Friday 21 June 2013

Writing Original Dialogue - Part 2

Pic by epsos via Flickr
So after a day of a twitter #sitcomhacklines, we found a few more hacky dialogue, moments and tropes (and @TheStacemeister even objected to the word 'trope'). Lots of people loathe the "There's no I'm doing that/going there/wearing that" etc, with the cut to them doing that/going there, wearing that. And lots of people hate the "He's behind me, isn't he?" standard. But this is just the beginning.

My esteemed co-writer Richard Hurst pointed out the gag when people are looking at porn then turning the picture (or their head) sideways at which point it 'makes sense'. Agreed. Hacky.

Here are some other lines and bits that simply have to go (credited by twitter handle):

"Oh God. Did we...?" Checks under covers to see if clothes are on or off. @ElizabethBower & a variation by @JakeTrusler

I'd never dare do something like that... *Hastily hides the thing they didn't do* @zanPHEE

I'm tiring of 'whole...thing', as in "I hate being stood up" becoming "I hate the whole being-stood-up thing" @simonblackwell

How about a line referencing something bizarre/wacky that happened in the past, what happened to show not tell? @tonycowards

...look up the definition of [a bad thing] in the dictionary; know what you'll find? A picture of you. @philiplarkin

'That's going to leave a mark/that's gotta hurt' and variants... @tobydavies

'You had me at [insert something incongruous that isn't hello]' @ScriptwritingUK & @The_ODonnell

"Who *are* you and what have you done with the real X?"@danblythewriter

"Penny for your thoughts" @RobGilroy Ugh.

"That's what she said. Am I right or am I right?"@AndyGilder

When character drinks frothy coffee and puts cup down to reveal hilarious comedy tache. @ingridoliver100

Not strictly a line, but I don't ever need to see another sitcom character do a doubletake.@revgerald And add to to that the nighttime security guard who sees an odd thing then looks at the cup/glass/bottle in his hand.

When talking about something other than sex: "Tell me one thing, was s/he better than me" @TheSarcasticOwl - I like this observation. They did it in Friends quite a lot (eg. shopping together in Bloomingdales) and it worked for them. But it's done now.

"At least things couldn't get any worse." (Ceiling collapses/thunderstorm starts/etc.) @sleezsisters

"So, you knew? [nods] So, all the time...? [nods] And I was never...? [shakes head]" @mcmwright

I'm here all week. Try the veal. @paultrueman74 Yes, funny in Shrek when you're an ogre who's just beaten up soldiers but that was some time ago now.

Porn films in sitcoms are always of the Hollywood pornification 'Edward Penishands' variety. @MontyBodkin

A: hi I'm Tom
B: Nice to meet you Tim
A: it's Tom
B: WHATEVER TIM @Direlogue

A character storms out of a room straight in to a cupboard. They stay there. @johnfromsoho

"Why can't X do Y?" "Because (he's) a useless etc. etc. etc. who couldn't etc. an etc." PAUSE "But apart from that?" @SimplerDave

So let me make sure I've got this right... [summarises series so far for first time viewers] @AndyGilder Harsh, because one of your characters might be stupid and a quick recap might be useful, but sure, you have to hide it better than this!

Thanks everyone. Leave more in the comments if you think we've missed any. Now, let's write something original, characterful and funny.


  1. "Do you know x? I've heard he's a big, ugly bore and... he's you, isn't he?

  2. I see this on Big Bang Theory sometimes (maybe just in reruns): The characters talk about Leonard while he's sitting on the couch.

    L: "Hello, I'm right here."

    They continue to natter on about him.

    L (exasperated): "Hello! Still here!"

    Or variants thereof.

    The other annoying thing I see on BBT is repetition of what the first character said so the audience knows this is the setup to a joke, ie.,

    Sheldon to Penny: That's strike three.
    Penny: Strike three?
    Sheldon: It's a baseball metaphor.

    Leonard and Penny are often stuck with repeating the other characters keywords to set up the joke. (But not as bad as the movie "Eyes Wide Shut" where half of Tom Cruise's dialogue is him repeating what someone else said, except as a question. Supremely annoying!

  3. Harlan Ellison called out this one in movies and TV in his 1960s book "The Glass Teat":

    A: (looking serious) "Just like that?"
    B: Just like that.

  4. Jane Espenson calls these "clams" in her excellent blog

    the idea being that a joke that was fresh once starts to stink pretty quickly.

    Some more reasons for people to have their comedy licence revoked -

    - "I laughed so much a little bit of wee came out"
    - "I just threw up in my mouth a little bit"
    - "X called, they want their Y back"

  5. Ah, just read your previous blog entry on this in which you already said everything I just wrote in that post.

    Ignore me...

  6. This is one that pops up in Superhero films all the time.

    - Police cars drive up to the scene of whatever building smashing disaster is happening. Policeman gets out of his car and looks at the flying superheroes, his face full of disbelief.