As I writer, I am fed up with hearing – when you write dialogue, make sure nobody says what they mean. And I think – does this mean that all characters, by definition, are inarticulate and not self aware? Surely their journey during the story should be towards greater awareness and the ability to say what’s on their hearts? Some people are taciturn and oblique; some are loquacious and elaborate. The writing world seems to favour the former. But can’t we create characters who are at different stages of the speech spectrum? In film, it means the actor’s facial expressions leave us guessing what a character’s thinking – and sometimes, viewers can guess wrong.
I wondered if characters who were skilled at self expression would make for interesting drama – for there always needs to be something that’s not working for a story to be worth telling. Are they too sorted for the necessary growing and tension?
In life, we strive to be greater at self awareness, at speaking our hearts, at building better relationships with ourselves and others – especially our intimate others. In fiction, characters go on journey too and can be incredibly informing about real life. So why this discrepancy? Why are we encouraged to keep our characters (and our audience) in emotional nappies?
Carol Rogers, the psychotherapist behind person centred counselling, speaks of congruence as one of his three core conditions needed for a therapeutic relationship. It reminds me of school maths and triangles fitting over each other – but I think that’s the point – that what you’re feeling inside fits with what you present to others.
Also – who’s to say no one ever makes speeches or uses mellifluous language in dialogue? We are diverse, and yet the writing world would have everyone have a particular mode of expression – pithy, tangential, limited vocabulary.
I was delighted by the recent film Her in which characters (one human, one virtual) do share their emotions freely. Samantha, the operating system, begins by being open and insightful; as she evolves to ever grater levels, she gets even more adept at it. There is plenty of tension, and yet both Samantha and Theodore always speak their hearts. At last – a drama for the emotionally mature! So thank you to Spike Jonze for penning one and for Joachim Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams for being part of something which demonstrates that self development and being congruent does make for good drama.