Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Never Can Say Goodbye

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

It’s always fascinated me how characters in movies and on TV don’t end their phone calls with any sort of “goodbye”.  They invariably say the last thing they’ve got to say and then just hang up.

In real life, hanging up the phone without a farewell would literally leave your other party hanging.  They’d think you got cut off, or spend the rest of the day wondering whether they’d said something wrong.

But in fiction, the real-world courtesy of a farewell only serves to bog down the dramatic works.  Consider the difference between these two phone conversations:

“How many bodies are there?”
“Three.”
It took Spangler a moment to collect the right words.
“Is one of them a redhead?”
“Yes.”
“I was afraid of that.”
Spangler closed his phone and reached for his coat.

Versus:

“How many bodies are there?”
“Three.”
It took Spangler a moment to collect the right words.
“Is one of them a redhead?”
“Yes.”
“I was afraid of that.  Okay, I’m leaving right now.”
“Okay, bye.”
“Bye.”
Spangler closed his phone and reached for his coat.

The banality of a simple closing exchange is almost comical in comparison, since there are much more important things going on for anyone to engage in niceties.  Of course, if the characters are two lovers having late-night pillow talk via phone, a dreamy “Goodnight” is more than appropriate, and easily reinforces the mood.  Hopefully there are no bodies involved.

Hanging up the phone isn’t the only device writers use to end a conversation on the strongest note.  Scenes or chapters often end on a pivotal piece of dialogue, never miring in the rest of what would be anticlimactic verbiage.

Next time you see a character answer the phone, I think you’ll be amused at how unrealistically he or she ends the call.  But in drama it’s the way things are done, and it works.  We take it at face value because the characters do too. 

And, hey, as a writer, those unnecessary words add up to less writing you have to do, and less reading they have to read!  It’s win-win all around.

Well, that’s it for today.  I hope this has been helpful.  See you next Tuesday!  Bye!

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