Writing Dialogue Without Dialogue | Final Scene of Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are"


In the movie version of Where The Wild Things Are, a boy (Max) wearing a wolf costume runs away from home. This takes place right after one of his outbursts where his mom sends him to bed without dinner. On Max's journey away from home he meets a group of beasts called the Wild Things. He's having a great adventure, but eventually starts to feel lonely and decides to sail back home.


The scene above is the final scene of the film. This is his journey back and how his mom greets him with, what I think, is one of the greatest displays of grace ever captured in a movie. The rest of the film isn't perfect, but this scene is. And there's not a single line of dialogue.


Here's what the scene reads like in Spike's screenplay.


EXT. (means exterior, outside)
A random dog runs up next to him and Max barks at it wildly gleeful as they run side by side. The dog, after running next to him for a moment, splits off. All of the houses are dark, except for Max’s own, in the distance, where some of the lights are still on. He runs toward it until he gets a few houses away, when he slows down to a jog, then a walk. His last few steps are slow and tentative. He moves to front door, and we see a close-up of the doorknob turning.
INT. (means interior, inside) MAX'S HOUSE - NIGHT
Max tiptoes through the house, nervous of the repercussions. His mom sees him, runs to him, grabs him and holds him. They look at each other. Max is overwhelmed with emotion, feeling both sorry, relieved and grateful that she’s taken him back. She looks at him sweetly, removes his wolf hood, and holds him tighter.
CUT TO INT. DINING ROOM - NIGHT
Max is eating his soup. His mom is sitting at the table, too, head resting in her hand, utterly exhausted. She looks affectionately at Max. Max starts to eat his cake, and looks up at his mom. She has fallen asleep. Max tilts his head, studying her, appreciating her, marveling at her.

After watching or reading that scene, it's hard to imagine how dialogue would enhance any of those moments. There's really no need for lines like:


"Mom, aren't you mad at me?"
"No, Max, I'm just so relieved you're home. Come here, sweetie."

Those lines wouldn't carry the same weight as all of the little details like the house being the only one on the street with the lights on. The Mom looking like she hasn't slept in days. Putting a meal in front of Max, making sure he's fed - especially since the whole thing started with the sending to his room without dinner. And then finally nodding off once her son is safe under her roof, further showing that she hasn't slept a wink since he left. And Max looking up with the smile, knowing he's truly loved.


Creative Writing Tip / Something to Try


When looking at one of your dialogue scenes, think about all of the non-verbals that could be going on with your characters. Are there any lines of dialogue you could replace with a gesture or a little detail.


Ideas:

  • Character is angy/frustrated - Tapping their foot. Checking the time. Letting out a sigh. Maybe they get up and start cleaning. Tapping their fingers on a table.

  • Character is excited/happy - Hug that lifts the other person off the ground. Spins around. Runs outside with a kid to play catch. Brings home flowers. Pinterest page full of vacation ideas.

  • Character is stressed - Clothes on the floor. Bags under their eyes. Fridge is either jampacked or totally empty. Pizza boxes out on the counter.

Try testing this out on one of your dialogue scenes. You don't. have to go full Where the Wild Things Are with no dialogue at all, but adding these extra details to your dialogue will enrich the scene and build a closer bond with the reader.


For more creative writing mini-courses, subscribe to our monthly newsletter here or email us. We'd love to see a before and after of a scene you test this out on.

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