Help with dialogue

Looking for opinions, I have done some screenplays and enjoy it. But right now I feel like doing a novel that I could self publish. The novel would give me more immediate gratification than doing screenplays and paying for contests. However, I am terrified and terrible and proper grammar when writing dialogue. It's almost so tedious to me that i get afraid to start writing. I have some really cool ideas but can't get over this fear. I've thought about 1st person or 3rd person and can't grasp it. I love to write scenes, characters, and plot points but can't do dialogue. The he she said, John said. It feels really clunky for me. Does anyone have any advice to help me free my creativity lol. Thanks

Tiyan Newman

Hi Matthew, what you could do on your journey for writing a novel is to just give yourself permission to write shit your first draft allowing all mistakes to appear on the page. This frees up the creativity process and gives you more confidence going into the 2nd draft. I hope this helps.

David J. Immel

The best dialogue is with characters that have multiple areas of internal conflict..

David J. Immel

James gandophini on sopranos. He just is..The gangster with internal conflict and issues. He does it all. Hard,soft,discerned,confused,straight, and strong when needed.

David J. Immel

Don't go too deep into anything. Just dial it in and leave it like that. Each fiber of the character is a intricate piece to the entire tapestry of the script. Design the character and put them in the mix of the situations to set it off just right. The good,bad and ugly..The best ingredients to flavor a great script.

Christopher Henry

Matthew, I am in the same boat - terrified by being asked to do a book when all I know is screen. "Huge difference, kids." The advice from others and the path I'm now embarking on is to just write it as you would for screen, but add your vision (beyond a DP view) and let it flow. You don't need validation of format - you need trust in your content. You are a writer. Be that writer. Format comes later. Tell the story. You actually CAN do dialogue because it is in your head. Don't get hung up on venue. Get excited about content. Just WRITE! Let others translate your vision to the correct outlet. "Technical minds create the framework for life, creative minds fill it with glory." Let you be you. Just write ...

Matthew Riddle

Thank you everyone, I appreciate the motivation and advice

Wayne Jarman

I agree with David and Christopher. I can be a bit of a 'grammar nazi' but when I am in Creative Mode it all goes out the window. Just get your story down on paper. Let it flow without worrying about grammar or format. Editing is stage two. :-)

David E. Gates

Just start writing... You can change what you don't like. Be warned though, if traversing via self-publishing it's a steep learning curve unless you're willing to pay for a service that does it for you. I did that for my first book, merely because I wasn't familiar with the process but still found I had to do virtually all the work associated with formatting etc. Hiring a professional proof-reader is VERY expensive. I found a really great guy here in the jobs section who did a super job and was happy with what I could afford - I'll definitely use him again and hopefully next time I can pay him a little more. :-)

A. S. Templeton

I've never believed in the "just write a barrel of sh!t and fix it in rewrite" school of creation. Don't be afraid to frequently revisit earlier chapters & dialogue, revising as you go, especially during those dry spells of waiting for one's Muse to show up, lattés in-hand.

Writing a screenplay with proper dramatic structure is actually an excellent way to start. Orson Card of the Ender's Game universe does it that way, and so do I. Actually I co-write novel & screenplay. A screenplay's economy in description and tightness in dialogue helps retard novel prose-bloat and runon speechifying. Conversely, the novel's full-sensory environments and nuance in character expression & action push back into the screenplay, enriching an otherwise dry read and (hopefully) helping actors & production folks do their jobs.

As to grammar, if you, like so many, fell asleep in "Language Arts" class, there are MS Word addons like Pro Writing Aid that will analyze a selected text and inform & enlighten you of the most common grammatical & style mistakes. Picking up an English grammar & style manual would help too. Hard work, but it comes easier as one goes, and one can't help but learn.

As to dialogue, there are "rules" that set the bounds of acceptable style, e.g. "Never use adverbs in dialogue tags", but I'm astounded at how often published authors break it, and goggle at the English abominations and cheats they employ to get around it.

Boring adverb rule-breaker: "You'll never get your hands on me," he said sharply.

A wordy, boring cheat: "You'll never get your hands on me," he said in a sharp voice.

Getting there: His eyes flashed. ""You'll never get your hands on me!"

And many adhere strictly to the so-called Elmore Leonard rule of using only the cognitively-transparent "said" in a tag, letting context, action and character expression enrich the dialogue in the reader's mind. The third example above uses no verb at all, and interpretation of exact delivery is left up to the reader. This "said only" rule is frequently broken without harming the read... much.

As to voice, opinions vary. 1st person present tense is IMO an unfortunate, dare one say dangerous fad that sadly has not yet crested. About half of current books on the Teen or Young Adult shelf are written in this crap voice. While 1st present might be appropriate for dramatic contrast, e.g. a dream, flashback, or trippy interlude, reading an entire work of it is way too fatiguing. I once tried writing a chapter in 1st present but soon quit in disgust-- way too constricting, not least because there can be no off-MC POV action. 1st person past is okay for some works. Bronte's masterwork Jane Eyre is the finest example of 1st past autobiography. But for most novels it's safer to stick to classic 3rd past.

Anyway, good writing!

Douglas Olsson

Start with, people don't speak in complete sentences. What is their education? How well to the two people know each other?

A. S. Templeton

I'll Second Douglas: unique voice for all chars! I have a nonhuman race of characters who can't speak in contractions... or rather, "can not".

Doug Nelson

Mathew I noted that you're from Cleveland so I'm confident that you grasp the little speech differences between Beachwood and Parma. You Ohioans talk a lot different than a High Plains Drifter, a Texas wildcatter, a gruff stevedore, a California surfer... It's your job as a writer to paint each of your characters uniquely. (Look how we wrote the dialog for the characters on Northern Exposure.) Film is a talking visual art form in which each character stands apart from every other.

I recently came across a fun little book by Zosh Katz titled Speaking American (How Y'all, Youse and Youse Guys Talk.) I think you'd find it helpful.


David E. Gates

@A.S.Templeton - revising as you go is, in reality, no different to writing then "fixing in the rewrite". However, I do believe that revising/fixing as you go works better for me as it keeps me in touch with my story and characters. That said, I still ended up re-arranging significant portions of my first horror novel, "The Roots of Evil" to get the flow right after I'd finished it, so both methods (both of which are essentially rewrites) work.

Izzibella Beau

Matthew as the writer of eleven novels the piece of advice I can give to you concerning dialogue is to let your characters speak to you. Don't force words into their mouths. As you write, the characters will become part of you and you'll find it easier to write what they want to say. I know sounds a bit 'crazy' but that's how it goes in the world of novel writing. Just like a screenplay, you want the readers to hate, love, be saddened, etc by what the characters say and do. It gets easier as time goes on. Just write about something that 'YOU' want to write about and not something that you feel will sell. That doesn't work, the character's voice won't be heard. Unlike screenplay writing, novel writing is the time to write out EVERYTHING. Your readers ned to know almost every description to get te feel that they are there.

A. S. Templeton

Rewrite-as-one-goes is not remotely equivalent to write-everything-then-fix-in-rewrite. Possible for outcome to be the same, but for me, a poorly structured scene or cr@ppy bit of dialog demands immediate attention. Can't imagine letting things go till I was "finished" with a first rough draft.

Kinda like brushing a lengthening head of hair: brush & smoothen the old growth every day even as the new hair comes in, rather than attacking a full head of unkempt ratsnest.

Hans Nielsen

I've written a lot of dialogue (with favorable feedback), so I'll pass along this little tidbit that I found helpful. Dialogue is like a popular singers "Best Hits" album release. In other words, skip the small talk and just go for the juicy tidbits or highlights of a real-life fictional conversation.

David E. Gates

If the writing is as poor as A.S. Templeton suggests it might be, then no number of rewrites, even those as you go, will fix it.

Bill Johnson

You could write down ideas for scenes/dialog on 3/5 cards, one idea/scene/dialog to a card. That frees you from feeling stuck about what comes next.

Jeff E. Gregory

There are probably free on-line grammar courses available to take. You can also work with an editor or ghost writer as well.

Andrew Gruffudd

When I wrote my book, I wrote it, read it back and edited what I had written that didn't sound right. Also, if you wanted to have it read back to you, make a PDF and activate the "read out loud" function on the Adobe software. Of course, if you want an editor/ghostwriter, there's probably none better than myself.

Doug Nelson

Dialog is not proper grammar (period).

D K Mamula

I write dialogue by writing the way I speak. Remember, you have to think of your characters as real people who are talking to each other, not just as words on a page. I also try to envision the characters speaking to each other and play the entire scene out in my head. Sometimes I say the dialogue out loud--both sides of the conversation--and try different responses, etc. It may make you sound a bit crazy to others when they hear you having a conversation with yourself, but it really helps to hear the words out loud. Hope that helps. Good luck with your writing.

Arial Burnz

Sounds like to me, Matthew, you're asking primarily about the prose around the speech, right? The dialogue tags and action. As a script writer, I would assume you have raw dialogue (what the characters actually say) down and it's the supportive writing you're worried about.
With that being said, A.S. Templeton has a lot of great suggestions. I've written several novels and used to be an editor for two small press publishers. The current trend today is less "he said/she said" tags and a bit more of the action before or after the dialogue, which identifies the speaker.
Stick with action words. There's NOTHING wrong with using he/she said or other dialogue tags. Just use them sparingly.
And considering your apprehension, I totally agree with those who have said, "Just write it!" Give yourself permission to write crappy. That's what editing is for - to fix those mistakes. At this stage, to help you overcome the fear - WRITE. Once you push through, it should be easier. You're terrified because you're being too hard on yourself and expecting to get it right the first or second time. If not consciously, on a subconscious level. My mother always said, "YOU are your worst critic." ;)
Write and have fun!

Arial Burnz

DOH! I just realized you posted this two months ago! How about an update????