My friend Abraham and I were talking the other day about self-revelatory dialogue. It’s an amazing tool, if you can use it. But it’s a hell of a writer who can.
An example comes from the 2005 film, “Serenity.” The character, Jayne Cobb, is a thug but, because writer Joss Whedon is so talented, Jayne doesn’t see himself as a thug. He talks about his “warrior ethic,” which quickly devolves into thuggery. It goes like this: “Hell, I’ll kill a man in a fair fight… or if I think he’s gonna start a fair fight, or if he bothers me, or if there’s a woman, or if I’m gettin’ paid … mostly when I’m gettin’ paid.”
That’s self-revelatory dialogue. Jayne is explaining his ethic, but it’s as full of holes a Swiss cheese.
The character of Josh Lyman had one of those in the first season of Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing.” Josh, as you may remember, is the toughest politico on the president’s senior staff. He is, in his way, capable of being as much a thug as Jayne Cobb. Someone calls him “hostile” and Josh reacts by saying, “I’m not hostile. (two beats) … I’m not randomly hostile. (a beat). I’m hostile when hostility is called for.”
See him working out, through dialogue, his true nature?
That’s brilliant dialogue.