Dialogue in Justified

Posted Feb 23 2012, 10:34 am in , , , , , , ,

image taken from Google images

Even if you’re not a Timothy Olyphant fan  (I think you’re a little nuts if you’re not), you need to be watching Justified. The show does everything right. The characters are believable, relatable, and real — a huge range of characters from all walks of life, but as a viewer, you buy into them.

But the real pleasure in this show is the snappy dialogue. You don’t have to understand much about the characters to see the beauty in this quote. Raylan, U.S. Marshall is threatening Boyd, childhood friend, adult frenemy. Theirs is an odd relationship, but for the purpose of this quote, you only need to know that Raylan has just found out that Boyd used Raylan’s aunt’s house as an Oxy clinic. In addition to the other problems in his life, this makes Raylan a bit uptight.

“You want to run your hillbilly heroin fiefdom up here, that’s between you and the great state of Kentucky. I got no interest in shitkicker-on-shitkicker crime. But you will not drag me into this. The next time you set up any operation in this county or anywhere else it better not have my god damn family name on the deed or so help me God, I will lose this star and the dance we do subsequent to that will not end with you finding Jesus in a hospital bed.”

That right there is why I watch the show. If you want to see Raylan deliver this speech, you can find the clip at the bottom of this page. You’ll find it under ‘Selected Scenes.’ It’s well worth the minute and a half.

Those lines are so well-crafted, it’s amazing. Really, the entire episode, while not as exciting as many of the others has so many hidden gems in both characterization and dialogue.

A lot of writers struggle with dialogue. Part of the reason I was drawn to poetry as a teen was that I never had to write dialogue. I sucked at it because I tried writing the way people talked.

Over years of reading and writing, I discovered that writing good dialogue means using regular language, natural stuff for the characters, but you have to cut the junk out. As people we say a lot of junk. The junk is boring.

Look at that quote again. That’s not how most people talk. Most of us would use much shorter sentences and pause more often. But then, the words would lose power. As a reader and viewer, we’re sucked into the power of that quote because it’s well-crafted. I think as writers we need to find that balance between natural speech and craft.

Although this quote is too long, I think, for most people to memorize and spout off, it is definitely memorable.

What are some of your all time favorite movie or TV quotes?



6 responses to “Dialogue in Justified”

  1. tom parham says:

    limestone’s speech to his son,

  2. I am a HUGE fan of Justified and not only because Timothy Olyphant is easy on the eyes. I agree, the story lines are not “just another crime show.” The unique, quirky (sometimes, odd and just plain weird) characters deliver.

    I hadn’t analyzed the dialog before, but I can hear him delivering this line.

    Some of the worst “one off” lines I hear? CSI — and CSI Miami, in particular. They need to up the pay scale and get some better writers.

  3. […] of my favorite shows, Justified, ended for the season this week. It seems like it crept on me too quickly and I’m not quite […]

  4. […] last thing, and this is a big one, is dialogue. I wrote months ago about the superb dialogue in Justified. The dialogue in Justified reads they way we would all love to sound if we planned out everything […]