People don’t talk like that

Let’s take a hypothetical situation. This is purely hypothetical, mind; it bears absolutely no relation to anything which may or may not have happened on the 3rd of May 2006 … to pick a random, hypothetical, date out of the random, hypothetical hat*.

Let’s say, hypothetically, you were writing a script and were trying to ensure the characters each had a different voice. Hypothetically, let’s imagine your next door neighbour comes from a town at the opposite end of the country to you and has a unique and interesting series of expressions and manner of speaking. You ask her how she would say certain phrases and write them down. You listen to her speaking to both you and her friends and copy them verbatim because she’s funny and interesting.

When you hand the hypothetical script in, the hypothetical producer, who since moving to London has spent the last few years pretending he’s a local and has forgotten he comes from the same fucking town as my next door neighbour, complains that specific character is unbelievable because ‘people don’t talk like that’.

I have learnt, several times, it’s just not worth arguing. You can explain where you got the dialogue from, you can record her speaking and play it back, you can even introduce said hypothetical producer to your neighbour and he will still think people don’t talk like that … because he’s somehow become a parochial twat+.

Hypothetically speaking.

He’ll probably even tell you to write everything in normal English and then let the actors put on those ‘silly Northern accents’ if they really want to afterwards.

Next draft, he’ll complain all the characters have the same voice; but that’s by the by.#

Recently, I wrote a script with an innocent, stupid yet likeable character. I figured when she swears she’d substitute the word ‘flipping’ for the word ‘fucking’.

I opted for ‘flipping’ because a friend of mine says that and I find it endearingly sweet. I try to cram as many swear words as possible into every conversation with him, because I feel the desperate need to corrupt him. I want him to get so inured to swearing he accidentally lets slip a fuck or shit or a cunt. To be honest, I’d settle for ‘oh bum’ so I could giggle incessantly while he blushed in shame.

The feedback from the script told me, in no uncertain terms, no one ever says ‘flipping’. It’s absolutely ridiculous and completely unbelievable. People don’t talk like that. Change it. Change it now. Faster! Change it to ‘freaking’ – a word I hate because it reminds me of the badly dubbed, teatime version of ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ and I don’t believe people actually say it in real life.

Which means, of course, I haven’t heard anyone say it and therefore don’t believe it happens.

It’s not worth arguing. Not really. People perceive the world from their own point of view and are rarely prepared to accept other people’s experiences as genuine. And, at the end of the day, the producer or director is the client and whilst you should advise them they’re wrong, they can have it whatever way they want.

But be careful, there’s a danger inherent in this post. Sometimes, if someone says ‘people don’t talk like that’ when referring to your script, it’s because you have no ear for dialogue and the script is a pile of shit. Hate to end on a downer there, but … it’s possible.

If the criticism is levelled at one or two characters then it’s probably just a voice the criticiser hasn’t experienced before. If it’s levelled at the entire script, it’s probably you that’s at fault.


Unless the entire script is set in a time period/location where they all really did speak like that … in which case, it’s probably not.

Damn it, I hate writing posts like these because I end up talking myself out of my original point of view.

Fuck it, do what you like.


*My random, hypothetical hat is a top-hat. I hypothetically use a top-hat because: a) it’s harder to see the hypothetical bottom and cheat; c) I sometimes like to pretend I’m a turn of the century magician whose rabbit has escaped; and b) I think it looks rather swanky.

+I find this to be fucking ridiculous. London is one of the most cosmopolitan cities on Earth … and yet most of the people living there seem to think anything outside the M25 is a myth or perhaps, in the case of those who weren’t born in London (which is pretty much fucking everyone), a badly remembered dream. You were born in Nottingham, for fuck’s sake, you pretentious mockney cunt.

#Or possibly by and by. Or maybe even bye the bye. All of them suddenly look wrong. That’s called jamais vu, if you’re interested. You probably already knew that though. I only learnt it recently and keep trying to mention it in conversation so I don’t forget what it means.

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “People don’t talk like that

  1. So much to love about this post! But let me just add one particular experience I had with a professional script reader (a tribe who can be just as opinionated as producers, except the financial relationship in inverse, so you can take their notes or leave them…).

    A character in a script of mine is alone in his living when something surprising happens, and he expresses his surprise both non-verbally and verbally. The note from the script reader was something along the lines of: “People don’t talk out loud when they’re alone, unless they’re insane.” To which I wanted to reply, “Or unless they’re like me…” But I chose not to reply and not to cut the dialogue either.

    I hope someone reads this, otherwise I’ll be talking to myself again…


    • Yup, I’ve had that one. My advice to those people is to go to the gym and check out the people motivating themselves under their breath:

      “Come on, one more! One more! You can do it!”

      Or hang out in a hotel corridor after the pubs have closed:

      “I’m sure it was … Maybe I’m on the wrong … Where the fuck is my room?”

      People do talk to themselves, but I guess it’s another fine line – it’s when a character is explaining plot or situation to themselves that it becomes a bit weird. It reminds me of Batman comics – a speech in a speech bubble reads weird – the same speech in a thought bubble sounds fine. Those are the bits you don’t write in a script. Maybe?

  2. I second the “So much to love about this post!”
    Going through some people-aren’t-like-that issues with a producer right now.
    Talking with my co-writer the other day, as we rewrite to address said perceived issues, that writers seem to observe other people much more than most. I think we have to leave it at that when we run up against these unreal comments about reality. 😉
    At least we get to chuckle while they take themselves seriously.

  3. Hey, I was once told I wrote really good dialogue and was chuffed for a while. Then I read on (this was a script report) and noticed the indication that I should also have some plot, character development etc etc…..

  4. Pingback: 2011 « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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