Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Storyteller's Rulebook #116: Listen to Despicable People

We live in the golden age of information. It used to be that if you wanted to collect great, real dialogue, you had to leave your house. Now there’s a reality TV show about every profession, some of which actually are unscripted, and if that doesn’t get you what you need, there’s all those eavesdropping twitter feeds. My new addiction is “Goldman Sachs Elevator Gossip

This one is especially useful because despicable dialogue is some of the hardest dialogue to write without resorting to clich├ęs. Most of us do everything in our power to make sure that we never have to listen to evil people, but almost every story contains at least one evil character, so writers have to know how they actually talk. Sometimes such people actually get caught on tape, as with the late night energy traders in the above clip, but this twitter feed is the next best thing:
  • “Living my life is like playing ‘Call of Duty’ on Easy. I just go around and fuck shit up.”
  • “A new year. Time for a new slampiece.”
  • “Seriously… that idiot hedging an oddlot position with futures is like a fat chick buying a rape whistle.”
  • And one from the ladies: “I love it when a guy hits on me & then gives me a business card with a gmail account. Asshole, I work at Goldman Sachs.”
It’s even harder to write racism believably. Having a character say “I don’t happen to like Jews” is as dubious as it is boring. Here’s a much better version, that I’ll paraphrase from an actual email I ran across: “My father was never anti-Semitic a day in his life. And that’s especially impressive because the Jews were horrible to him.”

Nine times out of ten, racism is not a conscious attitude, it’s a set of unconscious assumptions. People reveal it most when they try to say something magnanimous. Every time I eat at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, I remember Bill O’Reilly’s infamous praise for it: “And I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks […] There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘Motherfucker, I want more iced tea.’” Okee-dokee then.

A previous rule was Let Them Hang Themselves. There are two great ways to do that: let them try to be funny or let them try to be nice.

1 comment:

Steve Bird said...

Followed the link and spent way too much time reading Goldman Sachs Elevator Gossip. Ug.