Chigurh Gets It Done: Dialogue As Events

I’m not sure that we’ll ever gladly pay $17 to see a movie. But, when we do, there’s one thing we’re looking for — event. An event is that moment of a-ha, recognition, discovery or learning that gives the energy a story needs to progress. In fact, what we call ‘story’ is nothing more than a series of events arrange in logical sequence. While we know that we can provoke events in prose, a little tip is that we can provoke events in dialogue too.

If it’s true that dialogue is the action of last resort, then it’s clear that every other option for taking action has been exhausted. The equipment’s failed, the ex has called the police, we don’t have the expertise and so on. When all else fails, we speak. And we speak for one reason only — to change the person we’re speaking to (even if it’s to God or someone long dead). This is true of us and true of our story-people.

And when we finally do speak we activate the formula for event: intention, action, recognition and consequence. This algorithm works for dialogue but action description too. This is no accident. And reveals what we may often disregard: that story-people are working as hard as we are to craft events.

Consider the Chigurh/Proprietor scene in the Coen Brothers’ ‘No Country For Old Men’. With everything on the line, Chigurh and the Proprietor play with both guns blazing in a shoot-out of repetition, game, name-calling to craft recognitions/a-ha’s for one reason only — to move their story forward. These are tactics that happen through dialogue. Want dialogue that pops? Integrate events. No knife-throwing or guns blazing needed.

But even with all of these tactics at work, the scene wouldn’t work unless the characters stood to lose ‘everything’. Characters know (and you do too) that the only way to move their story forward is by crafting events. It’s why we can watch a psychopath staring at another while slowly eating cashews and be on the edge of our seats. David Mamet knows this. How much action description is in Glengarry Glen Ross? David O. Russell works it the same way in Silver Linings Play Book.

We don’t pay $17 for what happens (plot). We hand over our money for the progression. The mistakes. The recovery, the repair. The learning. The move forward. The event. In dialogue, too.

Exercise:

Check out the Coen Bros.’ No Country For Old Men. Find the events/recognitions/moves forward. Study how Chigurh and The Proprietor move their stories forward by crafting dialogue that (they hope with ‘everything’ they’ve got) gets them what they want — no matter what. Go for it.

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