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Have you seen that viral video of two babies talking to each other in a kitchen? Nappies dangling, they slap their thighs, wave their arms around in front of the fridge and nod vigorously as they have a lengthy and intense conversation conducted entirely in babble. The internet is great for this stuff (not now! Later!) There’s another one of a father chatting with his baby boy about the footie. Baby says something along the lines of Dub bah blub buh” and father replies, Absolutely, he shouldn’t have gone for that try, I was thinking the same thing.Baby nods and adds an even more cogent point about the game.

Of course, it’s how babies learn to speak. We listen to the rhythm and inflection of conversation and mimic it. Most of us do this before we start to apply meaning to the language.

There’s an old actor’s trick, a rehearsal game, which I loved when I was at drama school – where you perform a scene in a nonsense language. The idea is that this allows the actors to find the connection in the scene, to let movement and gaze and silence carry as much meaning as the actual dialogue.

I loved it when I was a young actor because – like those babies in the kitchen – it always felt both profoundly serious and profoundly playful.

The film Nude Tuesday”, written by Jackie Van Beek, is performed entirely in gibberish. In an interview with Screen Australia, Beek said, “I wrote the screenplay in English… but what I was constantly trying to do was make sure that I wasn’t exposing any really important story information through dialogue. On set we would rehearse the scene in English then we’d flip it into gibberish for one rehearsal and then… roll camera, roll sound and action.”

 Language is for meaning, of course – but it’s also for rhythm.

 I remember a writer friend showing me their work in progress, and laughing at a paragraph which read something like:

 “She sat, watching. Everything was still. He walked ahead, something dum da dadda.” My friend knew the rhythm the phrase needed, just not – in that draft – the words.

It put me in mind of watching the film Get Back”, in which George Harrison sings Something in the way she moves, attracts me like a pomegranate” and John Lennon corrects him, “Cauliflower is better.”

They know the scansion the song needs, just not the words. Later, Lennon says, “Just say what comes into your head each time, like ‘a cauliflower’, until you get the word.”

Reaching for the precise word is a particular kind of effort. Sometimes, it’s a joy. Other times, it can interfere. Instead, try writing what comes into your head each time, like ‘a cauliflower”. You might discover, like Harrison, that you can short-circuit the striving editorial process and cut straight to pure rhythmic instinct.

Today, get your gibberish on. Write a piece of dialogue, or a complete scene, using nonsense. Begin with a line or two of dialogue – perhaps the phrases from yesterday’s exercise – and then alternate lines of English (or another language if you are fluent enough) and gibberish.

Let babble do some of the connection today, and let it lead you deeper into play.

Today’s prompt:

The words made no sense