My mother used to make my brother and I go to church when we were young. She had some very good reasons for doing this, which I didn’t find out until much later and won’t go into now, but when I say she made us go to church – I mean she made us do it all. Service every Sunday. Sunday school. Confirmation classes. And at Christmas time, we were usually volunteered to be in the nativity pageant.
Most of this Christianity stuff…was not for me, to put it mildly. But the pageant part wasn’t so bad. I liked acting. The last year I did the pageant, I was the angel Gabriel who makes the big announcement to Mary that she’s carrying the son of god.
This was one of the few times I can remember enjoying church, practicing the lines of the annunciation over and over. Saying them in rehearsal, then in dress rehearsal. I remember sensing that if I messed the lines up, it was worse than just screwing up in front of the audience; I would be ruining the whole art of the speech. It had to be said just right.
The annunciation goes something like this:
“Gabriel: Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest.
What I love about this speech is how much information it conveys in so few words. And I love the way they sound. It’s the first instance I can recall where I fell in love with a piece of dialogue. Every Christmas Eve, I listen to the BBC broadcast of King’s College doing the Nine Lessons and Carols service and they always read this scene from the nativity. It’s the only part of the bible that I really enjoy. It gives me the shivers. I can’t help it.
Since then, it’s become a hobby of mine to collect great pieces of dialogue.
For instance, when Han Solo says, “I know,” after Leia confesses her love to him, well that’s just a brilliant line; a great example of showing character traits and not telling them. I believe it was Harrison Ford who came up that? (correct me if I’m wrong)
And even though George Lucas generally gets reamed for being a bad dialogue writer, I actually really like what Obi-Wan says about the force:
“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together."
That’s just classic. Again, it’s so simple. It says so much while physically saying so little. The combination of words: surrounds, penetrates, binds. That's great. It’s very mysterious, but powerful sounding. The line is also very well delivered by Alec McGuinness.
And then there’s the great dialogue of Smaug’s from The Hobbit:
"My armor is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”
I love the way that line builds up, piece by piece, I am this, I am that. One metaphor after another. In fifth grade, my class put on a play of The Hobbit and we rather ambitiously wrote the script ourselves. I had the good fortune to be part of the team that wrote the final act. I remember having such a good time including those lines in our scene.
Does good dialogue move you? Or do you “collect” some other literary device. Excellent similes perhaps? Tell me about it! Word nerd with me :)