How to write dialogue that is convincing, effective, and original.
A popular lecturer in the art of story, McKee (Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, 1997) brings considerable expertise to this detailed, informative guide to creating dialogue for stage, screen, TV, and prose fiction. The book is organized into four parts addressing the art of dialogue, flaws and fixes, character-specific dialogue, and a sophisticated analysis of dialogue design. Although he usefully explicates specific excerpts of dialogue from many sources, McKee assumes that his readers are knowledgeable practitioners who will fill in references to works as diverse as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth, Seinfeld, Frasier, and The Godfather. The author distinguishes three levels of communication: the said (what a character expresses to others), the unsaid (a character’s inner thoughts and feelings), and the unsayable (a character’s subconscious urges). A writer “must master the double dimension of dialogue—the outer aspect of what is said versus the inner truth of what is thought and felt.” McKee offers many examples of “true-to-character talk,” contrasting it with generic, predictable dialogue; he cautions against using trauma—sexual abuse, for example—as explanation “for virtually any extreme behavior.” Case studies highlight scenes that are successful and those that “feel lifeless or false.” Although McKee cautions that “no one can teach you how to write,” he succeeds in defining “the shape and function of a scene” and laying out its components and inner workings. “Creativity is choice-making,” the author writes, and choices derive from the writer’s needs and goals. “This book,” he claims, “explores the forms that underlie dialogue but never proposes formulae for writing it.” Nevertheless, exercises and abundant examples provide much guidance in giving voice to characters.
A rich and useful companion for practicing writers.