Guest Post by Millie “Professor Gore” On How a Workshop on Screen Writing Made me a Better Writer!
Hey everyone I have a special treat for you since I am a part of the Wow blog tour to promote All is Assuredly Well! , and I’m hosting an author today who wrote a guest post for the blog!
And here is the post on:
How a Workshop on Screen Writing Made Me a Better Writer
I hadn’t planned to attend the workshop session on screen writing at the conference. The screen writing workshop was a general session, so I selected one of the small breakout sessions because I never plan to write a screenplay. However, I realized within five minutes that the break-out session I’d chosen was for the rawest novice writers, and I was wasting my time. So I left.
I crossed the hall, slid into the back of the general session room, and plopped my butt into the closest chair on the back row. Within minutes, I was scolding myself for having missed part of the session.
Permit me to give you an overview of what I learned about dialogue in that session, along with a bit of what I’ve learned from other sources since that day.
Dialogue is action. Action can be your protagonist climbing down a fire escape, or it can be your protagonist telling a fireman that her cat is inside. I’d thought that dialogue and action were separate entities. They’re not. Dialogue is a type of action. Action can be your protagonist swallowing a microchip, or it can be her saying, “Our only way out is through the sewer.”
Dialogue must move the story forward in some way. If it doesn’t, it’s distancing the readers from your story. And they’ll stop reading.
Dialogue moves the story forward by fulfilling one of five functions.
First, dialogue as action can reveal information about your character. In Apocalypse Now, Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore says, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” My goodness. That tells us a lot about who he is. Napalm kills people. In the most horrible fashion.
In my award-winning WOW story, An Adventuresome Sort of a Person, Madeline says to an accordion player, “I will pay you handsomely to come home with me and play for an hour. Come along,” she commanded. From that one line of dialogue, what do you know about Madeline?
Second, dialogue as action can reveal information about your story. In Apollo 13, Tom Hanks says, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” (I get chills writing that!)
In the WOW story, I used this dialogue to reveal information about the story. Madeline’s secretary rushed into her library. “Madam, what is the meaning of all this? You disappear for hours, you come home with a pretzel tied around your neck, and you bring an accordion player for tea? Have you lost your mind?”
Third, dialogue as action can set the tone. “I see dead people.” This line from Sixth Sense certainly sets the tone, doesn’t it?
In my award winning short story, Knight, about a little girl whose mother has schizophrenia, these lines of dialogue set the tone. “The dragon is breathing fire,” Mama whispered. She buried my head in her bosom till I couldn’t breathe. “Don’t make a sound.”
Fourth, dialogue as action can set the scene. The most famous, sparse dialogue to set a scene has to be Betty Davis’s line in Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf: when she declares, “What a dump!”
In my story, Tiny Dancer, a young mouse hears music in the forest and wants to follow it. Her father forbids it. In the following dialogue, I set the scene of their forest by having him tell her about the day his brother disappeared.
Her daddy sighed, hugged her closer, and continued. “We flew over rocks and around trees. We clambered over branches and through bushes. We went to the very end of the woods to the place where we mice never cross.”
Finally, dialogue as action can reveal the theme. Remember this quote by Elwood P. Dowd (played by Jimmy Stewart) in Harvey? “There are two ways to live well, you can be smart or pleasant. I’ve been smart for years, and I recommend pleasant.”
In An Adventuresome Sort of a Person, I used dialogue to reveal the theme of the story.
She patted the couch next to her, and her secretary sat down. “I have spent my entire life socializing with boring, predictable, egotistical people whom I despise. I have always done what was expected of me. Yet I have wondered about the persons who live other sorts of lives, adventuresome sorts of persons: persons who wear pretzels around their necks, persons who stand on street corners and play musical instruments. What I need,” she said, “Is to become an adventuresome sort of a person. Tomorrow I turn 85, so I intend to start having adventures. And I will have them for as long as I am able. When I am on my death bed, I do not wish to wonder what might have been.” She patted the secretary’s hand. His mouth hung open.
First, sometimes attending a session at a conference that you don’t think pertains to you can yield tremendous benefits by giving you a new pair of eyes.
Second, dialogue is action.
Third, if the dialogue doesn’t move your story forward, hit the delete button.
Fourth, you can use dialogue to reveal character, story, or theme, or to set tone or scene.
“Don’t be afraid to try it, Sweetie. You might find out that you like it,” I said.
Professor M. C. Gore holds the doctorate in education from the University of Arkansas. She taught first grade through graduate school for 36 years in New Mexico, Missouri, and Texas. She was a professional horse wrangler and wilderness guide and continues to play clarinet in two community bands. She is Professor Emeritus from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas where she held two distinguished professorships. Her books for teachers and parents are shelved in over a thousand libraries throughout the world. She is retired and lives in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.
Maestro Phillip Wilson was a public-school band director, music teacher, composer, and arranger for 28 years. His primary instrument is the trumpet, and he is also a campañero (bell ringer). Although he is over 80, he continues to serve as Music Director and Cantor at his church. He is a life-long resident of New Mexico and was born in Santa Fe. Although his genotype is Dutch and Scotch-Irish, his soul is Hispanic. He was Professor Gore’s music teacher and band director, and although the loving biological father of seven musical children, he is a soul-father of the hundreds of students he has taught.
Artist Angie F. M. Trotter holds a BA in Religion and Fine Art. Her pen and ink illustrations are a fusion of icons, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass window design, and her spiritual life. She is also a chronic migraine suffer and her art helps calm her symptoms. Her mother was a folk artist; her father was an architect and fine artist, so she has been surrounded by art her whole life. Her work has been compared to the masters of the Golden Age of British book illustration. She lives in Arkansas.