The Power of a Tape Recorder
In 2017, I found myself in a car with a young lady who could. not. stop. talking. She wasn’t talking to me, mind you, she was talking on the phone to a man she was clearly upset with. Her rhythm, manner of speaking, style, and even her mannerisms reminded me of a really wacky Elmore Leonard novel. The lady was upset over the guy’s lack of interest in her friends, and the way she was speaking was so compelling I just couldn’t help myself from being hypnotized by that conversation.
When I came back home, I tried to write that scene from memory but couldn’t quite find the rhythm, mannerisms, and vocabulary that she used. Ever since then, I always keep a recorder app on my phone. When I have writing sessions with friends or when I find myself at an unexpected place, I quickly hit the “record” button. Whenever I hear great lines of dialogue spoken in the real world, they’re a click away from being on my phone. There are many interesting people in real life that have inspired characters in TV and Film. Jason Alexander based his character, George, in Seinfeld on Larry David, Christian Bale based his character in American Psycho on Tom Cruise (specifically from this interview), and many, many other actors have based the characters they have played on real-life people. The habit of recording and writing real-world conversations will help you become a better writer, in my opinion. And even though characters don’t converse like regular people, sometimes, every once in a while, you'll meet a real-life person who talks like a really cool movie character, and that’s worth studying!
“You love all your characters, even the ridiculousness. You have to on some level; they’re your weird creations in some kind of way. I don’t even know how you approach the process of conceiving the characters if in a sense you hated them. It’s just absurd.” ~ Joel Coen