Shut Up Already!
January 10, 2012
You know that as a screenwriter, you will need to put words on the page to tell your story. You may not, however, need to use quite so many of them.
Writer types (myself included) often love basking in the glow from their sparkling, perfectly obscure, amazingly profound WORDS. Their characters say such amazing, impeccably-timed THINGS. They talk, Talk TALK their way through three acts, telling you not just the plot points you need to know, but also how untouchably brilliant the writer behind that masterpiece is.
Not that we don’t love the Sorkins and Codys of the world. But sometimes, it’s nice to give the words a break.
Hmmm, is it obvious that I watched the new silent film The Artist this week?
The Artist uses maybe 20 lines of spoken or written dialogue in its entire 100 minutes. And yet, despite the fact that we don’t hear crackling wit snapping back and forth between the characters, we always know exactly what’s going on, we’re on board with how characters are feeling and we get to delight in the visual medium that film is.
Without so many words, you get to delight in and focus on all the other ways to tell a story: what characters are wearing, their expressions or what artifacts are in their environments. Characters in fact, can often come to life much more when they are not resting on the crutch of words. Actions, in turn, get to be much more definite, clear and decisive when you don’t have someone in the shot narrating what we’re seeing anyway.
My two favorite sequences in one of my favorite movies, Children of Men, also have no dialogue. In fact, most of the third act of that movie is, apart from score and sound effects, silent. If you haven’t seen it, it’s amazingly powerful and nothing any character could say would do those moments justice.
There are so many moments in our own lives that are made powerful not by the clever turn of phrase someone threw together at just the right second, but by what they didn’t say, by what email didn’t come, by who wasn’t at the party, or who was, or the way they just turned away when you showed up and made eye contact. A point, a smile, a frown, a tear, a step away from you, or a subtle scoot toward you, a kiss, a stumble, a something left behind when they thought they had cleaned up all the evidence…these types of things often speak loudly and clearly without using words at all.
Just for fun, try rewriting a scene or two of your latest screenplay without just half the dialogue, or if you’re feeling up to it, no dialogue at all and see how it changes the scene, or the piece entirely.
Thank you for your time this week. In honor of the topic, I’m gonna shut up now.