Many years ago I turned on the tv late one evening and came across a very strange show. It was a comedy but with no canned laughter. The actors – who were meant to be real people – spoke straight to camera a lot of the time. The rest of the time they didn’t seem to be saying anything particular. Just sort of… wandering around…in a strangely compulsively-viewing way. Was this a joke, I wondered? I thought I liked it but it was a bit weird. But then I am weird. Then I laughed a lot. Then I wondered – am I meant to laugh at that? Is this actually real – or is this scripted? Not sure… what I had stumbled upon late that night was The Office. And the rest, of course, is history. And then along came Twenty Twelve, shortly followed by W1A. Genius writing.
I was soon listening to every conversation I could subtly over-hear, where ever I was, at any given time. In B and Q (other decorating stores are available – although probably not as orange) I heard one worker say to the other
‘Yeah…yeah..yeah… No.’. What does that mean? Did his friend understand what he was saying? Did he care? The more you listen, the more you hear these half-said sentences, half-thought comments that are verbalised for the mere sake of making a noise. When did this happen? Did it sneak in somewhere between 1998 and 2002 when no-one was looking but that new-fangled devil-machine The Internet was in full swing distorting our children’s minds and corrupting adult conventions? Possibly. No wonder the older generation has no idea what the mid-younger generation is saying – because these days they’re not actually saying anything. In a shop:
You: ‘Oh, no bag thanks.’
Till Person: ‘Would you like a bag?’ (till person gets a bag)
You: ‘No, really, it’s fine. No bag.’
Till Person: ‘You don’t want a bag?’ (thinks: why is this so difficult to understand?)(Till person gets a bag)
You: ‘Thanks.’ (unpack everything from bag you didn’t want)
Is it me?
W1A writer John Morton must have an amazing ear for human speech because so much of what you hear in his W1A script you know is real. You know someone somewhere has actually said – or rather not said – those words.
So how do you write that in a novel? How do you write that in a novel so that it is realistic? How do you write that in a novel so that it is believable? Ever read a novel and thought ‘No one speaks like that!’ ? Me too. Loads. Loads and loads and loads. Perhaps we should pay more attention to listening to people than to plotting the plot or planning the downfall of the main character. But it is so hard.
Along time ago, I once heard someone say ‘Less Is More.’ How stupid, I thought. What the hell is that supposed to mean?
But oh, how I get it now!