The following post is by T. B. Markinson, the author of A Woman Lost, Marionette and Confessions From A Coffee Shop.
It’s a pleasure to be here today. Vanessa asked me to write about five movies that have inspired my stories. The plots of the following films had zero bearing on my actual stories. However, each of them has helped me understand the importance of dialogue. Dialogue is tricky. It has to sound realistic, reveal bits about the story, and it has to help shape a character. Many of you have probably read novels with flat dialogue. If you’re a writer my best advice is to read authors who have mastered the skill and to watch a lot of great movies with fabulous dialogue. Here’s my list.
The first film that comes to mind when I think of great dialogue is Casablanca. How many of you have quoted this movie at some point? I know I have. Here are some quotes to refresh your memory:
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
“We’ll always have Paris.”
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
2. His Girl Friday
His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, is a classic and the rapid-fire dialogue is spot on. You really have to listen to catch all the wonderful wise-cracks. Here’s a sample:
Walter: Look, Hildy, I only acted like any husband that didn’t want to see his home broken up.
Hildy: What home?
Walter: “What home?”
Don’t you remember the home I promised you? You don’t have to know much of the back story to realize that their marriage wasn’t a good one. Three lines and the viewer is clued in completely.
Here’s a fun youtube clip from the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loqDhn3mtW4
3. The Thin Man
Yes I’m listing another black and white film. I love classics and the main reason is the dialogue. This film stars Myna Loy and William Powel and is based on Dashiell Hammett’s hardboiled novel by the same name. The screwball comedy has some great interactions, like this one:
Reporter: Say listen, is he working on a case?
Nora Charles: Yes, he is.
Reporter: What case?
Nora Charles: A case of scotch. Pitch in and help him.
Check out this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDiDYrUoQ0I
I’m hoping it tempts you to watch this marvelous film. Careful, you may want to watch the entire Thin Man series. I do once a year.
4. Pulp Fiction
I figured it was time for me to list a film that was made during my lifetime. I do prefer older films since story and dialogue are front and center. Today blockbusters are more about visual effects, but some writers have been able to master mixing good stories with plenty of violence and action. What can I say about Quentin Tarantino? He’s a master when it comes to writing screenplays. I could have named several of his movies for this list, but I selected my favorite. There are so many classic quotes from this film.
“Just because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.”
“If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.”
“Play with matches, you get burned.”
“Besides, isn’t it more exciting when you don’t have permission?”
Recently the Huffington Post had an article titled: 16 ‘Pulp Fiction’ Quotes That Will Help You Become A Better Person. Check it out here.
For the final movie that I want to discuss today I went back and forth between Goodfellas and The Silence of the Lambs. Goodfellas won for the simple fact that I could remember more of the interactions. Who can forget this memorable scene? (Warning: there’s strong language)
Henry Hill: You're a pistol, you're really funny. You're really funny.
Tommy DeVito: What do you mean I'm funny?
Henry Hill: It's funny, you know. It's a good story, it's funny, you're a funny guy. [laughs]
Tommy DeVito: What do you mean, you mean the way I talk? What?
Henry Hill: It's just, you know. You're just funny, it's... funny, the way you tell the story and everything.
Tommy DeVito: [it becomes quiet] Funny how? What's funny about it?
Anthony Stabile: Tommy no, You got it all wrong.
Tommy DeVito: Oh, oh, Anthony. He's a big boy, he knows what he said. What did ya say? Funny how?
Henry Hill: Jus...
Tommy DeVito: What?
Henry Hill: Just... ya know... you're funny.
Tommy DeVito: You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me, I'm a little fucked up maybe, but I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to fuckin' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?
Henry Hill: Just... you know, how you tell the story, what?
Tommy DeVito: No, no, I don't know, you said it. How do I know? You said I'm funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what's funny!
Henry Hill: [long pause] Get the fuck out of here, Tommy!
Tommy DeVito: [everyone laughs] Ya motherfucker! I almost had him, I almost had him. Ya stuttering prick ya. Frankie, was he shaking? I wonder about you sometimes, Henry. You may fold under questioning.
Now watch the clip and see it in action.
This list is by no means the top five films with fantastic dialogue. They just happen to be some of my favorite films that I watch quite a bit.
What movie(s) do you like with great dialogue?
About T.B. Markinson's latest release, Confessions From A Coffee Shop:
Cori Tisdale was on top of the world. A basketball star at Harvard and a promising author with a lucrative book deal.
A few years later, Cori’s life is falling apart. Her beautiful girlfriend, Kat Finn, has a shopping addiction. To make ends meet, Cori takes a part-time job at a coffee shop.
Just when Cori thinks her life can’t get any worse, an old crush appears out of the blue. Cori’s friendship with Samantha Clarke pushes Cori further into a dangerous abyss when Sam reveals two secrets to Cori and asks her not to tell a soul, including Kat.
Will this be the end of Cori’s and Kat’s relationship?