Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Podcast Episode 4: Disputatious Dialogue

If you subscribe to The Secrets of Story Podcast on your phone, you may notice that episode 4 appeared today! If not, you can stream it or download it above.

James and I wind up discussing two “Star Trek” scenes. First we discuss the one I transcribed and criticized here, in which Bones and Kirk celebrate Kirk’s birthday in Star Trek Beyond but then James points out that this is a knock-off of a very similar scene in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, so we take a look at that one to contrast it. I play the audio of it, but you can watch the video below:
Here are the two crazy things about this discussion:
  1. On the night we recorded it, it was the eve of James’s birthday, and we wound up drinking past midnight, so we were doing the same thing they’re doing.
  2. Someone on Facebook mentioned that today, the day I’m posting it, just happens to be James T. Kirk’s birthday! (But I’m sure you already knew that.)
All that and James has a story idea that you might want to take! I think it’s a pretty good episode! Give it a listen…


Harvey Jerkwater said...

A few thoughts about “Down and Out in Heaven and Hell”

“You’re working for the Devil?”
“He’s hiring.”

Why the protagonist(s) travel to the afterlife for scut work could be why anyone takes that work anywhere: money. But afterlife currency is not the same as earthly money and is spent on different things. With enough currency put into the right hands, a regular guy could make a lot of changes in the world. Unexpected rain relieves a drought. A loved one’s cancer goes into remission. A rival’s house falls into a sinkhole.

The protagonists find out about this “market” as well as how they can earn currency for it. Each has their own reasons for doing what they do. Depending on where you want the story to go, the reasons could be petty or noble. A deadbeat dad finds out that his ex is dying of cancer and throws himself into the work to keep her alive. A political junkie uses heavenly and demonic currency to affect elections. A dweeb uses it to make the object of his or her affections reciprocate the infatuation.

The protagonists might not be immigrants but day laborers, who come back to the mundane world every day or on a fairly regular basis. They can see what their labors buy them, which drives them to go back for more. Maybe some folks do stay behind and become permanent “undead,” people who no longer fit in the world of the living but aren’t dead. (If it’s a comedy, zombies and vampires walk the earth because sometimes those people come back to earth, voluntarily or not, and are so very maladapted to it.)

Currencies could vary by jurisdiction. Aside from the obvious Heaven and Hell split, perhaps there are regional differences. The Infernal City of Dis uses money that is worth little in the Forest of Suicides, for example. “They told me giving the president a case of irritable bowel syndrome costs forty Charons!” “Fleshbag, I’m from the Fifth Circle, what am I gonna do with Charons? POTUS-IBS runs sixty Phlegyases at least.”

If they travel back and forth between the mundane and the divine, are they working two jobs? Clock out after eight hours of burrito-making at Taco Bell, clock in at the Fourth Sphere of Heaven and grab a mop because Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude are its signature virtues, not "cleaning up after chili night."

James Kennedy said...

Harvey, these are great and funny ideas. It makes me feel like there might be juice in this premise yet!

Re-watching that WRATH OF KHAN clip, I strongly disagree with Matt's contention that Bones had a goal coming in to the scene (to convince Kirk to become a captain again). It's clear that Bones showed up with the Romulan ale because he wanted to kick back and have a good time with Kirk, and the glasses were not a calculated slap in the face, but rather something Bones figured Kirk needed for his well-being, and brought along just to help him. The evidence for this? Bones doesn't seem to expect Kirk's muted reactions to the gifts! When Bones explodes "Damn it, Jim, what the hell is the matter with you? Other people have birthdays, why are we treating yours like a funeral?" it's clearly borne out of exasperation, out of frustrated expectations. Bones comes in expecting to have fun with his friend. He ends up arguing for Kirk to take back his command, but it's a seat-of-his-pants change in direction for his character to do that, which incidentally is much more interesting anyway--we prefer to watch characters improvise in response to changing circumstances rather than watching characters tick off the bullet points of some preconceived master plan.

Unknown said...

I watched the Star Trek clip before listening to the podcast and thought, "Yeah, that's terrible -- terrible dialogue, terrible acting -- it sure will be interesting to hear these guys tear it apart." To my surprise, that clip was the "good" example, and there was a still worse Star Trek scene used for the "bad" example. Am I the only one who felt both scenes kinda sucked? Full disclosure: I've never watched Star Trek, so maybe I'm missing some important context. Of course I would agree that the Wrath of Khan dialogue was better than the other, particularly the bit with the glasses, but was it "good"? I thought it still committed the sin of two friends sitting together and one correctly telling the other exactly what he needed.

In any case, you guys seem to be hitting your stride, and this episode had lots of examples of electric (sorry, "dynamic") dialogue taking place between the two of you. I enjoyed this episode quite a bit. Thanks!

Matt Bird said...

I like that scene a lot, but then I love "Wrath of Khan". That said, I wouldn't have singled it out as a great dialogue scene if it didn't contrast with such a bad scene.

Glad to hear that you think we're hitting our stride. It's electric!

DaveH said...

I'm with James re: the broader view of 'want.' If one or more parties want 'what's best for the other' or 'the common good' there's plenty of room for compelling and realistic dialogue.
If the wants are the motivations, the other aspect is the 'how,' the strategy each party uses to angle toward that want — the active verb that captures the 'play' underneath each dialogue beat: flatter, remind, refuse, offer, propose, warn, dig, etc. Lots of room for chains of those kinds of beats that go somewhere, change direction, surprise everyone involved, even if the wants are in James's scope.

What's flat is a weak notion of the want(s) and weak verbs in the strategies (tell, repeat, summarize, etc).

Anyway, my 2c.

I also see juice in the DAOIHAH premise - playing with it a little.


Steve Bird said...

I believe I've commented about this before regarding Matt's view of dialog as more combative, and characters not listening to each other so much as pursuing their own goals and simply waiting to get their next point in. I can say pretty definitively that this comes from growing up in our family. I have described family conversations as being a bloodsport with the objectives being to dominate the conversational space and to make the most witty, sardonic, cynical quips. We're not mean to each other per se, so much as struggling for verbal dominance and showing off our wit and knowledge.

It can be rather exhausting over a holiday visit. My wife has talked about there being a critical mass of three Murphys (our mother's maiden name) which will trigger the struggle for verbal dominance. We noticed by the time our daughter turned two, she was already verbal enough to count toward that critical mass.

That said, we've been making a deliberate effort to be better about this. A few years ago I was speaking with Matt on the phone and I was landing more than my usual share of "blows" in this verbal match. Matt then confessed that he was trying to be a better person in this regard and had, in essence, unilaterally disarmed. I agreed that family conversations could be exhausting and was glad to join him in trying to be better about this. I've also talked with our parents about our attempts to simply talk and not spar.

Just a little context. Hope that's not too personal.

Person of Interest said...

Enjoyed the Podcast. Looking forward to the next one. I hope you'll return to discussing dialogue soon. This podcast's discussion seemed to resolve into a sort of push, as if James and Matt 'both made good points' and have equally defensible viewpoints. I honestly think that's nuts. James has great caveats, great reminders, ('always remember the worth of human connection').... his ideas, as a corrective to Matt's perhaps overly cynical calculated vision, have value in that they foster a deeper conversation about what good writing really is, and the worth of it... that said, I think James's ideas taken undiluted, taken as principles for evaluating dramatic writing -- well maybe I heard it wrong -- but what I understand his postion to be would have me throwing out not just Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad but 99% of Western Dramatic Literature and film since (and including) Shakespeare. All of it is just "Insect Theater" -- horrible stuff full of all sorts of phony manipulative banter and artificial conflict. I don't think that's a defensible position. I don't want to drop a huge blog post -- so I'll just leave it at that, as a, "James, please register my disagreement."

Also late in the podcast the blandness of Arthur Dent and Alice came up. I think it's worth pointing out that they are a special type of character. They are functional rather than full dramatic characters -- That is, they more literary devices than full realized characters to be explored. Dent and Alice function as "witness characters" -- a sort of reader surrogate: the reader's-body-within-the-story. A related type of function character is the frametale teller (the granddad in Princess Bride) or frametale listener (Fred Savage in Princess Bride.)

Person of Interest said...

Rereading what I wrote, I think I may have seemed to disparage Matt's take on dialogue when that was the opposite of my intent. To clarify: I think Matt's cerebral approach to dialogue and scenecraft could _when misapplied_ lead to cynical calculated effects rather than truly good writing. Emphasis on misapplied. I like Matt's dialogue advice very much. I don't think Matt's ideas about dialogue are inherently cynicial and calculated at all -- come to think of it this well sums up my point about James ideas vis a vis Matts... James ideas as a caution against overly cynical, empty, calculated scene-writing are valuable... but to suggest, as I think he does, that Matt's dialogue guidance is INHERENTLY cynical stuff that leads to 'insect theatre' is whack! It's guidance culled from the practice of centuries of dramatic writing by the best world's best writers.


James Kennedy said...

@Person of Interest I agree with you more than not. I know I don't come across like this in the podcast or in my comments, but I value Matt's advice very highly! (Or else, why would I spend so much time here, or do the podcast with him?) But if I agreed with Matt on everything, it would be boring. So I've elected to try to resist his advice when I authentically can, if only to add those caveats, reminders, etc. so that Matt's advice is not misapplied, as you say.

All that said: Matt is still an insect!