Writing Dialogue

On several occasions we’ve all discussed the opportunity to binge watch TV shows thanks to the advent of Netflix, Hulu, and the like. What was life before being able to stream three or four seasons of a single series in one week?

I honestly don’t remember.

I am currently indulging in Californication. For those of you who haven’t watched yet, opening warnings should consist of something like this: Viewers must be at least thirty years of age, and not faint of heart. Seriously.

That crooked smirk on the Duchovny face we all learned to love in the episodic quest for Mulder’s knowledge of the truth is now attached to a guy named Hank who can’t quite make it through an evening without setting proverbial fire to his own ass, and to his precious and precarious definition of family. He’s a mess. Why do I indulge? Well, I like that smirk, and I absolutely adore the dialogue.

Now, let’s say, for a moment, it’s entirely plausible that a mostly average looking male author of a book or two would win this much sexual attention just by stumbling into the corner convenience store, or attending a  parent-teacher meeting. Let’s go with that.

Also, let’s say, for a moment, it’s entirely plausible that one guy on the brink of a mid-life crisis brought on by a failed relationship and writer’s block could actually stumble into as many effed-up situations as Hank does and still come out smirking. Let’s go with that.

Yes, the premise of the show is somewhat questionable. The saving grace is not Hank’s sexual exploits—they usually end up kind of gross and sad. The saving grace is the intelligent, spicy, fun, emotionally wrenching, profound, goofy, and revelatory dialogue. The conversation is always plausible.

Hank and his surrounding characters range in age from 13-70. They are a mismatched group of L.A. stereotypes, counter-stereotypes, anti-heroes, klutzes, fresh-faced beauties,and miserably confused philosophers.  They rationalize, rage, plead, lie, and make the most glorious verbal side-steps! The conversations are often surprising, delivered with deadly precision. So, I keep going back to find what mess Hank has fallen in to, and faithfully expect him to recover by the next episode. As of the second season, he doesn’t.

With regard to Californication’s conversations, do you agree? Disagree? What is one (or two) of your favorite TV shows that makes dialogue magic?

Later on in the workshop, we’ll be exploring the use of dialogue in creating necessary tension and suspense, and speeding up scenes. Keep your favorite TV shows in mind as we enter this segment.

Let’s bring out some healthy numbers to the voting poll this week my darling Flames! Check out the reading list and poll for Utopia: Tradition & Ritual. The January contest ends with Utopia: Search For Meaning. Get your entries in by Sunday!

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8 Responses to Writing Dialogue

  1. The conversations are definitely the show’s saving grace. The sexual situations my darling Duchovny gets himself into are often so disgusting I would probably walk away, but for all the smart and funny shit they say. I’ve been wanting to watch it again. I think I’m behind a season.
    Maybe we should find an excerpt and post it. I’ll dig about. Or start rewatching and take notes.


    • Disgusting. That’s a good word.

      I think we should definitely take notes on the dialogue.In the last episode I watched The Daughter raked him over the coals. I’m not even a dad and that scene made me tear up and feel like a useless human being. I think Hank’s knees buckled. (I’m sniffling just thinking about it.)


  2. RicoChey says:

    I have never seen Californication. If I had to choose a show for its dialog..? NewsRadio. Maybe you don’t expect me to choose a show whose script is mostly jokes, but the back-and-forth is witty in a way that appeals to the possibility of real life. It’s gives me something to aspire to in terms of reparte.


  3. amricatt says:

    I don’t watch a lot of TV and when I do, I tend to do other things. I do find the shows that interest me the most are ones that I have to pay attention closely to. Dialogue-wise, the show I can think of that I started recently is State of Affairs. I find myself rewinding the DVRed version of it at times because if you miss one sentence, the story of the week tends to unravel.


    • There was a time that I watched maybe two shows per week, at most. In 2013 I had half the class load as usual and a third of the work, and I think that’s when I started to become a TV junkie. I’d never heard of Netflix before then.

      I like State of Affairs because the writers are pretty inventive with revealing the meaning behind the jargon necessary to the world they’ve created. And yeah, a viewer definitely must listen in order to follow along 🙂


  4. Pingback: Weekend wrapup | Brigit's Flame

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