Monthly Archives: July 2016

Tools to Writing Great Dialogue, Robert McKee’s “Dialogue” Book Review

Dialogue, The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen

by Robert McKee  

 

Book Review and Commentary  July 26, 2017

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The art of dialogue. How does a writer get it just right to be effective, yet original, dramatic but not too dramatic, captivating and satisfying, and most important of all convincing? Nothing marks a writer faster as a rank amateur than a story full of bad dialogue. Robert McKee is probably the No. 1 expert on the craft of storytelling (Story, Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, 1997, and even though Story is written for screenwriters, those of us who are novelists will benefit greatly from this comprehensive manual of wisdom. No one has a better understanding of story process and design than McKee.)

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In Dialogue, yes, there’s plenty of instruction and guidance about how to write great dialogue (also examples of bad dialogue), but this book is also an inspiration about characterization and story. The real thrust of this book is how McKee spends time on characterizations and the art of the subtext—vital to thrilling and effective dialogue. There are plenty of blogs and books out there on tips for writing  subtext (many of them are vague and useless advice), but McKee explains how subtext works, the thinking behind it, shows you its most effective moments, why it works well or poorly, and gives you the tools to make it work. The result: amazingly clear insight. No kidding, if you want to fully understand subtext and sharpen your skills, this is the writing book to get.

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What is the unsaid in a conversation? What is the unsayable? This is the inner self of the character not speaking, yet revealing truths—what a delicate skill to master, right? This is truly an art and it will take study and practice. One has to understand the transparencies of human nature. Honestly, I’ve had a time getting subtext to work naturally in some of my scenes. In my novel Greylock, the main character Alexei gave me no problems, but his wife Carole Anne (a manipulative controlling dancer) made me want to slap my computer screen to figure what her underside was all about. After much struggle to identify it, it turned out she liked tempting danger and ended up being murdered.

I’ve learned that subtext is not something you can just add in like a cake recipe needing more sugar. It happens more subliminally. It happens when you’ve developed your character deeply and you, the writer, are living at the core of that character’s thinking and feeling, protecting, confessing, even mocking. McKee advocates less writing on the nose and more subtext. (Don’t know what writing on the nose is? Page 117 explains it.)

All the writing standards are fleshed out in the chapters: the inciting incident, story values, protagonist desires, motivation, forces of antagonism, action and turning points. Here’s the best part of this book. Examples of dialogue and the conflicts and the characters’ interior issues. Asymmetric conflict is illustrated from Breaking Bad. Indirect conflict through The Great Gatsby. Balanced conflict, The Sopranos. Minimal conflict, Lost in Translation. Nothing works better for me than reading an example of dialogue and then rereading the dialogue with the breakdown analysis mapping the action/reaction/subtext.

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Conflict in dialogue. Turning points. Do your scenes have it? Maybe you need to know more about better sentence design techniques. McKee describes the “suspense sentence” and the “periodic sentence.” Because prose is a natural medium for storytelling, you will learn how Charles Dickens used counter pointing exposition and its effectiveness for the reader. I hadn’t seen this kind of hook in writing before, hadn’t heard this term before. Very powerful technique; of course none of us writes like Dickens, but what an example on how to swoop the reader in.

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Creative writing, well, this book would be incomplete without exploring that. If you are confused about story talent vs. literary talent, here’s where you’ll discover how those creative juices flow. I like how McKee respects the creative process as a zigzag trial-and-error draft after draft after draft. Voice? Not something you can just add into the mix. McKee says “Voice is not a choice; it’s a result.” Evolution going on here so be patient.

What’s the most profound takeaway in Dialogue by Robert McKee? He emphasizes that quality storytelling inspires quality dialogue. Work from the inside out, from the story, from the bottom up. This is— and this won’t surprise many of you—working from deep within the character. Write in-character. I found this last chapter to be so precise in the analysis, I read it twice to be sure to get it all. Because some of this belongs in the realm of the unexplainable.

So, here it is.  McKee’s secret to thrilling dialogue and spell-binding storytelling: Ask yourself, where do you find your characters? Where do you go to meet them and listen to them speak in their own unique way?

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Ahhh, you thought I was going to tell you the secret of where to find your characters? On page 91, McKee makes a winning case for …  silence … and how it invites you inside.

 

 

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Robert McKee Website

Robert McKee is a Fulbright Scholar. He has mentored screenwriters and novelists, playwrights and poets. McKee’s alumni include over 60 Academy Award winners, 200 Academy Award nominees, 200 Emmy Award winners, 1000 Emmy Award nominees, 100 Writers Guild of America Award winners.

“Anxious writers obey rules; Rebellious writers break rules; Artists master the form.” Robert McKee.

 

I highly recommend Dialogue, The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen. Here is a review by Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, The War of Art, and Gates of Fire.

“McKee’s Dialogue is a mother lode of insight and inspiration for any writer.

His teachings have changed my career and changed my life. Robert McKee is in a category of one.”

Come meet Robert McKee in this short 3-minute video.

How Do We Live a Better Story in Our Lives?

 

 

 

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Do leave a comment!

My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.

The Annotated Dracula (Bram Stoker), Annotated by Mort Castle (book review here)
(Also The Annotated Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) Annotated by K.M. Weiland)
How to Write Like Chekhov, Advice and Inspiration,
Editor Piero Brunello and Lena Lencek  (book review here)
Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing
     the Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin (book review here)
Writing Wild, Tina Welling (book review here)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg (book review here)
Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)

Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps StructureSteven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White

Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay

NEXT WRITING CRAFT BOOK ON MY LIST TO REVIEW IS

Creating Characters, from the editors of Writer’s Digest.

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Filed under Book Reviews, fiction, Fiction Writing, horror blogs, Reading Fiction, short story blogs

Guessing in the Dark: Lord Peter Wimsey Murder Mystery

The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man With No Face   by Dorothy Sayers (1928)

 Tuesday’s Tale of Terror  July 19, 2016

 

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When was the last time you read an English murder mystery, a jazzy little puzzle, in the suspense style of Agatha Christie? Have you read any of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries? He is known as a bon vivant sleuth.

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The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man With No Face is not a cozy mystery where a body is found shot in the library. We have a man at the beach, in a swim suit, strangled to death and only one set of footprints, which is determined to be the bare prints of the victim. And his face has been ripped to shreds. Hmmmm….

This case is perfect for the aristocratic detective Lord Wimsey.

 

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Dorothy Sayers, well known as one of the writers of the Golden Age of detective fiction, was a British playwright and scholar, and a good friend of Agatha Christie. She characterized mystery writing as  ”literature of escape.”

 

Read the short story here at Gutenberg.ca .

 

 

 

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Watch a video of Lord Wimsey murder mystery clip. Lord Peter Wimsey was played by Edward Petherbridge, Have His Carcase: A man is found on the beach with his throat cut. And a very pretty lady finds him, Miss Harriet Vane, romantic interest of Lord Peter Wimsey.  Watch it here on YouTube.com (15 minutes) :

 

Do you have a favorite detective novel?

Favorite murder mystery puzzle that you would like to recommend?

Please feel free to comment!

 

 

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Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Slattery’s Art of Horror Magazine

Books & Such   Bibliophilica    Lovecraft Ezine   Parlor of Horror

 HorrorAddicts.net     Horror Novel Reviews    HorrorSociety.com     

Monster Librarian     HorrorNews.net     HorrorTalk.com 

 Rob Around Books      The Story Reading Ape Blog

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed

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Filed under Book Reviews, crime stories, crime thrillers, fiction, horror blogs, murder mystery, Reading Fiction, short stories, short story blogs, suspense

Crispin Books Releases GREYLOCK, Print Edition

Real books are on the rebound. Why? Comprehension and emotional engagement are higher for readers who are reading hard print on the page as compared to ebook readers tracking words across a lit screen. Publishers Weekly reported last year that print books are selling better than ebooks. But I still do love my Kindle.

So, for all you lovers (myself included) of the textural feel of paper-turning action while reading, for all you who savor the swishing of each page as you journey into a story, for all you who admire beautiful book covers on your tables and eye-catching spines on your bookshelves, I’m happy to announce that Crispin Books of Milwaukee, Wisconsin has just launched GREYLOCK in a trade softcover print edition.

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“Greylock is a stunning mountain, the terrain rolling like a series of hunchbacks with secret clefts.

Makes one wonder what secrets are buried here.” Alexei Georg, Greylock.

 

On Amazon and Barnes & Noble

For booksellers, available at Ingram and Baker & Taylor Book Distributors.

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“Echoing notes of Phantom of the Opera, mixed with Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, Greylock is a thrilling musical tragedy steeped in lore, mythology, and the madness of composition, leading to a crescendo of epic proportions. Paula Cappa is a gifted author, and this book will have you swooning in the aisles.” —Richard Thomas, author of Disintegration.

“A smart, entertaining supernatural thriller. Think Stephen King meets Raymond Chandler with a score by Tchaikovsky. Briskly paced, this novel was a genuine pleasure to read.” —David Corbett, award-winning and best-selling author of The Mercy of the Night.

“If you’re looking for an imaginative, sophisticated read, you’ve found it. Five stars.” —Michael Schmicker, best-selling author of The Witch of Napoli.

“Rarely have I come across such an original and well-written story. A unique, expertly written mix of genres that makes for a haunting book.” —Nicholas Rossis, award-winning author of Pearseus.

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The Annotated Dracula, A Close Reading Strategy

Dracula by Bram Stoker, Annotations by Mort Castle (Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics)  [And The Annotated Jane Eyre]

Book Review and Commentary  July 5, 2016

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If you’ve never read an annotated novel, that is a close and intimate read of the story, you’re missing out on a highly instructive look inside the mind of the writer. In this case, Bram Stoker.

Annotated novels are like a mini course in storytelling and create a deep understanding of fiction from all aspects. Mystery, suspense, and horror writers, this annotated version of Dracula explores the clever structure, techniques, themes, characterization, plot, setting, and dialogue of the most famous and esteemed novelist of our time.

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Mort Castle, a two-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award and recipient of the Black Quill Award has been in this writing business for some fifty years and has published novels, short stories, articles in the horror genre. So his expert analysis of Dracula is not only a formidable task but a comprehensive one.

I began reading this annotated version because I wanted to get into the head of a mystery writer of the occult. Who better than Bram Stoker.? Some readers today find Dracula (written in 1897) to be melodramatic, overwritten, and dry at times. When I first read it many years ago, I did find some of that to be true.  So, what will you as a writer gain from reading this annotated version? Or as a reader?

Begin here:

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In epistolary fashion, Stoker opens the story almost in medias res.  Mort Castle points out where and how Stoker seeds the suspense elements into the opening narrative. It is a skilled use of understatement and linking of the supernatural into the real world. And I didn’t see it until Castle discusses it in his marginal red notes.

Castle goes on to isolate the layers of the suspense within the text, identifying the pace as it picks up, and how Stoker slows it down to heighten the suspense. The chapters, as they wrap up, are enlightening in how Stoker chooses to end certain chapters on an up or down note, or on a neutral tone but still gives the reader enough pulse to make you turn the page. The patterns in Stoker’s writing were a surprise to me and in a novel this long, it really illustrates the intricacies of how he weaves them into the plot, and, Castle points out how best to use these patterns.

Characterizations of Harker, Mina, Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, and Renfield are iconic.  They all have a unique role to play and yet Dracula himself becomes the center of the narrative. Part of the trick is balancing all these characters’ points of view and their evolutions, including Dr. Seward’s hero’s journey that is paced into the subtext. Very smooth.

If you know the story, you could read only the red annotations in themselves and still get a rich insight to the writing. Some of Castle’s remarks are witty and precise; others are a little corny and too cute. I can tell you this, the book is a literary tour for vampire fans and devoted horror writers.

Bram Stoker wrote 11 novels in his lifetime.

To be totally honest, though, I preferred the Annotated Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Annotations by K.M. Weiland for a superb analysis into storytelling.

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Weiland gets quickly into the “dramatic question” and how Bronte weaves and bobs this question throughout the story and flows it into the soul of the character Jane. A series of seamless moves by a master writer. Foreshadowing? Bronte uses everything from the five senses to weather as a mirror to the settings, and Weiland’s remarks are highly instructive on how Bronte crafts it. I especially like how Weiland handles “the lie” that all characters believe at the beginning of a story. Narrative arc, doubt, false peace, curiosity all play into the suspense to address this lie.

Bronte’s “Three Plot Points” are really clear from the annotations: First plot point is the catalyst that rocks Jane to react. Second plot point is the centerpiece where Jane gets knocked down. Third plot point is the highest point of crisis for Jane and she must go forward.

Want to learn how Bronte creates suspense in five steps? Weiland gives you this: 1. Something happens or will happen. 2. Withhold explanations. 3. Tease the readers with hints. 4. Promise you will tell the readers, then stall with logical delays. 5. Raise the stakes that will put the character at risk.

Literary analysis is an adventure in itself. If you are a writer like me, a writer who is always looking to improve your skills and write the best novel you can with memorable characters, annotated novels is one way to go. An annotated novel pulls a story apart at the seams to expose the separate pieces and puts it back together so you can view the whole masterpiece. And all for under $25.00.

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Do leave a comment!

My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.

How to Write Like Chekhov, Advice and Inspiration, Straight From His Own Letter and Work. Edited by Piero Brunello and Lena Lencek  (book review here)
Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing
     the Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin (book review here)
Writing Wild, Tina Welling (book review here)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg (book review here)
Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)

Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps StructureSteven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White

Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay

 

NEXT WRITING CRAFT BOOK ON MY LIST TO REVIEW IS

Dialogue, The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen

by Robert McKee  

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Filed under classic horror stories, fiction, Fiction Writing, horror, horror blogs, literary horror, psychological horror, Reading Fiction, short story blogs, supernatural, vampires, werewolves

Greylock, Semi-Finalist in Kindle Book Awards

Are you a book award watcher? Man Booker, Pulitzer, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Nebula, Feather Quill. Some think we are a prize-obsessed society as we watch the Oscars and the Tony Awards religiously with popcorn and champagne parties. Who will get that seal of excellence for all the public to applaud?

While winning an award is about discovery and networking, exposure certainly, the real benefit of any award, literary or otherwise, indie or international is the encouragement.  How many times does a writer feel like quitting? How many times does a writer say, “Oh, this story is trash. Burn it”? Self-doubt is a familiar state of mind for many writers, myself included. The rigors of fiction, of structure and creativity are constant challenges. We all grow weary from time to time.

So, today, I say ‘yes to the present moment’, as Eckhart Tolle says and share with you a much needed moment of encouragement from the Kindle Book Awards. Winners to be announced in autumn 2016.

Greylock is a semi-finalist in the suspense/horror category. 

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For my author friends here, the link below at The Book Publicist is

a list of 37 literary book awards. Best wishes to all!

The Book Publicist.

 

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