Burn After Reading-dialogue

Setting the Mood

A short can begin with dialogue:

-a mother singing a lullaby
-a man yelling at the top of his lungs
-children telling jokes, playing, and laughing
-a bank teller counting money

All of these things could almost be defined as ambient sound--the same as wind through the trees, or cars and sirens in a city--except for the fact that what the mother is singing, what the man is yelling, which jokes the children are telling, how much money is being counted should have specific meaning that drives the plot forward, foreshadows the theme of the piece, or establishes a story question.

What mother would sing Heavy Metal to her newborn? Is the man yelling HELP! What does he need and will he get it? Where did the little children like that learn jokes like those?!

Sometimes dialogue can change the mood. Perhaps there is a boxing match on the TV in a bar. As two men begin to fight over a seat at the bar, the boxing match escalates and the voice of the sports announcer seems to be narrating the conflict of the men in the bar instead. The point is that everything that is said in your piece, whether it is background or foreground information, has meaning. What we hear as background information can also set the mood.

Revealing the Character

When dialogue reveals the character it means that what the character says discloses his or her goals, personality, needs, fears, and transformation.

There are four main ways that ideologue reveals character:
1. It reveals a characters goal or motivation.
Robber: "Money will fix everything."
2. It reveals a character's attitude toward a situation.
Robber: "Isn't it a little late for this?"
3. It reveals the antagonist's motive.
Robber: "No one told me there were four guards."
4. It can reveal a character's transformation over time.
Robber: "Maybe tomorrow."

Driving the Plot Forward

When dialogue drives the plot, it does so by acting on the train of thought and emotions of the audience or reveals information to the character that forces him or her to act.

There are five main ways that dialogue drives the plot forward:
1. Creates curiosity
Robber #1: "Did you bring it?"
2. Creates tension (through the exchange of power--social, political, sexual, or physical)
Robber #1: "Are you sure you picked the right place?"
3. Creates conflict by presenting new information
Robber #2: "No, I'm not sure. My mother would be so disappointed in me."
4. Shows us something we did not expect.
Police: "We're here to check on a disturbance."
5. Builds suspense for what is to come.
Bank Teller: "We'll be closing in 10 minutes."
Robber #1: "What now?"

Driving the Resolution

When dialogue drives the resolution it implies, reinforces, or reveals the theme of the piece. Remember, often in films the characters remind us of the theme of the piece through dialogue.

Creating Subtext

Subtext is content underneath the spoken dialogue. Under dialogue, there can be conflict, anger,competition, pride, showing off, or other implicit ideas and emotions. Subtext is the unspoken thoughts and motives of characters—what they really think and believe.

Subtext always seems like a difficult concept. But if you link it to emotion it becomes relatively easy. One of the biggest pitfalls of dialogue is that beginning writers mirror exactly what the character is thinking with what they are saying. Don't do this.

As human beings we rarely, if confusingly, say exactly what we think--and this is because of emotion. Remember that in story, our characters are in conflict and there is something at stake. Therefore, emotions run high. Characters tend not to say what they think because it is either too risky or rude to say what they really think, or the other party already knows what they think.

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