Dialogue and TV

Writing dialogue is hard. People today don’t speak like they used to, if they ever did. For an author with any pretension to realism to set their book in the present is a bold move. Because people, especially at home and from what I know also socially don’t talk like they do in books. I’m at home currently and much of my conversation is witty (possibly ironic) asides to the person sitting next to me watching TV not long and involved desconstructions of verb usage.

The dynamic of these conversations is interesting. They are to a certain extent ‘conducted’ by the person with the remote control, they choose from amongst the palette of available entertainment. Their selections will dictate the style and quality of conversation. If they choose an infomercial it will be unbridled mocking, shopping channel the same, music channel’s lead to a surprisingly informed critical debate, sport the same, news is almost never selected as it demands too much concentration but the real king of the conversational block are fluffy dramas. The ability to try and predict plot twists, mock the script and occasionally lose oneself in the stupidity of it all is a heady and potent conversation.

Note that the channel selection is never totally in the gift of the person with the remote, vigourous suggestions from the floor are encouraged often with channel numbers shouted out: “933! 933!” (you can tell somebody’s liking The Amp). Also if the selection strays too far away from both parties tastes one will either leave the room or do something else (like reading) thus negating the conversational point of the entire exercise.

These conversations are not deep affairs about thoughts and feelings, if they are they gloss over the difficult stuff with a very light brush indeed. In fact they’re often so oblique and rely on so many layers of shared understanding as to make them all but unintelligible to a watcher (the reader say). The sheer amount of background detail that would have to be transmitted to make even very weak jokes half as funny as they seemed at the time would require footnotes of a type and size rarely seen in the western world. These in jokes enhance the exclusiveness of the friendship and are thus great for the participants and their relationship but it can be confusing for the reader to just be thrown in there.

There are really four participants to every conversation like this you see, the remote controller, the friend, the TV (partially controlled remotely) and the onlooking reader.

Extra Reading if you’ve made it this far: E Unibus Pluram By David Foster Wallace, collected in his book ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again’