“The vans are taking up the entire street. I’m sure the neighbors are getting frustrated.”
We have so much construction going on around us that I simply assumed this conversation related to their heavy machinery. It wasn’t until later that I heard they were filming a T.V. show in the neighborhood and suddenly the byte of information made sense in a different way.
It reminds me how context informs reaction. “Wow, you look tired,” said by your best friend means one thing while said by your boss means another.
So imagine how complex it is to write dialogue for our characters. Unless we have meticulously planned every sentence (dialogue or otherwise) to be absolutely consistent, our character can easily say something which will be misinterpreted by the reader.
Consider this: Mr Darcy tells Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice - “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
We know only Elizabeth Bennet’s point of view on Mr. Darcy’s character at this point. Hurt by what she assumed were his thoughtless words about dancing with her, she has brought us to understand that he is proud and egocentric. Read in that light, his statement of love sounds harsh and thoughtless.
But when we get to know Mr. Darcy we find he is in fact very unassuming and socially inept. Like the shy, awkward hero we might root for in another story, we come to understand that those words he utters as a proposal come not out of carelessness, but out of courage. And, understanding this, we can see them in a completely different way.
One of the reasons I think people consider Jane Austen to have been a great writer was that she knew her characters and used that knowledge to painstakingly develop her stories. And here I use the word painstakingly for a reason… because any author relate to the mental anguish that goes into that level of character development and writing
Usually when I write my blog I ignore the context of my overhears; just as most of our lives we pass over the bits of conversation we hear around us without becoming concerned about their background. But this is the very last thing we want our reader to do when we are telling a story. Instead, we want them to be concerned passionately with the backstory of our characters; and in fact believe in a substantial way that they are in relationship with those characters themselves.
It turned out that the filming was in fact taking place at a friend’s house. The actors were shooting their final scenes last night and had I wanted I may have been able to go meet them. But as an author I have some insight here. While I might like to meet the characters from my favorite TV shows, it wouldn’t be the same to meet the actors who portray them… because they should be altogether different people. Well, either that or the screenwriter should get a new day job.
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