Skip to content

“Say What?”–Transcribed Dialogue Assignment

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Okay, today is the day for us to compare our transcribed conversations with actual scripted dialogue to mark some differences.

Here’s my transcribed conversation, from last night’s episode of America’s Next Top Model. Contestant Jocelyn is on the phone with her sister (bear in mind, the conversation was most likely edited before airing):

    Jocelyn: Hey.

    Sis: [pause] Hey!

    Jocelyn: Whatcha doin’?

    Sis: What’re you doing?

    Jocelyn: Like, at the beginning I was doing good; now I’m not doing so good right at this point in the competition. I haven’t produced a good photo in weeks! And I’m, like, getting so frustrated at myself. I don’t know what’s going on in my mind anymore. I’m like, ‘What are you doing, Joss?’ It’s not like it was when I first got here.

    Sis: Well, if you ain’t been doing good the last couple of weeks, you know, they send you home because they afraid that you’re not improving.

    Jocelyn: I’m trying.

    Sis: Well, you got to try harder.

    Jocelyn: I know, I know.

    Sis: All right. We behind ya all the way.

    Jocelyn: Okay.

    Sis: Okay. Love you.

    Jocelyn: Love you too.

    Sis: ’Kay. Bye-bye.

    Jocelyn: Bye.

Obviously, this conversation was cut for length/airtime. But as a writer, do you look at this transcription and immediately start rewriting it so that it flows better as dialogue?

Here’s my next transcription—dialogue from the romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding, between Ian (who’s just walked into the Greek restaurant) and his friend Mike:

    Ian: Hey, what’s going on?

    Mike: Hi, man. How are you?

    Ian: Good. You?

    Mike: Oh, good.

    Ian: Cool place.

    Mike: Yeah, it’s adorable. [pauses while flipping through Polaroids] You missed a hell of a party the other night. Look—look at that. [shows Ian a photo] That could have been you with that arm around her.

    Ian: You set me up with her already.

    Mike: Nancy?

    Ian: Hanson’s picnic.

    Mike: No, that—no, that was, uh, Pamela. This is Nancy.

    Ian: They look the same.

    Mike: Well, maybe. So, you want me to set you up?

    Ian: They’re all the same, Mike.

Both conversations have small-talk greetings. Both conversations then go pretty quickly into something that indicates story/conflict. In Jocelyn’s case, she has called her sister because she’s scared she’s going to be eliminated from the competition soon. In the movie dialogue, it introduces the idea that Ian Miller is tired of the sameness of all of the girls he’s been meeting.

Look at the difference, though, in the brevity of the exchanges between Ian and Mike in the scripted dialogue. There’s an economy of words used to get this conflict set up, nothing unnecessary. Ian doesn’t go into the background of what happened at Hanson’s picnic—nor even who Hanson is—because it’s something both characters already know. In the exchange between Jocelyn and her sister, after Jocelyn expresses her fear, her sister responds with something Jocelyn already knows: if she doesn’t do well, the judges will eliminate her. If Jocelyn could have scripted her sister’s end of the conversation, I’m sure she would have given her sister some words of encouragement to say instead of “try harder.”

So here’s my “re-scripting” of the live conversation into dialogue:

    Jocelyn: Hey.

    Sis: Hey! What’re you doing?

    Jocelyn: I’m not doing so good right now.

    Sis: Why?

    Jocelyn: I haven’t produced a good photo in weeks!

    Sis: What’s going on?

    Jocelyn: I don’t know. At the beginning I was doing good.

    Sis: Why do you think that is?

    Jocelyn: I’m so frustrated with myself. I don’t know what’s going on in my mind anymore.

    Sis: Has something changed in the last couple of weeks?

    Jocelyn: I don’t know. I keep asking myself what I’m doing. But everything’s different than it was when I got here.

    Sis: And if you don’t get good photos, they’ll send you home?

    Jocelyn: I’m trying.

    Sis: Sounds like you need to try harder.

    Jocelyn: I know, I know.

    Sis: Just remember that we’re behind you all the way.

    Jocelyn: I’ll remember.

    Sis: Okay. Love you.

    Jocelyn: Love you too.

    Sis: Bye-bye.

    Jocelyn: Bye.

Now it’s your turn. Doesn’t matter how long it makes your comment, post your transcribed conversation and your transcribed dialogue and discuss a little about the differences you found. If you don’t have transcriptions to post, feel free to comment on mine or anyone else’s with the differences you see or take a shot at rescripting some of the live conversations that get posted.

  1. Thursday, October 2, 2008 11:03 am

    I’m so happy you cut the “like(s)” from Jos’s dialogue. That was driving me nuts. I don’t know this show, but automatically I stereotyped Joselyn as a bimbo from hearing her use that word over and over.

    Your transcription makes her appear much more intelligent, likeable, as though she is legitamately frustrated. It’s snappier and draws me in more than the long ‘reality’ wining (sp?) fest.

    So should we keep the ‘stupid’ talk to minor characters whom it suits, or eliminate it all together in our stories?


  2. Thursday, October 2, 2008 11:20 am

    You’ve hit on something very important, Eileen, which we’ll definitely be delving into further—how word choices and speech pattern can really go toward characterizing the speaker. So then, is my rescripting of Jocelyn’s dialogue “better,” or am I taking away something from her character by not leaving the “likes” in?


  3. Thursday, October 2, 2008 11:26 am

    I find it amusing that making a character not use “like” would make them more likeable.

    I would’ve left them in just because I think it sounds like that’s who that character is. But I don’t watch America’s Next Top Model.

    I didn’t do the homework because I don’t watch reality shows, but I’ll post a favorite example from film later just for fun.


  4. Thursday, October 2, 2008 11:28 am

    It doesn’t have to be from a reality show, it can just be from reality. I suggested a reality show because it’s less intrusive to record something off TV than to record a real conversation to later transcribe.


  5. Thursday, October 2, 2008 11:29 am

    Alright, I’m about to go out to the store with a couple of my roommates. I’ll try to keep any good conversations in mind. Just in case.


  6. Thursday, October 2, 2008 5:25 pm

    “Live and Let Die” is playing on the radio.

    Caleb: (to Mike) What are your top three Bond themes?

    Chris: Answer carefully!

    Caleb: Duran Duran is not going to be one of them.

    Chris: WHAT?!

    Mike: Uhh… probably this one, and… maybe the Madonna one and the Sheryl Crow one, but not in that order. Or any order.

    Caleb: I really like the new one from Casino Royale.

    Mike: Ooh, that one is really good.

    Chris: Did you guys hear the new one from Quantum of Solace?

    Caleb: Not really, I started listening to it online but decided I’d rather be surprised. I liked what I heard of the music, but I didn’t let it get to the vocals. But anyway, I’d say my top three are this one, Tomorrow Never Dies, and the one from Quantum of Solace.

    Mike: You mean Casino Royale?

    Caleb: Yeah, what’d I say?

    Mike: Quantum of Solace.

    Caleb: Oh, yeah, that wouldn’t make sense.

    Mike: Which one’s Tomorrow Never Dies?

    Caleb: That’s the Sheryl Crow one.

    Mike: Oh yeah. Those are good choices.

    Chris: Except you’re missing Duran Duran.

    Caleb: Dude, I don’t even know how the Duran Duran one goes. All I remember is (singing-ish) View. To-a. Kill.

    Chris: That’s not how it goes at all.

    Caleb: What? Yeah it is. (singing-ish again) View. To-a. Kill.

    Chris: Oh, yeah it is.

    Caleb: Yeah.

    Basic lessons based on a conversation among guys:
    1. Lots of contractions.
    2. Always “yeah” never “yes”.
    3. All dudes should know their James Bond trivia.

    Now for an example from a favorite movie. I spent like half an hour looking up scenes and realized all of my favorite conversations from movies have a tendency to be very R-rated. After lots of searching and completely ruling out five of my favorite dialogue driven movies, I landed on this exchange from When Harry Met Sally:

    Sally: He just met her… She’s supposed to be his transitional person, she’s not supposed to be the ONE. All this time I thought he didn’t want to get married. But, the truth is, he didn’t want to marry me. He didn’t love me.

    Harry: If you could take him back now, would you?

    Sally: No. But why didn’t he want to marry me? What’s the matter with me?

    Harry: Nothing.

    Sally: I’m difficult.

    Harry: You’re challenging.

    Sally: I’m too structured, I’m completely closed off.

    Harry: But in a good way.

    Sally: No, no, no, I drove him away. AND, I’m gonna be forty.

    Harry: When?

    Sally: Someday.

    Harry: In eight years.

    Sally: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like some big dead end. And it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had kids when he was 73.

    Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick them up.

    Basic lessons:
    1. Again, lots of contractions.
    2. Seriously, nobody says “yes” anymore.
    3. People mostly speak in short sentences playing ping pong with questions and answers. The conversation I had with my roommates was the same.

    And just for fun, here’s one from my latest screenplay in progress.

    JOHN: Billy, what’s the better story between The Velveteen Rabbit and Corduroy Bear?

    [Billy covers his face with his hands.]

    BILLY: What?

    RACHEL: (to John) You’re like a child sometimes.

    JOHN: (grinning) With my boy-ish charm, you mean?

    RACHEL: With your insistence on being correct about the dumbest topics.

    JOHN: Given the current topic, I’d say we’re pretty equally childish. Besides, it may prove to be a very important topic someday.

    RACHEL: Meaning?

    JOHN: Meaning, which book shall we raise little D’Artagnon with should he eventually exist?

    RACHEL: Wow. D’Artagnon?

    [John rethinks his own recommendation.]

    JOHN: (admittedly) Yeah, that’s surprisingly difficult to slip into a conversation naturally.

    RACHEL: You think? We will never have a child named D’Artagnon.

    JOHN: Unless we have quadruplets.

    RACHEL: What?

    JOHN: D’Artagnon, Porthos, Athos, and Aremis.

    RACHEL: I think I’d rather die.

    JOHN: Than give birth to four children at once?

    RACHEL: Than wish upon my children the horrific mockery they would be subjected to if we named them that.


  7. Jess permalink
    Thursday, October 2, 2008 10:29 pm

    I’m usually afraid to do preliminary “how are you”-type things in my dialogue. I either begin at the middle of the conversation, skip it altogether, or load it with introspection and action to juxtapose what they’re feeling with what they’re saying. I didn’t realize there was so much of it in film.

    Though I’ve noticed in television that two characters will agree on something (hiring, going on a date) and then say “I’ll call you with the details.” Even if it’s taking place in half an hour, she’s going to call you with the details. I guess you have to keep asking “What is it for?” and to me, “it’s realistic” just isn’t a good enough answer.


  8. Friday, October 3, 2008 8:09 pm

    Well, I was too busy yesterday to come by and missed the fun:-) I decided to try this out, and I learned a lot more than just dialogue. I guess I didn’t learn it, because I already knew it, but got really good examples of how to effectively scene a book/movie.

    I used “The Cutting Edge.”

    An awesome movie!!!

    The greatest thing I am learning is the hooks at the end of the scene. Some end with humor (Kate leaving the rink with her skirt hiked to make a point to her coach) and hooks (the doctor saying “I don’t see professional hockey in your future” and cutting it there…)

    I transcribed a few scenes until I got one that I liked. I chose this for the humor, cause I like little jabs and humor. I love how the charactars spar off of each other and have whitty comebacks. I love how Kate’s spoiled behavior comes across without the use of stomping feet etc. (you get this with the simple “Get him out of my building” and a few other lines)

    I ended here because next is the coach giving commands and his accent would be difficult:-)

    Oh, and I get irritated with the language so I used “heck” instead:-) I don’t want to have to pay myself a quarter! ha!

    Doug: You’ve got your own rink.

    Couch: We have ice everyday.

    Kate: That’s not spindler. Here’s the heck is spindler. I thought you said he’d be here.

    Couch: No, you said spindler. This is Dorsey, Mr. Douglas Dorsey.

    Kate: Dorsey? Never heard of him.

    Couch: Douglas is beautiful skater.

    Kate: Oh, you’re that hockey player.

    Doug: How ya doin? Nice to meet you.

    Couch: He’s tryout. He’s try out!

    (Doug and Kate shakes hands, but Doug holds on for a bit too long)

    Kate: Oh my gosh.

    Doug: What, my hand?

    Kate: Well, what do you do, soak them in battery acid?

    Doug: Oh, I know they’re a little rough, but I’ve never had any complaints before.

    Kate: Oh, I’m terribly impressed. (turns to coach) What is this, final states of Ukrainian Alcohol Psychosis?

    Doug: Hey, wait a second, who’s checking out who here?

    Kate: Listen. I don’t know how many slap shots you’ve taken to the brain but this was your audition and let me assure you, it’s over.

    Doug: Hey, Snow White, relax, I’m no figure skater. I’m a hockey player.

    Kate: Then what are you doing here? (pause) Get him out of my building.

    Doug: What?

    Kate: Get him out of my building!

    Doug: (to coach) Temperamental, you know I could think of another word for it.

    Kate: (to coach) Is that what you told him?

    Doug: What, like it’s a big secret.

    Kate: Who in the heck do you think you are?

    Doug: I know exactly who I am sweetheart. I’m a guy that’s come a long way for lunch.

    Kate: Oh, well please don’t let me keep you from the trough.

    Doug: I’m sorry buddy, I wouldn’t wish this on a snake. I’m out of here.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: