Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Talk the Talk

Mes Amis

I’m reading a book at the moment which I was rather excited about. Its not that often I get excited about a book that’s an unknown quantity, but the premise of the book is rather intriguing and crosses genre into horror (which is always good; I likes me a bit of well done horror). Its due for release sometime next year and I’ll save proper judgement for when I’m done, but at the moment I have this to say:

The dialogue is appalling. Appalling enough I’m almost ready to give up even if the plot is intriguing.

Lines loaded with exposition are dull enough, but when – at the same time – you obey all grammatical rules within dialogue you lose something of the impetus. It pisses me off, quite frankly, even more so when these writers try to make their characters sound tough by swearing. When you’ve had a line like “Frankly, Dorothy, I am really concerned about the nature of this expositional dialogue,” and then follow it up with, “I feel like the reader is about to tell us to fuck off”* it feels ridiculous.

At this point I guess its traditional to give a quote from someone I believe does the best dialogue in the best business. Now, most people would assume (and most people would agree with me) that the best dude I could think of to quote would Elmore Leonard. Sorry, man, but as much as I love your work, its too predictable to quote from you.

Instead, think about these words of wisdom from the best (and baldest) dialogue man in comic books, Brian Michael Bendis:

My goals for dialogue come from the fact that I so abhor exposition .Information has to be given to the reader, but I always ask myself if this dialogue I have written is something someone would say out loud.

And then:

Listen to your friends. I mean, really listen. People do not talk in complete, perfectly structured sentences. People stutter, stammer, start and stop sentences in funny places. This is like music to me.**

Amen, brother Bendis. If you want to learn about real dialogue, you should read Bendis’s comic books (Ultimate Spider Man, Powers, the darkly noiresque Jinx, the fantastic run he did on Sam and Twitch where he made two supporting characters from the Godawful Spawn books take on amazing hardboiled lives of their own). You should also read Leonard and Charlie Stella. You should listen to your friends. You should listen to people in the supermarket queue. You should realise that, yes, all written dialogue is artifice, but it shouldn’t feel like artifice! And it shouldn't feel like anyone in the book is trying to tell the reader anything.

Because, mes amis, much as I love a good plot and well written characters, if they can’t talk the talk, I’m gonna rip up the book and feed it to the mice.

Au revoir


*Obviously this quote is not from the book in question.
** Taken from the extras section of Bendis’s Jinx PB. Go out, now. But Jinx. Not just because Jinx Almaeda is a smokin’ hot bounty hunter who’d show that Domino Chick what kick ass is all about, but also because it’s a fantastically noireseque/hardboiled non-superhero comic book.***
*** I’m sorry about all these footnotes. Especially if Dave White’s reading this. But I think they can be justified. And if not, well…


Dave White said...


Russel said...

Dave, I put them in there, man, just for you...

Mikey P said...

That book wasn't written by a certain ex-flatmate that was 'always looking for inspiration', was it?

John R. said...

Dave's just teasing with his footnote hate. The minx.

And if you haven't read it already, I'd also recommend Bendis's 'Goldfish'. Excellent book.

Russel said...

Yeah, he loves the footnotes, really...

As to Goldfish, I haven't actually read it. Its been on my list for a while, though.

I remember a few years back Bendis did Ultimate Peanuts at the back of one of the Powers Books. With Charlie Brown espousing pop culture references and humming and hawing in the Bendis style. It was very, very funny.

John R. said...

His take on Calvin & Hobbes in 'Total Sell Out' is very funny too.

Jennifer Jordan said...

You feed bad books to caged mice you keep around just for this reason?

Russel said...

Who said they were caged?

I believe in free range mice.

The eggs taste better than with battery farmed mice.

Vincent said...

Footnotes get an undeserved bad rep. The world needs more footnotes*.

On topic, for quality dialogue, also see Shane Black. Saw his latest film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang yesterday, top film. I'm getting paid in nachos every time I promote it. Even though I don't like nachos.

* - Really, it does.