He Said, She Said

For as many conversations as we participate in or listen to every day, capturing a similar rhythm and realism in a screenplay isn’t as easy as you’d think.

Too often the result is (1) the characters all talk exactly the same way (usually emulating the gender of the writer), (2) they talk more eloquently than normal people ever do, or (3) they talk way too much. As if this weren’t enough to juggle, consider that males and females often convey the same information in completely different styles.

hesaid

TABLE TOPICS

These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.

1. Who do you think tells better jokes – males or females? Why?
2. Who do you think gives better political speeches – males or females? Why?
3. Who do you think delivers better eulogies – males or females? Why?
4. If you were a detective at the scene of a crime and you had two witnesses of the opposite sex, which one do you think would supply a greater level of detail? Why?
5. Do you think it’s easier for a male to write in a female “voice” or a female to write in a male “voice?” Why?
6. If you were asked to look at a piece of writing and were not told the gender of the author, what clues would you look for to decipher whether it had been written by a male or a female? If you found out the authorship was the opposite of what you assumed, would it influence your reaction to the content? Why or why not?

THIS IS SO TOTALLY YOUR FAULT

ButchandSundance

In the 1969 hit film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the affable train robbers are literally driven to the edge of desperation by the posse that has been chasing them. As a grim Sundance readies for the final shoot-out, Butch realizes there’s an option for escape that their pursuers would never consider.

Your assignment: The setting of a BC&SK remake is still the early 1900’s in the West but this time around your lead characters are a pair of gun-totin’ Valley Girls who are on the lam for robbing boutiques and stealing cute boots. Write a three-page scene on the cliff leading up to the decision to jump.


WE INTERRUPT THIS CONVERSATION
FOR AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE

handstop

According to a 2009 study, the time spent per day getting interrupted and then trying to refocus is 2.1 hours. And that’s just at work. It would probably stagger the imagination to guess how many times we get interrupted during our conversations with others, forcing us to either abandon our original thought or start over…and over…and over. For the sake of realism, screenwriters often incorporate interruptions into their dialogue. Unfortunately, the majority of them make the same three mistakes.

The first is to preface the interruption with an action line. Example:

Jen starts to tell Brad about her day but he interrupts her.

JEN
You’ll never guess who I saw at my—

BRAD
Hold that thought. I need to call my agent.

Since we can easily see Jen being interrupted, the action line is superfluous.

The second mistake is to insert the parenthetical (interrupts). Example:

JEN
You’ll never guess who I saw at my—

BRAD
(interrupts)
Hold that thought. I need to call my agent.

Again, this is a superfluous insertion and, over the course of the script, eats up valuable line-space.

The third error is to break in the middle of a word rather than at the end of it. Example:

JEN
You’ll never guess who I saw at m---

Actors hate this. Actors hate it because they want to have the momentum to carry through with a complete sentence in the event the interrupter stumbles on the cue and comes in late. In this case, we have no idea whether Jen was going to say “at my hairdresser’s,” “at Mass,” or “at Monica’s.”

Your assignment: The two characters in the two-page scene you’re going to write arrive home at the same time. Character 1 has just been laid off from his/her job; Character 2 needs to borrow a large sum of money for something he/she has to have. They both have the habit of interrupting each other’s lines. Which one will be successful at finally delivering their news? For the second part of this exercise, use the same scenario but reverse the gender of your two characters.

WHAT WOULD ASHLEY SAY?

Scarlett

In 1939, Gone With the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara raised her fist to the sky and angrily swore that - no matter what she had to do - she would never go hungry again. How would the context and delivery of that famous speech been different if reframed from the viewpoint of the soft-spoken Ashley Wilkes, his gentle wife Melanie, or the rakish Rhett Butler?

Your assignment: Go to the Best Film Speeches and Monologues website (http://www.filmsite.org/bestspeeches.html) and choose any speech that really resonates with you. Your assignment is to assign this speech or monologue to a member of the opposite sex and rewrite the content.

THE FILIBUSTER

MrSmith

In Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, an earnest junior Senator (played by James Stewart) soon discovers that “politics as usual” in the nation’s capitol is not the idealistic – and honest – venue that he always imagined it was. In order to clear himself of fraudulent allegations as well as postpone the vote on a controversial appropriations bill, Smith launches a filibuster, talking nonstop for 24 hours (and to the point of hoarseness) in an effort to sway his fellow Senators to do what is right.

Your assignment: The protagonist in your film is passionate about an environmental issue of your choice. In order to run out the clock, your character must talk nonstop for 10 minutes. Write that monologue. For a challenge, write the monologue a second time and from the perspective of the opposite sex.


ChristinaHamlettAs part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at   or through my website at  http://www.authorhamlett.com.

Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 26 books, 144 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.