Sunday, December 27, 2009

Obviously, I Watch Too Many Movies

Today's blog concerns "Jennifer's Body," the latest film willing to use Megan Fox's good looks in place of acting.

Watch words spew forth from my pretty mouth like emotionless vomit.

You probably know that the screenwriter was Diablo Cody, the chick who wrote "Juno" as well as a memoir about being a stripper. "Juno" was all right - entertaining, kind of cheesy, with a very unique female protagonist whose name alluded to the Classical world. On the other hand, "Jennifer's Body" struck me the wrong way almost immediately.

The story began with promise - interesting, entertaining, and funny. The story began in a literary fashion, beginning in medias res before quickly shifting to the earliest point in time that the movie was going to cover.

It was at the shift that I began to notice the dialogue.

The quirky, funny dialogue that characterized "Juno" so well appears to have been attempted again - and it isn't executed as well by the character who utilizes it most (*cough, cough* Fox *cough, cough*), and it feels false.

"Jennifer's Body" features a girl who becomes different, of course - I don't think I'm spoiling the movie for anyone when I say that Jennifer becomes a succubus. Yet, it seems quite clear that Jennifer is supposed to be an ordinary girl, on the pretty side, who is far more ordinary than she would like. Jennifer would like to be effortlessly gorgeous and self-assured, and not small town. Nothing about her character, however, indicates that she modifies language for the sake of whimsy.

Juno's interesting manner of speaking suited her; Jennifer's does not.

So watching this movie really makes me think about dialogue.

Dialogue, when utilized correctly, can do so much for a story. Hemingway wrote an entire story in dialogue ("Hills Like White Elephants"). Diablo Cody obviously likes writing dialogue, and has fun with it, which is great. In order to create something that other people are going to enjoy, however, a writer needs to use dialogue that suits the character. Ultimately, this means knowing your characters well enough to know exactly how that character speaks. Sometimes, this might involve doing research. And, of course, if you're too lazy to do research, then don't write about characters who will seem inauthentic without research.

To be fair, I feel like part of Cody's problem is one that many YA authors face: authentic TEEN dialogue. When you're not a teenager anymore, how do you know that your slang is up to date? Cody's solution is to create slang of her own - cheesy slang that not many teenagers would say (certainly not cheerleaders with a reputation to uphold).

Yet we've all read those YA stories that have outdated dialogue, or in which the character talks like a goody-two-shoes, and it feels like the only reason is because the author feels uncomfortable with a teenager saying "dirty" words. Teen dialogue is a legitimate problem, as is dialogue, in general.

I don't think that making up slang, clever and interesting though it may be, should be a writer's automatic response. I'm not exactly sure what I think the general response should be, however - or even if there should be a "general" response.

And no writer wants generic dialogue.

Thoughts? (I love comments!)


Theresa said...

dialogue should write itself. it should come out naturally, not forcibly. during the editing stage, dialogue should be read aloud. this allows the author to get a feel for the characters and--sometimes--a sense of how the reader hears the story. dialogue is of equal importance with narration: sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

what works best for me is to try to see the scene in my head--how it would play out if acted by my characters. if i'm really connected, i can visualize facial expressions, pauses and hand gestures as they tell me what they would or would not say.

all training aside, dialogue has always come very easy to me. maybe i'm just lucky.

Shelly Quade said...

Thank you for commenting, Theresa!

I totally agree - dialogue should feel natural. It should roll off the tongue when reading it aloud. Sometimes, people have an ear for dialogue (I would like to think I do sometimes, but when it comes to accents and things, I have to do some research...), but when they don't, practice writing & reading it aloud are what help make it sound natural, even if it wasn't natural to write it.

So it sounds to me like you are sort of playing a movie for yourself in your head of what happens. I like that image - and if you can see it mentally, then you should be able to write it. I think that's a great tip on writing dialogue.

Possum said...

I'm just going to point out that when I saw "Jennifer's Body" I noticed that it had the Diablo-ish dialogue, but like you said, it just kind of fell flat.

When I saw Juno, it felt right to quote it later, but when I left the theatre after watching Jennifer's Body, I just ... I didn't want to. I don't even remember nothing special that was said.

Dialogue. I like writing dialogue in my stories. I use it often when I'm writing something. It doesn't mean I'm good at it, but I do enjoy it.

Shelly Quade said...

Possum - yeah, I can see your point about "Juno" being quotable, while "Jennifer's Body" dialogue was just kind of - whatever.

I think including dialogue in your story can be a lot of fun. Not having read any of your stories (yet, at least), I can't comment on your ability. I will say, however, that with regardless of skill level, the only way to make your writing better is to practice. So if you're writing, then it seems to me like you're doing awesome. :)

Possum said...

Actually, when I saw Jennifer's Body, there was a girl and her mom sitting next to me. And through the entire movie, the girl would make comments (true ones, but it was annoying nonetheless) about what was happening.

She didn't like the movie. She commented on how what was being said was a fail of a situation.

Practice does make you better! With my goal of blogging EVERY DAY this year, I'm positive I'll have something I wrote up. =|