I just came from seeing Black Watch, a play about the famed Scottish regiment put on by the National Theatre of Scotland. The play is about the deployment of the regiment to the so-called Triangle of Death during the early years of the endless war in Iraq. It’s about why young men join armies, about the history of the Black Watch regiment, and about what it’s like to serve in a war where the opponent’s main weapons are suicide bombers and IED’s. Much of it was thought-provoking, and it was certainly well-acted.
My caveat was with the dialogue, which lacked shades of color, both in volume–almost all was shouted–and in content. The dialogue was probably meant to mimic barracks dialogue, but most sentences were so heavily laden with “fuck” and “cunt” that the tone of the piece became monochromatic.
I was wondering on the way home about writing dialogue. My own view is that authentic recorded speech may not get you to the heart of your characters. To show the inner mind of a teenage boy who is choosing between being a miner or a soldier (a choice the play presents) requires more subtle language than “fucking cunt fucking came to the fucking bar”. That may be what the boy says, but it doesn’t show us what he thinks.
What do you think? Do you convey emotion with literally recorded speech? Can you convey authentic character with imagined speech?