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Writing Excuses Episode 34: What the Dark Knight Did Right

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/09/29/writing-excuses-episode-34-what-the-dark-knight-did-right/

I'm Brandon, I'm Dan, I'm Howard . . . and I'm Batman

Main points: strong plot, strong side characters, and dialogue that is one step above expectations. Take chances with the plot. Make your characters, main and side, strong and unique. But the key point -- kick your dialogue one step up, so that it is not just what has to be said, but what this character had to say.

Brandon: We're going to do something new in this podcast. We're going to talk about the Dark Knight. First, this is not criticism or movie reviews,
  • Howard: this is not criticism, this is deconstruction.
Brandon: second, there will be spoilers. If you haven't seen it, go see it.

Brandon: Tell me what you're thinking while you were watching the movie. What was your reaction as a writer?
  • Howard: I loved the plot. It was deep, twisty... it kept me on the edge of my seat.
  • Dan: side characters. This movie is all about side characters. Even little side characters who were onscreen for just 10 minutes. They obviously worked hard to populate the movie with very real people.
  • Brandon: the writing. I sat in awe of the writing. Every line of dialogue was slightly unexpected. Usually in superhero action movies, you expect them to throw away the writing. Wonderful visuals, wonderful action, last on the list is writing.
  • usually cliche dialogue, cliche lines
  • Brandon: but this movie didn't give me that.
  • Howard: lines like, "you'll never get away with this."
  • Dan: or, "it's gonna blow."
  • Howard: "I'm gonna have to jump."
  • Brandon: there was a sense of precision about the dialogue. Every line seemed to be well-crafted.
  • Brandon: as a writer, take it one little step further. When you're writing dialogue, think about what people expect, and then think is there a way that I can say it that evokes this character?
[Skip a bit]

Brandon: let's look at plot, character, setting. What about plot?
  • Howard: this is fairly complicated. It's a three act play in a three act play. The first three act play ends with the Joker behind bars, but it ends unexpectedly at about one half acts. By the end, we've got a whole new problem, of justice wobbling, that casts light on the whole show. [This is not exactly what Howard said, but I think I got the gist of it.]
  • Dan: structurally? I think they worked very hard, so I'd have to go with editing.
  • they built two different plots. The underlying one is thematic. On top of that there is an adventure story, which gets resolved early, but leaves the thematic plot dangling.
  • Brandon: sometimes it's okay to take risks. I think some people come out after watching Batman and they're let down because they didn't get the theme. It's written on a grander scale. It doesn't do the expected, it has a surprise plot.
  • Batman depends on caring for the characters.
  • the big twist at the end for me was a redefining moment.
  • Dan: there's a line I won't cross, a rule I won't break -- this is emphasized throughout and we know that Batman won't do that -- but at the end he doesn't and he does.
Brandon: characters? What can we learn from the Dark Knight?
  • Brandon: let the side characters be interesting.
  • Howard: I think the only characters who are on screen for any length of time who didn't cross lines ended up dead.
  • Brandon: I like writing about people who are noble, but who are forced to make difficult decisions. The costs of heroism.                          
    Brandon: screenwriters can expect great actors, writers don't have that luxury.
  • Howard: writers have to depend on the reader to give strong performances.
  • Dan: make sure your characters have really strong voices, make the voice is as unique as you can.
  • Howard: use lots of caps and exclamation marks. [I'm winking!]
  • Howard: you can't solve it with textual tools, you have to use contextual tools. Make sure your character has backstory and is real to you as a writer.
  • Dan: write it so that the reader puts the emphasis where you want it.

Writing prompt
Brandon: take an old piece of writing, one that you've been working on in the last year, and take a dialogue scene. Then take each line of dialogue up by half a notch -- make it a little more unexpected, evoke a little more of the character -- but it should mean the same thing.
Howard: crank it all up, but have the dialogue end up in the same place as before.
Tags: batman, characters, dark knight, dialogue, movies, side characters, writing excuses
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