Lamplight City Narrative Commentary, Part 9: Subtext!
This is a series of spoiler-free (or -lite) transcripts from my portion of the Lamplight City developer commentary, which includes behind-the-scenes insights and anecdotes about the story writing and editing process. Start with Part 1.
One of my constant refrains while working on this script was “don’t put the subtext in the text.” Or alternatively, “You said the quiet part out loud.” We had kind of a crash course in subtext and how to use it effectively, especially in dialogue.
While working on this project I happened to read Story, the renowned how-to guide by master scriptwriter Robert McKee, and I insisted Francisco read it as well. One of its many lessons is that what characters are saying is rarely the same thing as what they’re talking about. (This simple idea is developed at length in McKee’s also excellent book Dialogue, which unfortunately hadn’t been written yet!)
So as we went through the script, step one was to make sure we could always pinpoint what every scene was really about, and step two was to make sure that the characters never said it outright. (If a scene turned out not to actually be about anything, we had to fix that, too.)
This was important for the dramatic moments in Miles’ life, in conversations with people like Bill and Addy, but it was also really important for the case interviews. In the original script, characters were often far too free with this nosy stranger, happily sharing their innermost thoughts and private feelings. Apart from being unrealistic, this also deprived the player of the pleasure of untangling the real truth and the hidden motivations behind what characters said, as a real detective would.