Thursday, July 1, 2010

Et Tu Pilgrim

I was thinking about screen writers and how hard it must be to write in their style, yet take into consideration the actor's style and how that style came to be. The most recognizable speaking style of an actor is that of John Wayne, "Ya know, pilgrim?"

Shakespeare wrote "Et tu Brutus?" There are only three words, but what a wealth of emotion. Caesar's background and history with Brutus shape that line. It is what Caesar would probably have said to express that background and history in that situation.

How would John Wayne say it? His own character and background would show through. "Well now Pilgrim, you in on this here dirty trick too?" A character from Monty Python's Flying Circus, given that environment and style, would probably say, "Well Old Thing:  a butter knife won't cut it you know."

In short, the writer has to write in his/her style, but bear in mind the character's personality and what personal background they bring to it in a particular situation. We have to know all there is to know about our character, as we dreamed him up - or as the character told us. We also have to know the background which causes the character to behave as he does.

Consider this example: a stranger appears and introduces himself. Match up the character with how he/she replies.
1. "How do you do?"
2. "King John had no right to give you this holding. You are not welcome here!"
3. "Hey, come on in dude."
4. "Welcome! By all means do come in. Jeeves, please have tea served in the Blue Salon."
5. "It is your duty. Please allow me a moment to prepare myself."
Who said it that way and how did their background affect their reply?
The Fonz
The Queen
Sir Frothingschloss and Lady Sir Frothingschloss
the widow of a Crusader

How would the widow answer if she was a weak woman who had been beaten down by her husband as long as they were married and by her family before that?
What would a strong,  aggressive, self-serving widow say?
Or a widow who is desperate for a husband to protect her and her son from an enemy?
Or a young widow trying to keep the holding for her son who is the heir?
Or an older widow who has seen much tragedy throughout her life and this is just one more to survive?
What is it in their background that affects how they respond? How do you use that background in their dialogue, to expose their characteristics and indicate `why they would speak that way?

It is not always enough to know everything there is to know about our character without also knowing what shaped that characteristic; what shades their responses.

It ain't easy Pilgrim.

When you write dialogue, do you take into account not only what is said, but also what makes the character say it, considering their background?

Two notes: this is Sunday midnight and I am leaving in a few houirs for Calgary. An hour or two ago, I found out that the blog I had written disappeared into the Great Unknown. So, I have written this, which is what I remember of the original blog while striving to keep my eyelids from shutting down for today. I haven't given it the time it deserves but I don't have! And, I will not be back until late Thursday evening so my replies won't be posted until late tonight. You may have to check back tomorrow! I apologize.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Connie, you can't imagine how I felt when you asked me to check your scheduling time for this post and all I saw was a blank screen. Ouch. Well, I guess you do know because you must've felt worse when you realized you had to retype it. ugh. Honestly, I just looked. I did not erase it in revenge for anything.

Good job on the post. I can't even tell it was drafted at midnight.


Jennie Marsland said...

So true Connie. It's the character's background that not only gives them their way of speaking, but the words they choose.

Helena said...

I have had a very frustrating time today. The curse of Connie's post has been extended to me. TWICE I have been knocked out of the comment section before my comment was posted. I'll try to recapture some of what I have said, in two slightly different versions! In the meantime, I have taken in Canada Day in the Park, and watched a cracker of a Rider game.

First of all, Connie, I was impressed by how you handled the ridiculous deadline you were dealt, but you have just proved to us you are indeed a seasoned journalist.

Then, I have to say that what you were writing about was spot on for where I'm at right now -- doing a major re-write with considerable emphasis on character development and making sure that what my characters say and do is consistent with who they are. Of course, there is a bit of a paradox in this because their actions and speech help to reveal ... shall I say it? ... their character. If there is change in them, as there often is as they work through crisis or the conflict in their story, there has to be credibility for each character.

Thank you for the very useful points made today in your post!