Monday, March 22, 2010

Learning to Talk Like a PI

Amazing visual angleI recently discovered the TV series “Peter Gunn”. Although there are a few dated episodes in there with beatniks, I mean, really dated, man, but are we ever truly dated? Aren’t we all ageless? You, me, the world…all just one big trip going round and round…

Sorry. I was feeling the moment.

Although there are a few dated episodes in there, the storytelling stands up well to today’s standards, making me realize how cutting edge the show was when it aired in 1959.

From stark lighting to dramatic camera angles, visually the show is stunning to watch. Blake Edwards gave 1959 TV audiences film noir in weekly half hour installments. The jazz score by Henry Mancini adds to the memorable experience as well. It’s a top quality soundtrack that had me contemplating buying an old LP off Amazon.

Peter and EdieWhat stands out for me in the show is the dialog—classic savvy Hollywood dialog in that scripted way that isn’t real, but you wish was. It’s a form of dialog you generally only find in detective shows or Hugh Grant movies. I find the banter between Peter and his girlfriend, Edie, terribly witty especially. They are characters with no real insecurities, making plays on each other’s words in a carefree, clever manner.

I wish I could say that I have been most influenced by the witty language of love, but for me the cheeky stuff is what causes a twinkle in my eye. So much so that I started collecting my favorites.

“Now you’re getting so dumb, I’m going have to take you out for walks and hold your hand in the market.” - Rocky from The Rockford Files

“If I was on fire, I wouldn’t hire him to throw water. We don’t get along.” - Jim Rockford from The Rockford Files

“Look, there’s an official explanation on your desk, Hanson. In English. Read it before you start climbing my back.” - Lt. Jacoby from Peter Gunn

And more recently from Castle:

Beckett: Wait, there’s a sex scene in the book? Between us?
Castle: There’s a sex scene between Nikki Heat and the roguishly handsome reporter who’s helping her.
Beckett: Oh, good. So he’s nothing like you.

Esposito: Who would steal a dead body?
Castle: Oh plenty of people. Organ harvesters, cadaverless med students, satanists, mad scientists looking to create their own monster…

Castle: (To Beckett about marriage) You’d be good at it. You’re both controlling and disapproving. You should really try it.

Quotes from

The secret to witty dialog is that the characters’ emotions don’t get in the way. They remain aloof and cool no matter what happens to them. In fact, snappy dialog can only happen when characters aren’t worried about getting dumped or fired or punched in the nose. This is because their writer sits safely away from the situation thinking of terribly clever repartee for them to shoot out like bullets. In real life, we are the writers and we don’t remain aloof very well. Consider online chat rooms, Twitter, discussion boards, etc. where cooler heads never seem to prevail and invectives fly out of the ether with chunks of keyboard.

Keeping in mind what a hothead I tend to be, I greatly admire the detectives and PIs of TV Land with their wonderful combo of subzero cool and fiery wit. Every time that one guy on my Twitter stream uses the ugly & disrespectful “teabagger” slur, my blood boils, steam comes out of my ears, and I say… nothing. I have no clever rejoinder. For fear of opening my mouth too widely, I shut it tighter.

I imagine that ADHD and my hair-triggered impulses have taught me over the years to button my lip or I’d regret it. But the characters in my book don’t have ADHD. They can be as rapid fired in their quips as I want. Today I’m looking forward to tweaking the dialog in my story with more sparkle. Even if the characters involved are only 12, there’s still room for cheeky wit if my own daughters are any indication.

Instead of worrying about the rules, I just want to worry about writing. I want my writing to be as fun to read as these detective shows have been to watch & listen to. So I will keep the ADDaboy! article short and sweet today, rapidly film the next vlog, and tear into my novel later today like a sugar addict in a donut shop.

I do have another twitter stream that is quieter and more writing focused as opposed to mental health/distraction focused. It’s @DouglasCootey. You’re welcome to follow me there.