Wonderfalls – Third party obstacles and dialogue washes

Still on Wonderfalls in this post. You can find the pilot script, as per last time, here. One of the big takeaways I got from this show when I watched it the first time around was reflecting on methods of creating a dynamic scene. I reckon Wonderfalls has had quite an effect on the development of my writing. In my last post, I referred a lot to pace, and the scenes in this script are fast, but they’re also highly dynamic in terms of story, they’re not just all talky. You might have a scene with two characters, but those two characters are rarely the only two things relevant to the scene. Of course, a lot of this has to do with the inanimate creatures that talk to Jaye throughout the show, which add that extra element, but there is often, because the show is a bit off the rails, other random third party obstacles that invade scenes and interrupt what would otherwise be two people having a chat.

In the last post, I spoke a bit about Jaye’s relationship with her sister Sharon being the driving force for the episode, and at one point, the positive development of their relationship is impeded by an unexpected allergic reaction –

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This total outlier becomes a point of comedic contention between the pair, throwing them back into conflict. In reality, if all it would really take is for the two characters to hash out their differences in a conversation, what obstacle can you use to obstruct that conversation from taking place? Sometimes those obstacles that you create are important. Because you need that issue between the characters to remain unresolved. The emergency trach becomes a barrier to the sisters having the dialogue they need to push through to the next stage of their relationship, and so it helps create the obstacles to the story until it gets to the place it needs to be where the conversation can be revisited with a more successful outcome.

Sometimes when writing, you find yourself hamstrung by production restraints – you can only have two characters, for instance – that make it easier to descend into simple ‘having a chat’ land, but I love finding an extra element to give it a point of difference. A bucket of cleaning material. A video game. A workplace. And how items, objects, memories, whatever it is, can be used to complicate the interaction between the two characters in the scene, to serve as bookends to the scene or create some thematic value.

I was reminded of an experience that I had while reading this script. I had written this scene, and it had three characters in it, but realllly, only two of the characters were important. The third was just there because he was the partner of one of the females. And he contributed to the discussion, he had four lines. But you know, you might have a character in a scene who isn’t really a primary driver, and then you go and read the scene only looking at their lines of dialogue and you suddenly realise you’re a terrible writer. Because all they’ve done in their four lines of dialogue is say the EXACT SAME THING in different words. No progression, no change, no real contribution to the scene as a whole. And then you have to think again how you can use them in a way that makes their inclusion worthwhile.

There’s an example of this in Wonderfalls –

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Not all are shown here, but Jaye has four lines all with the same intent, with each line a small variation on the previous, but not evolving in any particular way. Every one just saying – ‘go away now’. The scene is obviously a little bit difficult – while Jaye is our protag, she’s supplementary in this scene because this is our first glimpse at the rest of her family. It’s their introduction scene. So the scene has much more of a functional value than having one of any real story consequence, other than having Jaye try to avoid the shock of now being spoken to by inanimate creates and it beginning the role of Sharon being uninterested in helping Jaye considering their past history.

When editing work, I try to do these kind of dialogue washes – read the scenes just from the perspective of each character in it, to make sure that they’re experiencing some form of change or growth. Sometimes you don’t see it until you only look at them in isolation. Sometimes you can’t force that to happen though, and here’s obviously an example of how you can get away with it successfully. But then again, Wonderfalls was cancelled after a handful of episodes… so maybe not.

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