Speech-Centric Work
Works which consist primarily of dialogue or speech
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(permanent link) added: 2012-09-09 04:53:53 sponsor: Folamh3 (last reply: 2012-11-14 13:07:07)

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It’s like a lot of films one sees today, not that I see very many, but to me they are what I call “photographs of people talking”.

Virtually all works in most narrative artistic media will feature at least some amount of talking at some point. Generally, in a plot-driven story the dialogue tends to be secondary to the plot, themes, setting etc. while subtly adding to all.

And then there are these, works in which dialogue and speech predominate. A typical scene in works like this consists of two or more characters talking to each other (or sometimes one character speaking by themselves, as in the case of one-man theatrical works).

Works like this tend to be based heavily around the Seinfeldian Conversation. If the writer of the work turns to this trope because the writer in question finds they have a facility for writing witty, amusing dialogue, the work is likely to turn into a World of Snark. Genres in which this trope is particularly common include the Courtroom Drama or Slice of Life works.

At what point does a work qualify for this trope? Difficult to say, and varies with the medium: a play is usually expected to have much more dialogue than a film, for example (except in more experimental theatre). As a rule of thumb, if a typical scene in the work in question consists of not much happening aside from one or more characters speaking, it's probably this trope. That is to say, a significant majority of the work consists of speech of some kind.

See also all of the various Dialogue tropes. Closely related to Talking Heads. Compare Script Fic, Log Fic and Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue (a conversation taking place in an apparent vacuum), unusually dialogue-heavy sub-genres of Fan Fic.

Note: Please be descriptive when adding examples.


Examples:

Creators with a fondness for this trope

  • Aaron Sorkin (to the extent that the rapid-fire dialogue that is his trademark is often referred to as "Sorkinese"):
    • The West Wing. Each season has an overarching Story Arc, albeit with a sufficiently episodic structure to avoid alienating new viewers. The plot of each episode will generally be entirely driven by dialogue, coupled with conversations between staff members about social and political issues. This series helped to popularize the Walk and Talk technique, a tracking shot which consists of characters walking from one place to another while providing rapid-fire exposition.
    • The Social Network. The film revolves around the founding of Facebook. Most of the running time consists of snarky dialogue between the principal characters, with a Framing Device providing additional dialogue (and sometimes narration). There was so much dialogue in the screenplay, in fact, that director David Fincher ordered the actors to speak much faster than they would ordinarily in order to trim down the running time.
  • Kevin Smith:
    • Clerks: the bulk of the film consists of Dante and Randal talking about nothing in particular. Jay and Silent Bob, various customers and other assorted characters filter in and out, but there's very little in the way of physical action.
    • Mallrats. Brodie and T.S. wander around a mall for a day. There is a plot, and various other characters appear, but that's the main thrust of the film.
    • Chasing Amy. More plot-driven than either of the previous, focussed on the romantic relationship between Holden and Alyssa. There is still abundant dialogue, allowing for development of the two leads (and Holden's partner Banky) and Seinfeldian Conversations about love, romance and sexuality.
  • Quentin Tarantino's films contain a great amount of conversation, occasionally intercut with brief moments of shocking violence. There's a reason his films are sometimes nicknamed "talkies".
    • Inglourious Basterds starts with talk, continues with talk, and ends with talk, so much that the usual Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene balance is reversed. Indeed, the action scenes are brutal but brief, and many of the conversations are about insignificant topics, instead serving to increase the suspense as the person being spoken to slowly realizes that they're doomed. Notable examples include Hans Landa's speech about how he's learned to hunt Jews, or the conversation at a bar where Allied spies struggle with a Gestapo officer who has chosen to sit with them.
  • Richard Linklater:
    • Before Sunrise. Two characters, Jesse and Celine, wander around Vienna, chatting about nothing in particular and slowly getting to know each other. The sequel, Before Sunset continues the trend and moves the setting to Paris, where the duo reunites and catches up nine years later.
    • Waking Life. A disjointed series of conversations between various characters (most of whom are unnamed) about topics encompassing philosophy, psychology, consciousness and ethics.

Anime and Manga

Fanfic

Film

  • My Dinner With Andre. Two men have dinner in a restaurant and have a Seinfeldian Conversation. That's it.
  • In the Company of Men. The film centres on a sort-of Love Triangle between Chad, Howard and Christine, which is developed almost entirely through dialogue. Most physical actions happen offscreen.
  • 12 Angry Men. The twelve titular jurors in a murder trial debate whether or not the defendant is guilty.
  • Annie Hall, as specifically noted by Roger Ebert:
    "Few viewers probably notice how much of Annie Hall consists of people talking, simply talking. They walk and talk, sit and talk, go to shrinks, go to lunch, make love and talk, talk to the camera, or launch into inspired monologues like Annie's free-association as she describes her family to Alvy."
  • The King's Speech. To be expected really, considering the entire film revolves around speech therapy.
  • In The Breakfast Club five high-school teenagers spend most of their 8 hour detention getting to know each other by talking about their backstories and life circumstances.
  • Memento. At its core a Psychological Thriller, it is nevertheless driven forward primarily by dialogue. Roughly half of the film consists of the protagonist sitting in a hotel room providing an unidentified character with Backstory over the phone.
  • The Conversation is a psychological thriller that revolves around a surveillance expert working a very hard case, he records the titular conversation and examines it over and over again via Rewind, Replay, Repeat.
  • The Man from Earth is a film entirely set in a room, with the various characters doing nothing but speaking. One ot them claims he's actually 14,000 years old, and the others try to understand if he's telling the truth or not.

Literature
  • Kiss of the Spider Woman is ALL in dialogue.
  • Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell, a pastiche of Roger Zelazny, exaggerates Zelazny's tendency to have long sections of dialog with zero added text, by having entire chapters which consist entirely of pure dialog, leaving the reader to infer the identity of the speakers and their tone, location, and actions from what they say.
  • Atlas Shrugged. "Who is John Galt?" This one is particularly notable for featuring, among other things, a monologue which goes on uninterrupted for fifty pages.
  • The novel Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? is all dialogue. (It's a homage to Radio Drama; the title is a Catch Phrase from The Lone Ranger.)

Live-Action TV

  • In Treatment is composed entirely of sessions between a therapist and his various patients.
  • The Trip. It's practically 100% conversations: at restaurants, in the car, on the phone, etc. There is also basically no plot - the only thing that happens is that Steve and his long-distance girlfriend end up breaking up, although they were already essentially broken up at the beginning of the series anyway.
  • Gilmore Girls. Many scenes on this relationship-focused show were just characters discussing things that have happened/may happen at another point in the episode/season. Not only were these conversations frequent, they were relentlessly fast-paced and quirky (earning the show comparisons to Aaron Sorkin, above), a style parodied in this MAD TV sketch.
  • In The Sopranos, Tony's sessions with his therapist are one of the pillars of the show; talking about his issues and concerns is both a valve of escape for him and an insight on Tony's backstory, soul and mental process. There is occasional violence, but most of the management and character exploration is done via personal meetings and face-to-face conversations.
  • Dan & Becs features almost nothing but the two titular characters making entries in their respective video diaries.
  • Babylon 5 had two episodes which were centered primarily on dialog, in one setting: "Comes the Inquisitor" and "Intersections in Real Time". Both were interrogations, in differing contexts.

Philosophy

  • This was a popular format for philosophical works (particularly in Ancient Greece), making this Older Than Feudalism. Many of, for example, Aristotle's works are presented as conversations between two parties. Other examples include Plato's The Republic.

Radio

  • All radio drama, obviously. Even when they're action-packed, by necessity they're about people describing the action.

Theatre

  • As noted above, one-man plays fit this trope almost by their very nature. Examples include Eamonn Morrissey's The Brother, an adaptation of the writings of Flann O'Brien for the stage.
  • Faith Healer by Brian Friel is a series of four monologues by three characters. There is essentially zero physical action, aside from characters standing up and sitting down and the like.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest. All of the scenes in the play consist almost entirely of dialogue, with very little physical action.
  • Waiting for Godot. Two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for a third party named Godot (who never arrives), talking about various things in the meantime. Two other characters, Lucky and Pozzo, appear from time to time.
  • Glengarry Glen Ross (and its film adaptation). The plot revolves around a group of real estate agents who, on pain of being fired, are driven to increasingly unethical methods to ensure a sale. Most of both play and film consists largely of said agents discussing the situation with each other (and propositioning various prospective clients).
  • Cormac McCarthy's play The Sunset Limited is almost all dialogue between two characters, to the point where it is sometimes described as "a novel in dramatic from".
  • Frost/Nixon (movie and play) is based on the historical interviews after Nixon's scandals and resignation. The movie expands beyond the broadcast of the conversation with the setup and circumstances of said interviews.
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (movie and play) is almost entirely driven by dialogue. Four characters share a dinner which quickly turns into a verbal war, a battle of bitter or witty insults between hosts and guests.
  • The play Dial M for Murder (on which the Hitchcock film is based) is almost entirely dialogue. It is in turn adapted from a radio play, Sorry Wrong Number, which is made up of dialogue and nothing else.
  • Witness for the Prosecution consists of various people talking in various combinations.

Video Game

  • Visual Novels as a rule are known for this.
  • Planescape: Torment is quite possibly the most dialogue-heavy game that isn't a Visual Novel. Entire plot threads, including some major boss fights, can be solved just by saying the right things to the right people.

Web Animation
  • In its early seasons, Red vs. Blue was, essentially, "People in armor stand around saying funny things to each other." Later seasons have ramped up the action ratio, though the series still relies more on dialogue to move things along than action.

Webcomics

  • The vast majority of Homestuck's plot is told through pesterlogs - records of online conversations between characters.

Western Animation


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