Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I Know Quentin Tarantino and You Sir, Are No Quentin Tarantino

1994. Such an innocent time. We thought flannel was cool and we were so jaded, man, with that whole life thing. Like Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites.

Also in 1994, a little picture called "Pulp Fiction" was released and, like radiation after a nuclear explosion, we are still living with its aftereffects. Don't get me wrong -- I like Pulp Fiction. But I personally believe we should quarantine every copy of Pulp Fiction until its damaging effects on aspiring writers have been successfully contained and eradicated. Then, scientists and social historians could apply for a special license to see Pulp Fiction, but only if they swore under oath that they would never, ever try and replicate Quentin Tarantino's witty/pop-culture laden/nonsensical dialogue.

I've been seeing a lot of dialogue like this lately:

"Dude, you're just like Trostsky."
"Like Trotsky. You know, Trotsky was this revolutionary guy. He was like this charismatic figure and he was way ahead of his time. He founded the Red Army."
"Isn't Trotsky Russian?"
"You're missing the point, man. Trotsky was this charismatic guy, but Josef Stalin got rid of him and he was exiled from the country. To Mexico."
"Do they have vodka in Mexico?"
"When he was in Mexico he was murdered with a motherfucking pickaxe. A motherfucking pickaxe! Can you believe that shit?"
"Do you know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in Mexico?"


I know, I know. It would be cool if Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta said it, but this type of dialogue has no place in a book.

Writing dialogue in a book is not like dialgoue in real life, and it is not like dialogue in a movie. Tarantinoism does not work. Banter, particularly the quick back and forth kind, almost never works in a book. Dialogue in a book needs to build toward something, and it needs to take place in a manner that furthers plot and character development. If two characters have a conversation just for the sake of being clever, it's, well, it's whatever the opposite of clever is.

So please, support my campaign to quarantine Pulp Fiction. Don't do it for me. Do it for the children.


Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

Only if we can agree to exempt Christopher Moore from the embargo.

Shadow said...

You sir, are a fucking moron.

First, if you know so much about writing dialogue, you wouldn't be a fucking agent; you'd be a writer.

Second, since you're so wise in the ways of writing dialogue, I am certain Elmore Leonard and Gregory McDonald would be most enlightened with your formula for dialogue-writing.

Nathan Bransford said...


If agents knew nothing about what makes a good book, we wouldn't be very good at our jobs. Also, the example of dialogue I posted sounds absolutely nothing like Elmore Leonard and Gregory McDonald.

Great writers can definitely make back and forth dialogue work, that's not what I'm saying. Pointless dialogue that adds up to nothing, on the other hand, and is just meaningless banter that doesn't advance characterization or plot is not something that works for me.

And way to hide behind your caustic post with a private profile. Brave, my friend.

Shadow said...

Sir, I no longer write a blog, because I get nothing out of it. I found this link through a friend who pointed out your "advice." And sir, don't be confused, if I'm caustic, it's not directed at you, since I don't know you, but I'm torpedoing your suggestion to writing dialogue.

Yeah, people say that dialogue should only further the plot, and most books are plot-based, with characters pushing the plot.

It's possible to write "pointless dialogue" or "meaningless banter" that has nothing to do with plot or characterization, and still be good. I know it's a matter of taste and books are subjective, but if it's entertaining and adds to the mythlogy of that book, why not throw it in?

My theory is, if that kind of dialogue is in a book, and you don't respond to it positively, it's because it's poorly written dialogue, it's said in such a way where you don't believe it. The writer sticks out too much, and the characters are in the backseat.

McDonald and Leonard write banter and dialogue not related to the plot, but it's enjoyable to read or listen to, because of the exchange. Their dialogue is about rhythm and the beat of exchange. And they rely on it as forward momentum for their books.

Now, most writers aren't dialogue writers. Most writers are more centered on plot and devices, rather than people and speech. And that's fine. Some writers don't want to discuss the theories of obesity like McDonland did, or how characters want their hamburgers prepared with either peppers or onions, like how Leonard did. And some people don't want to read that kind of shit, and that's fine.

Point is, good is good, regardless how meaningless it is.

Nathan Bransford said...


Thanks for the more thoughtful reply. I think one of the problems here is that this isn't one of my better posts (I was still getting the hang of blogging), and I don't think I did a great job of expressing what I meant. And so yeah, I think you're right. Banter, when done correctly, especially in the hands of masters like Elmore Leonard is great. I didn't mean to disparage all banter, but I can see how that might have been confusing from the post.

To me, good banter isn't just nonsensical, and it does reinforces characters. So it's not pointless, it does develop characterization (even if that's not the main point of it). When Leonard's characters are talking about a hamburger it's within the bounds of that character and you learn more about them, even if "character development" isn't the exact point. And you're right, there's a certain rhythm to it that establishes a mood and a world. Bad banter is just pointless. It's clever for the sake of being clever, and often a lot of the not-good banter I read in the query pile is time for the author to riff on things they've been thinking about, not something the characters would have been thinking about. It's just out of left field. Some people may like that, I don't. If I don't believe those words would come out of a character's mouth then there's a problem.

But yeah -- as I said in another post, the first rule of publishing is that there are no rules, so everytime I say something like "poitnless banter doesn't work" someone will make it work. But 99% of the time it doesn't work for me.

Shadow said...

Yeah, if it works, it works, right? But most of the time, it doens't.

I do have to say that I express the same feeling you had when Tarantino was all the craze with Dogs and Pulp Fiction -- everyone wanted to be like him, especially the writers who were trying their first hand at story-telling. And they tried and tried so hard to be like Tarantino that they ended up shoveling out a bunch of crap that wasn't for the sake of story-telling, but just misguided effort.

And you're right abot how there's nothing worse than writers who use their characters as a mouthpiece of their own politics. Utter tripe.

Good day, sir.

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