23 March 2010

The Longest Yard

by guest columnist Oli Lewington.  Follow him on Twitter.

Like most people under the age of 60 today, with the exception of my mum, I can type a lot faster than I can write long-hand.  In fact, I can type faster than I can think.  And therein, as the Bard would put it, lies the rub.

I’m not too modest to admit that I’m most proud of the crackling dialogue that winds through most of my plays and screenplays.  We all do something particularly well and dialogue happens to be my thing.

The very fact that I type so fast gives my characters a freedom to say whatever comes into their heads without stopping to think it through first.  As long as I know the characters I’m writing and the scene that they’re in, I know I’ll end up with something that zips along.

The trouble comes when the zipping zaps the point of the scene – in the rush to talk in witty quips, rapid-fire exchanges and free-thinking streams-of-consciousness the characters can forget what they’re meant to be communicating.  (OK, OK, I forget).

On those occasions I still find it immensely helpful to pull out the trusty yellow legal pad (because A4 ruled feels too much like school) and move through the scene at a more sedate pace. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Kipling spelling out every word in an immaculate hand, nor does it necessarily encourage a Hemmingway-like brevity, but it does cause me to stop and think about what the character is trying to say and not just what they are saying.

There’s no point writing sparkling dialogue that doesn’t do the job it needs to do – when it comes to the crunch you know that your great exchange between Protagonist and Antagonist with that cutting one-liner is going to end up in the Recycle Bin on your desktop if it doesn’t serve its purpose.

Sometimes – just sometimes – longer really is better.

Oli Lewington is a writer-director-producer in the UK and Creative Director of TinyButMighty. He started writing full-time while waiting for a life-saving double-lung transplant, including working as a script consultant to a major TV network. Having been one of the lucky ones to have his life saved by an unknown hero, Oli is now making the most of his new life. With numerous film projects across the spectrum working with companies like ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC, he is also expanding on his work as a script consultant and editor. He also takes time out to work on arts projects in schools as part of the UK Government's Creative Partnership scheme.


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