Methuen drama: RRP 12.99.

ISBN: 9 781408 101346.
Review: Rod Dungate, 12 August 2008.

Invaluable book for scriptwriting students.

A link to the book on Amazon is below.

Rib Davis is a significant writer – with over 50 radio, television, film and theatre scripts produced. In WRITING DIALOGUE FOR SCRIPTS he brings his considerable experience to bear. The result is a relaxed, easy to read, and highly informative unfolding of the skill of dialogue writing.

Davis importantly starts by looking at the differences between talk and dialogue; a vital element for writers. Dialogue is never talk – with all it’s improvisation, running repairs and qualifications. Yet dialogue needs to give an impression of talk. Davis sets out a wide range of pit-falls for new (and not so new!) writers, including making the dialogue work too hard, ping-pong dialogue, or dialogue that’s merely there to pass on information to the audience.

The book gains enormously from Davis’s selection of examples – often, usefully, quite extended ones. These range from modern writers (Churchill, Stoppard, Beckett et al) to Wilde and Shakespeare. It gains even more from an extract from Laura Hirst, who was, at the time, an MA student of Davis and asked to write some bad dialogue:

‘JOHN: Hi Sandra Smith. SANDRA: Hi John Smith, how are you? JOHN: I’m fine, even though tomorrow we find out whether we can have children or not, which is making me quite stressed . . . . ‘

Oh it’s delicious! Returning to this extract, Davis shows the faults and instructively shows how they can be corrected.

The section of comedy writing is most enlightening. Davis discusses the difference between laughing WITH the character (when the character is aware they are being funny) or laughing at them. He also examines where the comedy comes from; it’s not necessarily from funny lines. ‘We should not always attempt to write ‘funny lines’, but should recognise the comic power of the relationships between dialogue and characterisation.’ He makes useful comments about comedy and political correctness, too.

Narration is becoming increasingly popular in dramas and in a new section in the book, Davis, explores the different ways this can be done. Looking at a variety of media he explores single, multiple and shared narratives. But warns the narrator-writer that ‘Narration has to be as alive as all the rest.’

I have some qualms about Davis’s use of the terms ‘naturalism’ and ‘heightened naturalism’ clouding its meaning in its relationship with 20th Century writing. But, then, the English language is notoriously unhelpful to us when we try to grasp the nature of what’s natural or real and what gives the impression of reality in drama. Davis carefully explains how he uses the terms and is totally consistent as he uses it. At the end of the day it’s clear what he’s getting at, and that’s the most important thing.

This is a significant book for anyone interesting in writing dialogue – for scripts and beyond.

Here’s the link . . .

2008-08-12 16:30:16

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