who's the femme fatale? Who's the Hulk? Tone's obvious, again, because of the diction. The tension's overwhelming in the bitter, clenched-teeth condescension of the second line--stubborness, fears, authority-struggle--it's all here. Whedon gives you plot, character-development, and emotion all in two lines, and you don't really need the surrounding scene's details to feel the stress. Incidentally, it's really only through Black Widow's interactions with Hulk that she becomes less of a spy-woman-tight-pants-object and more of a (gasp) human being. Here Whedon disconnects her "feminine wiles" from Banner's actual decisions, and in her sarcastic statement Widow deconstructs and debunks her own stereotype.

Last, here's my favorite two-liner from that scene:

"The only thing you really fight for is yourself--you're not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you."
"I think I would just cut the wire." 

This whole conversation made my heart skip, but RIGHT HERE you get its strongest punch, the philosophical bind between IronMan and Captain America, and the question of IronMan's character development throughout the whole movie. In this living nugget you find the thematic seeds of heroism and innovation, the conflict between old and new--and a really funny quip, besides. These two lines made the entire movie for me--especially because in the end, IronMan does lay down on the wire. By themselves, these two lines already tell a story. FORESHADOWING FTW

True, a story can't rest on dialogue alone: background settings, the adventures we go through with a character, and the characters themselves inform our interest in what they say. That's why literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer says on twitter she doesn't like to see a first page that's more than 1/3 dialogue. Yet an expert writer can accomplish all the prime directives of storytelling--plot, character, theme, and emotion--in just two lines. Quippy one-liners make up the fare of crazy action sequences; two-liners develop characters into people we love and remember.

So...I'm going to try my hand today and tomorrow. Feel free to laugh/roll your eyes/punch me in the face, since this is much harder for me than settings. I'll post my results tomorrow!

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