OCA has just launched its first Narrative and Dialogue course. Sony Award-winning scriptwriter Mike Harris, the course’s author, questions three common assumptions made by writers about the craft of putting words in the mouths of their characters.
There’s no secret to judging a good script, according to Mike Harris – and he’s read plenty in his writing career. ‘Do you want to turn the page?’ he asks. ‘That’s all it boils down to.’
But constructing a coherent and well paced narrative, and writing dialogue which moves the action along at the same time as depicting character is, as we all know, easier said than done. Mike thinks that many beginning or inexperienced writers fall foul of three common misconceptions when thinking about their approach to these two areas of the writer’s craft.
Writers pitching their work at screen and stage are not the only ones who need to invest time in writing narrative and dialogue. Leo Tolstoy, Jeffrey Archer and Lord Byron are, fundamentally, writers of narrative, according to Mike. ‘As writers, most of us have a tendency to typecast ourselves. Novelists, authors of short stories and poets working in the narrative form are all as reliant on stories as writers of films and plays.’
Newer writers need to redefine what the word ‘deadline’ means. ‘We fall into the trap of thinking that meeting a deadline means squeezing out the last sentence then breathing a sigh of relief as we put the kettle on or reach for the corkscrew. But when we do that, we miss out the vital stage of being critics of our own work. Reviewing and rewriting are as important as having the ideas and getting the words down in the first place. That’s why you should build in proper time for them when you do your planning.’
Mundane disagreements and events that change the world have equal dramatic potential in the writing of narrative and dialogue. Mike questions the meaning some writers assign to the word ‘conflict’ when constructing narrative.
‘It’s a word that suggests something massive and melodramatic. Of course, a conflict can have the obvious weight of, for example, a failure by leaders to reach agreement and which results in war. Equally, though, it can be about something as seemingly trivial a potato peeler put away in the wrong kitchen drawer which becomes the spark for a row between a husband and wife.’
Human beings are natural dramatists. All writers have that on their side. Their job is to create structure and compress events to expand and exploit their dramatic potential.