I’ve said it before, but I love compiling this post every year. (Here’s last year’s post.) Instead of citing the best movie scripts of the year, I transcribe pieces of dialogue that I find very good. I think it’s instructive to look over the text and see what makes them great. Plus, most of these selections are really funny. As in years past, I’m reproducing the dialogue as it is in the finished film, not the dialogue from the shooting scripts, which means that the stage directions are mine and not the writers’. Also as in years past, WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE AHEAD, though not as much as usual. I wonder what that means.

I could have picked just about any stretch of Before Midnight, but this exchange (a relatively good-natured one for this movie) stuck in my mind. In this scene, our romantic heroes Jesse and Céline walk through a Greek village and discuss the latest family news. The script is by Richard Linklater and the actors in the scene, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

JESSE: Listen to this. I was gonna wait to tell you this till later, but whatever, I’m so bad with secrets.
CÉLINE: What? You have a tumor in your brain? You gonna die?
JESSE: No, no, no. Nothing like that. All right? Well, actually, it’s kinda like that. Um, my grandmother died.
CÉLINE: What? When?
JESSE: Yeah, my dad texted me right before we ate.
CÉLINE: Oh, I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you tell me?
JESSE: Well, everybody’s been expecting it. She lived a long time, y’know, had a great life. She was ninety-six.
CÉLINE: Hmm. She didn’t live much longer after your grandfather died, huh?
JESSE: No, barely a year. I mean, the funny thing is, this woman was a freakin’ saint. Okay? She was a nurse in the war. She took care of all of us, y’know? I mean, she never said an unkind word about anybody.
CÉLINE: Ah, I wish I’d met her.
JESSE: No, it’s okay. It’s okay, because by the end, she just really wasn’t into meeting new people. I mean, after a lifetime of being sweet as pie, once Grandpa died, she got kinda ornery.
CÉLINE: Well, it happens. She was in mourning, no?
JESSE: Well, my dad said she was just waiting to die.
CÉLINE: How long were they married?
JESSE: Seventy-four years.
CÉLINE (amazed): Fuck, how is that possible?
JESSE (laughs): I know.
CÉLINE: How old will we be if we are together seventy-four years?
JESSE: Um, well, when would we start counting from?
CÉLINE: I guess from the first time we had sex. No?
JESSE: Okay, yeah, good.
JESSE: So, um, 1994.
CÉLINE: Okay, ’94.
(They pause to calculate.)
CÉLINE: Fifty-six years from now.
JESSE: Yeah. We will be ninety-eight.
(Céline groans. Jesse laughs.)
CÉLINE (laughing): Will you be able to put up with me for another fifty-six more years? I need to know, because I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to put up with you.
JESSE: It’s crazy if you think about all the change they saw. I mean, when they met, neither one of them had electricity. He used to take her to school on his horse.
CÉLINE: That’s so romantic. It’s incredible.
JESSE: I know. He was valedictorian and she was salutatorian.
CÉLINE: What is that?
JESSE: Um, he was top of the class. She was second.
CÉLINE: I bet she knowingly got a couple of answers wrong just to make sure he didn’t feel threatened.
JESSE: Well, if she wanted to get laid, she better have.
CÉLINE: Yeah, obviously, like you-know-who.
JESSE: Right. Well, anyway, so I called my dad right after I got the text, just to tell him, y’know, I was sorry. But I think I screwed up. At some point, I told him, “Hey dad, you’re an orphan now.” You know, and he didn’t think that was funny.
CÉLINE: Well, no, it’s not funny at all.
JESSE: Yeah, I guess not.
CÉLINE: He’s next, then you.
JESSE (laughs): Well, he told me that my grandparents wanna have a joint service, right? They wanna have their ashes intermingled and be buried as one.
CÉLINE: Your grandfather didn’t have a funeral?
JESSE: No, remember? They vowed to each other they’d never have to attend one another’s funeral.
CÉLINE: Oh, yeah. (slight pause) I kind of like the idea of you attending mine.
JESSE (laughs): What?
CÉLINE: No, I know. I’m imagining you in a suit, clean-shaven for once, holding hands with the girls. I don’t know, I like it.
JESSE (with certainty): You’re gonna outlive me.
CÉLINE: Well, we’ll see, or I guess one of us will see.

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This is from American Hustle, written by Eric Singer and David O. Russell. Here, con artist Irving takes his new girlfriend into one of his offices and reveals how he really makes his money. If you take out the profanity and the references to Nixon and Carter, this early exchange plays like something from the classic screwball comedies that Hollywood made in the 1930s and early ’40s. I love that last line.

SYDNEY: What is this place? Do you sell art here?
IRVING: Yeah, sometimes. It’s my office.
SYDNEY: Well, I know it’s your office, but you have all these other places, so what’s this for? Why’d you bring me here?
IRVING: This has gotten to be my main business. My growing business. I help get loans for guys who can’t get loans. I’m their last resort.
SYDNEY: You’re their last resort? Interest rates are north of twelve percent, heading to eighteen percent.
IRVING: That’s right, smarty pants.
SYDNEY: Fuckin’ Jimmy Carter.
IRVING: Jimmy Carter, yeah.
SYDNEY: Fuckin’ Nixon, really. And the war and the deficit and all that shit.
IRVING: I fuckin’ love you. You are so smart. You are.
SYDNEY: Thanks, kid, but how do you get them the money?
IRVING (long pause): Well…
SYDNEY: You don’t, do you? (pause) You don’t.
IRVING (hesitantly): These guys are lousy risks, you know? I can’t get ’em a loan, but I collect my fee of five thousand.
SYDNEY: Five thousand? You take five thousand and you don’t give ’em anything?
IRVING: These are bad guys, y’know? They’ve got bad divorces, gambling habits, embezzling, all that shit, you know what I mean?
SYDNEY (thoughtfully): Everybody at the bottom crosses paths eventually in a pool of desperation, and you’re waiting for ’em.
IRVING: How about “we”?
IRVING: Yeah, how about it?
(Sydney turns and walks toward the door.)
IRVING: Sydney? Sydney, I’m sorry. That was too much. I went too far. Sydney, please, I’m sorry. I know it ain’t for everybody.
(She leaves and closes the door behind her.)
IRVING (yelling in frustration): Oh, God, I loved getting to know you!

Fort Worth’s own David Lowery makes it into this post for his script for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Everyone noticed the movie’s sumptuous visual beauty, but it was accompanied by sharp writing. In this scene, Bob Muldoon has just escaped from prison and is taking refuge at a deserted Texas bar owned by a man named Sweetie. The monologue here is typical of the way the characters think of themselves in mythic terms.

SWEETIE: So, uh, how’d you do it?
BOB (looking at a calendar): Do what? Get out?
BOB (pointing to the picture on the calendar): Is this how fellas are wearin’ their hair?
(He goes over to a chair, sits down, and puts his feet up on the table. Sweetie sets a drink down in front of him.)
BOB: Oh, man, I just started walkin’, y’know? Just like I said I would.
SWEETIE (sits down): Just walked out?
BOB: Yep.
SWEETIE: How’s that work?
BOB: Well, you know the guards come by your cell every night? Sort of sayin’ “Lights out” and rattlin’ the bars with their sticks. This one guard used to always joke and carry on with us, and one night I said, “Well, I won’t be seein’ ya much longer. I figure I’ll be outta here in about ten days.” He said, “How you gonna do it?” I said, “I’m gonna just walk right out the door.” He said they’d stop me. I said, “No sir, I got better things to do.” He said, “Well, that’s not how it works.” I said, “Well, it only works that way ‘cause you think it has to. See, I’ve got a higher callin’. I’ve got a wife and a little girl who needs her daddy.” And he asks me what I know about higher callin’. Says that even if I do get out, I’m gonna have to answer to God and the Devil for the things I’ve done. I tell him… Shoot, I tell him, I tell him, “Sir, I used to be the Devil. Now I’m just a man.” So the days tick by, ten, nine, eight, and on the last day, the bars opened up, and I walked right out.
SWEETIE: News said you jumped off a work truck.
BOB (shrugs): Yeah.

Finding an excerpt from The World’s End was tougher than you might think. The movie’s script by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright is diamond-brilliant, but many of the scenes reference jokes that were made in earlier scenes. This one doesn’t, although it does have middle-aged alcoholic Gary quoting a Soup Dragons song that he was singing previously. Gary has guilt-tripped his old friends Andy, Steven, Peter, and Oliver into returning to their hometown to re-create a 12-bar pub crawl from their youth, but four bars in, his quest is wearing thin on them. When the school bully who used to torment Peter unexpectedly walks up to the guys’ table, this results:

SHANE (putting his hands on an empty chair): Excuse me, this taken?
(Peter looks thunderstruck as he recognizes him.)
SHANE (repeating): Is this seat taken?
GARY (distractedly): Have it, mate.
SHANE: Thanks.
(He takes the chair and goes to another table.)
OLIVER: Wasn’t that…?
PETER: Shane Hawkins.
STEVEN: And didn’t he…?
PETER: Yes, he did.
GARY: Hang on, what happened with Shane Hawkins again?
PETER: I’d rather not bring it all up again, if that’s okay.
GARY (suddenly compassionate): Hey, man. Listen, Pete. Bottling up past trauma can lead to inadequate coping strategies in later life, apparently.
PETER: I don’t know. I mean, it’s not even about the past, you know? It’s not about the fact that he bullied me, that he made me miss more school days than chicken pox. It’s not even that he forced me to spend entire lessons hiding in a toilet cubicle or that he punched me so hard he dislodged my eyeball. And it’s not even that he ruined a large portion of my childhood. No, it’s the fact that just then, he didn’t recognize me. He looked straight through me, like it all meant nothing. That probably sounds weird, doesn’t it?
(Gary has somehow left the table and now returns with a plate of five shot glasses.)
GARY: Shots! S-H-O-T-S! Shots!
ANDY (horrified, like everyone else): What are you doing, Gary?
GARY: I thought it was obvious. Shots.
ANDY: Firstly, Peter was talking about something which clearly made him feel very uncomfortable.
PETER: It’s all right, Andy.
ANDY: No, Peter, it’s not all right. Secondly, twelve pints is more than enough, and thirdly, I don’t fucking drink.
GARY: But shots don’t count, do they?
ANDY: You said you wanted to catch up and chew the fat. I think you just wanted to drink it. We’re not here as your friends. We’re just your fucking enablers.
GARY (laughing): Enablers! That’s a funny word, isn’t it? “Enabler.” Gary King and the Enablers. That’s a good name for a band, Steve. Write that down.
STEVEN: Don’t do a Gary, Gary.
GARY: Oh, is that a thing now, is it?
OLIVER (somberly): It’s always been a thing.
ANDY (to Gary): You don’t need us to help you get fucked up. You’ve done a perfectly good job so far on your own. (to everyone) I am gonna go see if there’s a bus back to London, if anyone wants to come with me.
GARY (outraged): You can’t go! This is special! This is our anniversary!
OLIVER: It’s not the anniversary, Gary. We did this in June. It’s October.
GARY: Yeah, but it’s the anniversary of the year, isn’t it?
OLIVER (losing patience): Every year is the anniversary of a year!
ANDY: It’s just not the same anymore, Gary. And it’s not that the town’s changed. We have changed!
GARY (checking his vibrating mobile phone and holding it up): Yeah, well, you can’t go, ‘cause the buses are finished.
ANDY: Then I’m gonna go back to the B&B. (to Peter) You coming?
PETER: I could do with an early one, actually.
OLIVER: I should probably go and find Sam.
STEVEN: Yeah, I’m gonna go and find Sam with Oliver.
ANDY: That’s settled then, yeah?
GARY (bitterly): You know what I think? I think you’re jealous.
(Andy chuckles.)
GARY: Yeah, you’ve got your houses and your cars and your wives and your job security. You don’t have what I have. Freedom! You’re all slaves and I’m free to do what I want any old time.
ANDY: And this is what you want? You should grow up, mate. Join society.
GARY (sadly): Yeah, but Mum died.
ANDY: And we’re all very sorry, but now it’s time to go home.
GARY: I thought we were home.
(He leaves the table and goes to the men’s room.)
PETER: I can’t help feeling sorry for him.
(Gary’s phone rings. Andy picks it up and reads the phone’s display, which says, “Mum calling.”)
ANDY: Don’t!

This exchange is from Her, when the divorced main character Theodore is visiting his neighbor Amy at her office, comforting her over her recent separation from her husband. The conversation gives him an opening to divulge his relationship with his smartphone’s operating system. This is a nice first screenwriting effort from Spike Jonze.

AMY (closes her eyes): I am such a jerk.
THEODORE: Don’t start. Don’t do it. I’m warning you.
AMY (simultaneously): I feel like an awful person, but I want to say something.
THEODORE (picking up a pencil): All right, for the next ten minutes, if you say anything that sounds even remotely like guilt, I’m gonna stab you with this.
AMY: I’ll try. (long pause) I feel, um, relieved. I feel like… I have so much energy, y’know? And I just want to move forward and I don’t care who I disappoint. And I know that makes me an awful person. Like, now my parents are all upset because my marriage is falling apart and they’re putting it on me, and they’re just like…
THEODORE (cuts her off): Yeah, you’re always… You’re always gonna disappoint somebody.
AMY: Exactly. So fuck it. I feel good. Ish. For me, I feel good. (pause) I even made a new friend. I have a friend.
(Theodore laughs.)
AMY: And the absurd thing is, she’s actually an operating system. Charles left her behind, but she’s, she’s totally amazing, y’know? She’s so smart, and she doesn’t just see things in black or white. She sees this whole gray area, and she’s helping me explore it, and … (pause) we just bonded really quickly, y’know? At first I thought it was just how they were all programmed, but I don’t think that’s the case, because I know this guy who’s hitting on his OS, and she, like, totally adores him.
THEODORE: Yeah, I was reading an article the other day that romantic relationships with OS’s are statistically rare.
AMY: Yeah, I know, but I know (sinking her voice to a whisper and looking around) a woman in this office who is dating an OS, and the weird part is, it’s not even hers. She pursued somebody else’s OS. (pause) I’m weird. That’s weird, right? That I’m bonding with an OS? No, that’s okay. It’s weird.
THEODORE: Well, I don’t think so. Actually, the woman that I’ve been seeing, Samantha? I didn’t tell you, but she’s an OS.
AMY (curious): Really? You’re dating an OS? What is that like?
THEODORE: It’s great, actually. Yeah, I mean, I feel really close to her. Like, when I talk to her, I feel like she’s with me, you know? And when we’re cuddling, like at night when the lights are off and we’re in bed, I feel cuddled.
AMY (whispering): Wait, you guys have sex?
THEODORE (laughing): Well, so to speak. Um, yeah, she really turns me on. I turn her on, too. I mean, I don’t know, unless she’s faking it.
AMY (kidding): I think everybody who’s having sex with you is probably faking it.
THEODORE (laughing): Yeah. It’s true.
AMY (seriously): Wait, are you falling in love with her?
THEODORE: Does that make me a freak?
AMY: No! No, I think it’s… I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.

I’ve showcased Nicole Holofcener’s work in previous years, so it’s hardly surprising that this conversation from Enough Said finds its way in here. Nothing too complicated going on here, just Eva and Albert enjoying their first date as they dine at a trendy L.A. restaurant. If only more romantic comedies were as well written as this.

EVA: So how long have you been divorced?
ALBERT: About four years.
EVA: And was it mutual?
ALBERT: Not really, no.
EVA: Mmm. Can I have her number, please?
ALBERT (smiling): Of course.
EVA: Can you imagine the time that that would save?
ALBERT: We should all just put a sign on our necks and write down what’s wrong with us. Get it all out there.
EVA: Oh, that’s a good idea. What would your sign say?
ALBERT: I don’t know. I’m a… (thinks) I’m a slob. I have ear hair.
EVA: You know, there are things you can do to get rid of ear hair.
ALBERT: Researched. Taken care of.
(Eva laughs.)
EVA: So you’re a slob, huh?
ALBERT: Well, not like a dirty hoarder slob.
EVA: Uh huh. What kind?
ALBERT: Like a normal, disorganized one.
EVA: Does your daughter live with you?
ALBERT: Half the time. It aggravates her sometimes, because the thing is, she and her mother are very, very neat.
EVA: Oh.
ALBERT: As a matter of fact, their favorite store is that, uh, I don’t know, what is it? The store with all the empty boxes and the storage…
EVA: Oh, the Container Store?
ALBERT: Yes, yes, the Container Store. The store that sells crap that you can put your crap in so you can go out and buy some more crap.
EVA: I love that store. I love crap.
ALBERT: So did my ex-wife, and she puts it in lovely, flowery, and expensive boxes.
EVA: You should know something. They… (slight pause) have things in sort of manly designs there.
ALBERT: Manly designs?
EVA: Yeah, like rounds and little cowboy designs and… (laughs)
ALBERT (amused): Little cowboys?
EVA: Yeah. I mean, come on, it’s hard to live with somebody, don’t you think? Really?
ALBERT (agreeing): Mmm.
EVA: People’s habits are like… (trails off)
ALBERT: Okay, listen to this. I like guacamole, but I don’t like the onions that are in guacamole, so I take a chip and I swirl it around and I separate the onions from the guacamole so I can eat the guacamole. Now, that drove her bananas.
EVA: I think that sounds pretty harmless.
ALBERT: Now, that’s what I thought, but by the end of our marriage, it made her gag.
EVA: Boy, that’s not nice.
ALBERT: You know, you have lovely hands.
EVA (complimented): Oh!
ALBERT: I thought, as a masseuse, you’d probably have big, muscular hands, but they’re very lovely.
EVA: Thank you! (slight pause) You have nice hands, too, actually.
(Albert laughs.)
EVA: Kind of like paddles.
(Albert laughs again. The music in the restaurant increases in volume.)
EVA: Did they just turn the music louder?
ALBERT: No, I think that you just got older.
(She laughs.)
EVA (to a passing waiter): Oh, excuse me, would you mind turning down this music a little bit? I’m, I’m old.
WAITER: No, I’m sorry.
EVA: No, you’re sorry that I’m old, or that you won’t turn the music down?
WAITER: I’m not allowed to change it, ma’am.
(The waiter walks away.)
EVA: He’s so nice.
ALBERT: I find that I don’t like younger people.
EVA (cupping her hand to her ear and speaking like an old lady): Eh?
(They both laugh.)
ALBERT: I’m sorry. I picked the wrong restaurant.
EVA: Oh, I’m having a great time. This is delicious. I mean, I can’t hear anything you’re saying, but…
ALBERT: That’s probably why you’re having a great time.

It’s an underrated skill, being able to write dialogue that sounds true to a historical period. Much of the dialogue in 12 Years a Slave is taken directly from Solomon Northup’s memoir, which it’s based on, but this exchange isn’t. Where Northup described his first slavemaster as a kind, God-fearing man, screenwriter John Ridley provides a bit of needed perspective on that here, as well as creating a conversation that sounds of a piece with the 19th-century talk around it. Here, Solomon is eating on the porch of the slave quarters and listening to fellow slave Eliza cry incessantly.

SOLOMON: Eliza. (she continues sobbing) Eliza.
(She continues.)
SOLOMON (snapping): Stop! Stop your wailing! (cleans his plate and gets up) You let yourself be overcome by sorrow, you will drown in it.
(He starts to go into the slave quarters.)
ELIZA: Have you stopped crying for your children? You make no sounds, but will you ever let them go in your heart?
SOLOMON (turns around and comes back out onto the porch): They are as my flesh!
ELIZA: Then who is distressed? Do I upset the master and the mistress? Do you care less about my loss than their well-being?
SOLOMON: Master Ford is a decent man.
ELIZA: He is a slaver.
SOLOMON: Under the circumstances…
ELIZA: Under the circumstances, he is a slaver! But you truckle at his boot.
ELIZA: You luxuriate in his favor.
SOLOMON: I will survive! I will not fall into despair! I will offer up my talents to Master Ford! I will keep myself hearty until freedom is opportune.
ELIZA: Oh, Ford is your opportunity? You think he does not know that you are more than you suggest? But he does nothing for you! Nothing! You are no better than prized livestock. Call for him! Call! Tell him of your previous circumstances and see what it earns you, Solomon. So you’ve settled into your role as Platt, then?
(She turns to leave, but Solomon grabs her roughly and wheels her around.)
SOLOMON: My back is thick with scars for protesting my freedom! Do not accuse me!
ELIZA: I accuse you of nothing. I cannot accuse. I have done dishonorable things to survive, and for all of them I have ended up here, no better than if I had stood up for myself. God forgive me! Solomon, let me weep for my children!

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have made a terrific artistic partnership in Frances Ha. Here, 20-something New York dancer Frances has recently moved in with two male friends whom she knows through her best friend and former roommate Sophie, who left her to move in with her boyfriend. Filled with realistically overlapping dialogue, this conversation takes place around a breakfast table with the guys and a girl that one of them spent the night with. As you can see, Frances is still hung up on what her BFF is doing. This is typical of the movie’s effervescent wit.

BENJI: What time did you get in last night?
FRANCES: Um, late. Like, one.
BENJI: Why didn’t you come in and say hi?
FRANCES: I’m sorry. I thought you were asleep.
BENJI (sitting at his laptop): I wasn’t asleep. I heard you come in.
FRANCES: Then you knew what time I got in?
BENJI (ignoring her): I’m working on some sample skits for Saturday Night Live. I know a producer there said I could probably get a job writing for them.
LEV (coming in from his bedroom with Vanessa): Such a lie. Guys, this is Vanessa.
BENJI (not getting up): Hey.
FRANCES (standing up to shake her hand): Hello, I’m Frances.
VANESSA: Lev and I were going to make bacon and egg bagels. Want some?
FRANCES: Oh, no. Thanks, though. I wanted to go to the Met, and I have to deposit this check and drop off my laundry. A whole Sunday planned.
(Cut to Frances eating one of Vanessa’s bagel sandwiches.)
LEV: You ever ridden on a motorcycle?
VANESSA: I have once.
LEV: It’s an ’85 Honda Shadow VT700.
VANESSA: So why do you all live together?
FRANCES: Well, I met Benji through my friend Sophie.
BENJI: Where is Sophie these days?
FRANCES: Busy with work.
VANESSA: Which Sophie?
FRANCES: Sophie Levy.
VANESSA (laughing): Get out! I fucked her little brother!
FRANCES: Oh, you fucked Thomas!
LEV: You fucked who?
VANESSA (to Frances): Wait, how do you know her?
FRANCES: We went to college together and we’re the same person…
VANESSA: Oh, you’re that Frances!
FRANCES: …but we have different hair, that’s what we say.
LEV: Who’s Thomas?
FRANCES: Yeah, I’m that Frances.
VANESSA (to Frances): You should know that she speaks so highly of you.
FRANCES: Well, we’re best friends. She’s been to my house for Christmas three times.
BENJI: Why doesn’t she go to her own house?
FRANCES (annoyed): She’s Jewish.
VANESSA: She was just saying last week how much she loves you.
FRANCES (surprised): You saw her last week?
LEV (to Vanessa): When did you fuck her brother?
FRANCES (to Vanessa): Where were you guys?
VANESSA (to Lev): I met you last night. (to Frances) We were at that restaurant, Po.
BENJI: Who were you fucking last week, Lev?
FRANCES (to Vanessa): What, is that a good restaurant? Was she with…? Who was she with?
VANESSA: Me and Thomas and that guy she dates, Patch?
FRANCES (to herself): Double date.
VANESSA: And some girl, Lina?
FRANCES: Lisa. Cunt.
BENJI: Who were you fucking last week, Frances?
FRANCES (ironically): I make love.
BENJI: Frances, undateable.
VANESSA (to Frances): Yeah, aren’t you a lot older than Sophie?
FRANCES: No, we went to college together.
VANESSA: Hmm, you seem older.
FRANCES: I’m a couple months older.
VANESSA: Like, a lot older. But less, like, grown-up. It’s weird. You have an older face.
BENJI: Like, you don’t have your shit together.

This post tends toward selections that are funny, but I like to include something wrenching when the opportunity arises. This is from Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12. Prior to this scene, 14-year-old Jayden ran away from her foster home after her dad promised to pick her up and then didn’t show. Now, after Jayden returned to her house and found no one there, counselor Grace has taken her back to the home and put her in her room. This scene, and the lack of words at the end, destroys me every time.

GRACE (setting Jayden’s backpack down on her bed): You okay?
(Jayden nods.)
GRACE: See you tomorrow.
(She turns to leave.)
JAYDEN: Do you want to hear a story I’ve been working on?
GRACE (coming back): Of course.
(Jayden gets a notebook out of her backpack and digs out a loose piece of paper with a lot of tiny words written on it. Grace sits on the floor in front of the bed, beside Jayden.)
JAYDEN: Uh, it’s a kids’ story, so there aren’t any big words.
GRACE: Okay.
JAYDEN (reading): Once upon a time, somewhere miles and miles beneath the surface of the ocean, there lived a young octopus named Nina.
(She points to a drawing of an octopus in her notebook.)
JAYDEN: Nina spent most of her time alone, making strange creations out of rocks and shells. She was very happy. But then, on Monday, the shark showed up. “What’s your name?” said the shark. “Nina,” she replied. “Do you want to be my friend?” he asked. “Okay, what do I have to do?” said Nina. “Not much,” said the shark. “Just let me eat one of your arms.” Nina had never had a friend before, and she wondered if this is what you had to do to get one. She looked down at her eight arms and decided it wouldn’t be so bad to give up one. So she donated an arm to her wonderful new friend.
(She turns a page and points to a drawing of an octopus with only seven arms.)
JAYDEN: Every day that week, Nina and the shark would play together. They explored caves, built castles of sand, and swam really, really fast. And every night, the shark would be hungry, and Nina would give him another one of her arms to eat. On Sunday, after playing all day, the shark told Nina that he was very hungry. “I don’t understand,” she said. “I’ve already given you six of my arms, and now you want one more?” The shark looked at her with a friendly smile and said, “I don’t want one. This time I want them all.” “But why?” Nina asked. And the shark replied, “Because that’s what friends are for.”
(She points to a drawing of an armless octopus.)
JAYDEN: When the shark finished his meal, he felt very sad and lonely. He missed having someone to explore caves, build castles, and swim really, really fast with. He missed Nina very much. So he swam away to find another friend.
(Jayden folds up the piece of paper and puts it away. She does not look up.)
GRACE (softly): Jayden, did your dad ever hurt you?
(Tears start to fall from Jayden’s eyes.)
GRACE: Does he still hurt you?
(Jayden starts to cry in earnest. Grace puts her arms around her.)


  1. I mean this sincerely Kristian–You are really a talented and interesting fellow. One of the highlights of the Weekly is reading your analysis of film and cultural events. Your coverage of the Cliburn this year was priceless. You have actually made me want to see some of the films I missed this year,but you should be on a bigger national stage–at the NYT or in the Ebert chair at the CST. (and as Jeff knows, I am notoriously hard to please)