Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: Blue Book #10 : Dialogue Secrets by William Martell

Great dialogue is one of the best weapons in a screenwriter's armory to seduce actors into wanting to play a role. So it's imperative that you master this skill. Plus - writing great dialogue, though often hard work, is also just plain fun. Run-of-the-mill or bad dialogue? Not so much.

So Bill Martell's third Blue Book to be converted into Kindle- and Nookdom, is just what the doctor ordered if you're trying to improve your dialogue writing. Now consisting of 40 tips (almost double the amount of the print version), the book also has a few extra dialogue-related essays as well as a detailed look at some brilliantly written scenes, to show you how it is done by the masters.

If you want to write great dialogue, you must of course know how to distinguish it from bad dialogue. Dialogue Secrets has you covered. Several of the tips examine the most current mistakes writers make when writing dialogue - as well as a few more esoteric ones.

The biggest problems you're usually faced with are exposition in dialogue, and making sure the individual voice of the character comes through. Exposition can be a hassle in many ways - characters explaining who they are and what the situation is to each other (when they both already know), or being used as an infodump to reveal the research which the writer has painstakingly assembled to name but two. But rest assured, there are many strategies on offer to avoid these pitfalls, and each chapter comes with an exercise in order to help you actually acquire the necesary skill set.

As for making the characters sound like the individuals they are, this is illustrated beautifully in my favourite tip. Bill describes a couple of dozen barista's he knows in LA. All doing the same job, all having a totally different outlook and personality. What's so good about this section, is that it becomes clear how easily you can paint a portrait of a character in one or two sentences. And if you do the exercise (writing a very short conversation with each of the individuals described in the tip, in such a way that their personality shines through), you will be doing yourself and your writing a world of good.

You'll also learn aout the importance of vocabulary, bumper sticker lines, nexus words, the three-line rule, and much, much more. Subtext in dialogue is also discussed several times, and Bill provides a perfect example to illustrate just how subtext works. Unfortunately (one of the very few flaws of the book), the example is repeated verbatim at least three times.

There's also a section on cursing - definitely the first time that's been given a chapter of its own in a screenwriting manual!

And finally, there are dialogue excerpts from Notorious, Psycho, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday and, for a more modern approach, Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me. All of these are discussed in depth.

Bottom line: you get almost 200 pages of practical and often surprising advice, for a measly $2.99. That must be one of the best deals on the internet right now. And you can get it right here:

(Although as I post this today, November 17 2011, there's no pricing information up at the Amazon site. Go figure...)