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

Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee

Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee

Get this book. If you’ve been frustrated with ‘how to write’ books that are more lifestyle, memoir, and biography, this is the specific direction you’ve been craving. Dense, complete, revelatory, and thoroughly explained.

As a reclusive introvert, I had some doubt about my ability to write ‘the talking parts.’ I’m practically a cat. Literally, I couldn’t even spell dialogue ( um..dialog? ) until I got this book. However, I’m incredibly sensitive to terrible or even just poorly done, dialogue. I had read other books that basically said, ‘write how people talk,’ which is feckless and irresponsible. This book will save you from that crime and punishment, and is highly rated on both Goodreads and Amazon.

Mr. McKee describes the Three Functions of Dialogue. Exposition, Characterization, and Action —creating a forward movement in the story. Dialogue does not require two characters, it can include thoughts or self talk. Interesting.

A consistent and excellent point is; dialogue should largely be subtext.

Photograph of author Robert McKee

Robert McKee, Author of Dialogue








You know who’s dialogue was literal? The Terminator.

Writing ‘on-the-nose’, logical, accurate dialogue, that sounds robotic or alien, can sometimes make people laugh. This is what happens when characters say what is technically right, but every other kind of wrong. It makes people laugh because it’s absurd and uncomfortable.

Which is perhaps not what you want in your project.

Mr. McKee uses examples of dialogue from several sources, but my favorite example is from Sofia Coppola’s film, Lost in Translation. He shows how what looks, on the surface,  to be an offhand chat in a bar, is sparse and highly, and specifically engineered. He translates what is being said into what, by being unsaid, is truly being communicated and understood. Both in terms of how the two characters learn about each other, and how the audience sees them. It is an excellent analysis. Fascinating, and extremely useful. He gives other examples as well, from various forms of media.

Note bene, this is not a book you just skim. You will need to let this percolate and permeate your writing, study various media, and practice. Witness the well-done and the half-baked.

While you are waiting for the book, you can read this interview with Robert McKee, here:


Interested in Dialogue, by Robert McKee? Your options include;

You can preview it via Overdrive or Libby, ask your Librarian if your local library has access to these apps, and how they work.

If you decide it’s a keeper:

You may find it at a used book store: Books-A-MillionPowell’sThirftbooks, or The Strand. I’ve been having good luck with Abe Books and Better World Books lately, as well.

If you have a fabulous independent bookstore near you, please support them.

or, You can buy it via Amazon

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