When Paul asked me if I’d guest blog and said to do something on a favourite film, book, television show, or whatever, I had to have a little think. No point in me just listing the bountiful joy that Dogtanian and the Three Muskethounds brought my way, or Streethawk.
I thought about how I find dialogue from other mediums other than books a great help. I’m definitely of the belief that good dialogue is just as important, and if not more than the descriptive prose.
I look to television and films, both sides of the water. Though I am wary whenever I’m writing American dialogue as it’ll probably sound like I’m taking the piss. This brings me to a television show that to me encompasses everything that can be great about dialogue.
Boys from the Blackstuff first aired in 1982, in Thatcher’s England. Unemployment was at a high and there seemed no light, for most, at the end of the tunnel. I was a sprig of a kid in ’82, but remember the ’89 airing. So my only glimpse at the greyness of the time came through the goggle-box, and I was only watching it because my parents were and truly appreciated it after another re-run a few years later.
The series was written by the great playwright Alan Bleasdale. The acting was top-notch, but it was the dialogue was what made it shine for me. There was nothing flowery, it was just the grim poetry of reality. It was so real, so gritty, that it could easily have been footage from a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary that was just too savage to show.
Each episode was centred on a different character. Most Brits remember the great Yosser Hughes (no relation) played by Bernard Hill, and his rapid mental breakdown as he tried to get a job when his wife left and the social services were trying to take his kids away. Watching it was like watching a car start to weave in the road, you know it’s gonna crash, but you want the guilty pleasure of seeing it and not looking away, or closing your eyes to pray for the passengers. The dialogue broke up the mental torment with great humour, a real humour. It was honest and delivered with a feeling that it wasn’t staged, hadn’t come from six script-writers sat around a table trying to be funnier than the person sat next to them and coming up with a lab-like conjuring of mass-market jokes. The character Yosser on seeing Liverpool footballer Graeme Souness who held a striking resemblance to Yosser shouts, “You’re Graeme Souness, you look like me!” which showed the fundamental reason he was crashing so fast, his stolen male pride. In his head the famous person looked like him, whereas most people would say that he looked like Graeme Souness.
People say that to be a good writer you need to read, read, and read some more. I reckon you need to watch and listen to stuff just as much. Another for your viewing pleasure for great dialogue would have to be Auf Wierdesehen Pet.
Lee Hughes hangs around here: http://leehughes.net/