No Excuse for Short-shorts??

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.


Once again, I have found myself choosing a side on a controversy vital to… Well, I’m not really sure, but vital to something most certainly.

Recently, an online friend, who shall remain female and nameless, commented that:

There’s no excuse for short-shorts.

To my knowledge, no such universal law exists, and this arbitrary stance demands that someone of a different gender pick up the gauntlet. If such radical concepts are allowed to go unchallenged, there is no telling what might be attacked next—bikinis, negligees, or even the beloved T-shirt and cool breezes!

My Response:

PERHAPS, a true story can add a different, but still entirely valid perspective.

Once upon a time, I was 13. (It’s true.) Walking home from school, carrying an armload of desperately-need-to-study-for-exams books, notebooks and assorted papers, I happen to look across the street and changed my whole perspective on that particular day. Thoughts of tedious study for upcoming exams disappeared in an instant! The world was indeed beautiful.

Walking opposite was a lovely, obviously healthy, and delightfully curvaceous young lady, who was kind enough to sport the then-hot fashion of a tube top and short-shorts. In my mind’s eye, she was the answer to all my hormones, and so captivated my attention that I did not see the HUGE, BRIGHT YELLOW traffic light control box directly ahead.

Yes, I slammed my head into the side of the steel control box.

Yes, it was genuinely excruciating.

Yes, my books, notebooks and papers went flying and blowing into the street.

Yes, the female object of my attention laughed her barely-covered ass off at my faux pas. Although, from her smile, I surmise that she was delighted that her appearance could stop traffic…even if it was only foot traffic.

AND SO, short-shorts may reasonably have age and weight limits in order to comply with current theories on good taste. As a general rule, grandmothers shouldn’t wear spandex or short-shorts, and grandfathers shouldn’t wear socks with sandals or wife-beater T-shirts…but they do anyway. However, this should not be construed as license to claim “There’s no excuse for short-shorts.”

That’s ridiculous!

Wherever there are attractive young women and traffic control boxes, short-shorts are a very viable means of introducing young men to the fact that relationships between the sexes are inescapably fraught with joy and pain.

Comments welcome.

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Let’s Talk Dialogue – Part 3

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Finding good dialogue in books is not difficult. One merely reads with a critical eye and takes note of the dialogue sequences that impress. However, there are numerous reasons that a bit of dialogue may be impressive, not the least of which is that you simply like it.

“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.”
    – The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson

Or maybe it’s just far enough outside the box to generate a smile:

“Have you seen a lot of women?”
“Wouldn’t say a lot.”
“And what were they like?”
    ― The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy

However, various writing gurus recommend bits of “good” dialogue that many writers don’t particularly appreciate, regardless of high recommendation or lavish praise. Good dialogue is a matter of opinion, and it’s perfectly acceptable for anyone (even critics and academics) to like or dislike a bit of dialogue for valid reason or no reason.

Stercus accidit. – David Hume

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Why?

Quite simply, dialogue is art and not science. There is no thermometer or other carefully calibrated instrument that you can use to quantify and qualify dialogue as empirically good any more than you can say that Picasso is empirically a better artist than Michelangelo. However, just as there are ways to study fine paintings, there are ways to study dialogue to give you a better feel for relative worth. One such method is to study scripts rather than novels.


Not at all.

The Screenplay Advantage
Everyone who watches plays and movies has found lines of dialogue that impressed them, made them laugh, or made them cry.

Are you crying? There’s no crying! There’s no crying in baseball!
    – A League of Their Own, Columbia Pictures, 1992

Consider a few of the advantages of film as a medium for studying dialogue:

Economy of Words and Relevance to Plot (Action) – A script is usually no more than 120 pages. Some directors prefer 80 to 90 pages. There is no room for wasted dialogue. In addition, the camera usually focuses on the speaking actor (which is visually boring) because audiences read lips, so it’s either relevant or cut!

I’ll have what she’s having.
    – When Harry Met Sally…, Castle Rock Entertainment, 1989

Interpretation of Emotion – You are not comparing screenplay dialogue to the ‘mind’s eye’ of the reader (you again). You compare it to a filmed interpretation by professional actors whose job IS that emotional interpretation.

Eleanor: What would you have me do? Give out? Give up? Give in?
Henry II: Give me a little peace.
Eleanor: A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now there’s a thought.
    – The Lion in Winter – AVCO Embassy, 1968

Emotion can be strong or weak. – Not everything has to be deep.

Aurora Greenway: Do you have any reaction at all to my telling you I love you?
Garrett Breedlove: I was just inches from a clean getaway.
    – Terms of Endearment, Paramount Pictures, 1983

Text and Subtext – Screenplays are some of the finest examples of the use of text and subtext in all of literature, as in this dialogue (text) which very clearly conveyed the subtext, ‘This is ridiculous.’

Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn’t we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? ’cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could become a M.I.A. and then we’d all be put out on K.P.
    – Good Morning Vietnam, Touchstone Pictures, 1987

Characters Literally Given Voice – Professional actors go to great lengths to accurately portray their character. The character’s voice has an additional filter with the director.

Ms. Perky: People perceive you as somewhat…
Kat Stratford: Tempestuous?
Ms. Perky: ‘Heinous bitch’ is the term used most often.
    – 10 Things I Hate About You, Touchstone Pictures, 1999

Every available genre is portrayed in film, and there are numerous outlets (including many public libraries) where scripts are available. Comparing the written word to a visualization independent of the writer’s mind offers some very useful insights. So, for the writer who wants to study good dialogue, screenplays are very often As Good As It Gets. (TriStar Pictures, 1997)

Parting Funny: I’m desperately trying to figure out why kamikaze pilots wore helmets.Dave Edison

Next Up: Killer Quotes

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Let’s Talk Dialogue – Part 2

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Dialogue is not real conversation. Anyone with ears knows that real conversation is as boring as a DVD of C-SPAN’s Greatest Hits.

“How are you, today?”
“Fine. And you?”

Yep, that’s real conversation. Be still my heart; get me off the edge of my seat… Or realistically, please pass the antidepressants.

Studying Good Dialogue
Here, we’re already running into problems.

What constitutes good dialogue?

A careful review of the opinions in the 187 million Google results for writing dialogue (mentioned in Part 1) is out of the question unless reincarnation for several lifetimes is guaranteed. However, let’s ignore this difficulty and settle for a much more plebian definition:

Good Dialoguedef. #1: Dialogue that holds the reader’s attention and does not disturb their willing suspension of disbelief.

Thank you for a memorable afternoon. Usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature. – Arthur, Orion Pictures, 1981

Now that we know what we’re looking for, where do we find dialogue that meets this criteria in order to study it? One obvious choice should be classic literature.

Rare in a Medium
Google dialogue in classic literature and you’ll get about half the results that searching dialogue in movies produces. In addition, the literature search offers a mishmash of lists, articles, writing instruction, definitions—and oh yes, the occasional example of dialogue in classic literature.

Considering the immense volume of world literature, there are very few lines of dialogue from classic literature, and almost none from contemporary literature, that have impacted our social consciousness. That may sound a little harsh, but…

Experiment #1: – Identify the source of these dialogue quotes:

  1. “I forgot,’ Lennie said softly. ‘I tried not to forget. Honest to God I did, George.”
  2. “I dare do all that may become a man…”
  3. “I’ll be back.”

(Sources listed at the end of this post.)

Most people can only identify the source of #3, which is not a book but a screenplay (hit movie). Is this sad?

Not really.

Book Cover image

Zero calories!

Most readers are not studying literature; they’re looking for a good read.
In addition, note that classic literature was almost always the popular literature of its day. You can find excellent examples of good dialogue in today’s popular books almost everywhere, however very little of it is going to be praised for its literary merit, or has any hope of becoming the classic literature studied by future generations. Generally, a book does not become a classic until its appeal spans multiple generations and the academic community decides to take a closer look.

“I hear you don’t write any more,” he says…
“Not true,” I inform him. “You should see the margins of my student papers.”
“Not the same as writing a book though, right?”
“Almost identical,” I assure him. “Both go largely unread.”
Straight Man, Richard Russo

Critics and academics have the time to be impressed or look down their noses. Writers on the other hand should study dialogue for useful ideas while writing their own original work with original dialogue—and hopefully, with appropriate touches of humor.

“Don’t call me stupid.”
“Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I’ve known sheep that could outwit you. I’ve worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?”
“Apes don’t read philosophy.”
“Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not ‘Every man for himself.’ And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked ’em up.”
    – A Fish Called Wanda, Metro Goldwyn-Mayer, 1988

In Part 3, we’ll look at why studying dialogue from screenplays can be more productive.

Answers to Experiment #1 Quotes:
1. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck.
2. Macbeth, William Shakespeare.
3. The Terminator, Pacific Western, 1984
Parting Funny: Politicians and diapers have one thing in common. They should both be changed regularly, and for the same reason.Jose Maria De Eca De Queiroz
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Let’s Talk Dialogue – Part 1

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Imagine that you take a little trip to New Orleans. Now, gather together a large group of master chefs from the most prestigious and popular restaurants in this fine, old, southern city. As Master of Ceremonies, you want to start a lively discussion among the meeting’s attendees, so you ask:

What’s the best way to make Gumbo?

A short while later, the police arrive to break up the brawl. And yes, you may sneak out the backdoor if you don’t want to be identified as the instigator of the festivities!

The Best Dialogue
There are as many opinions on dialogue as there are writers (and perhaps chefs) on planet Earth. A simple search of Amazon books using writing dialogue returned 10,529 results. Using the same search term on Google: ~187 million results. It seems that everyone knows how to write crisp, dynamic, emotionally charged\coherent\evocative, witty, clever, fresh, effective, dazzling, expressive…

Wait a second! I just want my character to be able to talk and engage my readers. A little humor would also be nice.

So, we can skip the dialogue writer’s brawl?

Sure, why not? There’s actually a simple way to write good dialogue:

  • Read the advice of numerous writing gurus.
  • Take an eclectic approach, selecting the ideas that will work well for you.
  • Conscious of the best ideas, study well-constructed and effective dialogue in every available medium. (Face it, there aren’t a lot of mimes in print, stage or film.)
  • Now, write dialogue that works for you and your characters incorporating what you’ve learned.
  • Repeat as necessary.

Will everyone then praise your dialogue?

Well, did everyone choose the same best Gumbo?

Look Who’s Talking
Dialogue is recording the voices of your characters, but it is also an expression of that unique writer’s voice that every author strives to acquire. When your characters speak, they are the dummies to your ventriloquist.

You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have. – J. R. R. Tolkien

Writing appropriate dialogue for a scene requires more than a few decisions. Who will speak? What information will this dialogue impart to the reader? How does this move the plot along? Is this the best spot to place that information? Is this dialogue appropriate for this particular character? If I don’t like what my character has to say, can I kill him in the next chapter? Add a big ETC.

That may sound like a lot of decisions, however putting words in your character’s mouth is really not difficult.

Open wide!

The difficulty arises in making your character’s speech crisp, dynamic, emotionally charged\coherent\evocative, witty, clever, fresh, effective, dazzling, expressive…

It’s déjà vu all over again. – Yogi Berra

And we’re right back to our eclectic approach to the TONS AND TONS of advice on writing good dialogue. However, if you look carefully, you will find one thread that’s more than a little bit common with most of the dialogue gurus: The author’s (hopefully unique) voice should be transparent.

If you’re not letting your characters speak for themselves in their own unique voice, it’s time for a rewrite. Everything else is arguable.

The Best Funny Dialogue
There is a tendency to equate funny dialogue with the witty remark or the clever turn of phrase, requiring the genius of a William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward. If this were true, we’d never laugh at dialogue again because they’re all dead.

“What would you like in your coffee?”
“Vicodin, please.”
    – Sexual Evolution, Jay Cole

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Much more realistic (and useful!) is the simple fact that funny dialogue is dependent on the same facets as any other dialogue.

No matter how you or your favorite writing guru dissects dialogue, every facet (and nearly every word) is capable of producing a laugh. Like dialogue itself, humor arises from character, situation, plot, theme, emotion, text, subtext, and pretty much anything else that you’d like to add to the list.

In Part 2, we’ll begin looking for examples of good dialogue.

Parting Funny: When you go into court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.Norm Crosby
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