Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why Talk to a Shrink? (in movies/TV)

Tony Soprano spills his guts. Fortunately, it's just talk (this time). Talking to a shrink has been a narrative device in books and movies ever since there have been shrinks. In traditional movie dialogue, you have the main character talk to his best friend to find out what he's thinking, planning, cares about. But in this postmodern age, people are more alienated, less free with their feelings. And in the action stories, the characters are all so dumb they can't form a compound sentence.

So dialogue with the shrink is a way to reveal inner thoughts, motivations that the character can't or won't share with others but the audience needs to know. Another technique used for this purpose is voice-over narration. Writing coaches used to warn novices away from it, because they would use it to explain mundane plot points instead of using engaging dialogue (e.g., argument) with other characters. But again with so much alienation and isolation, today's main character often *has no friends* and that's the core of the story. So the rule for VO now is you can use it if the character is expressing emotions and innermost thoughts that can't be said to someone else.

You don't have this problem in a novel. The omniscient narrator can get into anyone's head. That's one of the reasons why first-person narratives are so challenging.
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