Grammar in dialogue

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by Pallas-Athena, Dec 17, 2006.

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  1. Pallas-Athena

    Pallas-Athena TFN Fan Fiction Archive Editor star 4 VIP

    Nov 29, 2000
    When reading, or even writing, we readily accept the phonic indication of accents in dialogue ("ya?ll come back, now!"), but what about incorrect grammar in dialogue?

    For example, we may write in a narrative:

    But it was too late for the Jedi; the Sith was far stronger than he was.

    And we would get brownie points for everything being fine and dandy. But, what about:

    "It was too late," the poor man said. "The Sith was stronger than him."

    It?s incorrect, of course, but what if it is incorrect because the person speaking, rather than the author, is using it incorrectly? After all, the error is a common one, especially in speech, and my poor man might even be undereducated. ;)

    So I guess I?m wondering, as authors, do you allow your characters to make the occasional grammar mistake or do you try to keep your narrative uniform, dialogue and otherwise?

    And, as a reader, especially a critical reader or a beta reader, do you tend to hold the grammar errors in dialogue as errors of the author rather than the character?
  2. YodaKenobi

    YodaKenobi VIP star 6 VIP

    May 27, 2003
    Of course. The dialogue should sound like the character speaking. Han Solo is going to sound pretty funny speaking perfect English.
  3. ZebulaNebula

    ZebulaNebula Jedi Master star 5

    Feb 10, 2005
    Let's just say that almost none of my characters always use proper grammar - and those that do are precision freaks such as Tenel Ka or Threepio. I figure most real human beings use bad grammar every now and then, so fictional characters would be more life-like with such flaws. Mostly I just leave in my own mistakes (provided it's in character, of course), but other times(especially if I'm writing someone like Han or Zekk), I deliberately insert an 'oopsie' or two.

    As for reading, bad grammar in dialog only bothers me if it's out of character.
  4. Drabba_the_Hutt

    Drabba_the_Hutt Jedi Master star 4

    Feb 16, 2005
    Simple rule of thumb: If the mistake is the character's (and is appropriate for that individual), then it's not really a grammatical error. It's simply reporting what the character said. Indeed, having everyone speak in textbook-proper English would be both pedantic and inappropriate. Could you imagine Han saying, "With whom"?

    EDIT: We all seem to be picking on Han for our examples. [face_thinking]
  5. SpiritofEowyn

    SpiritofEowyn Jedi Padawan star 4

    Mar 5, 2005
    Han could say it, but only if he's making fun of someone. I tend to do a lot of stream of consciousness ramblings-when my characters talk. Others use slang, or a dialect or sounds like "Meh." If I was reeeaallly being accurate to the way people talk there would be a lot more Um, uh, the thing with the one thing, you know? An the like. Or more stuttering or "Blah, let me try saying that again."

    (Not that I reccomend going that far. So my rule of thumb anything within " " or thoughts is fair game. Everything without should follow grammar. (Even though there are more exceptions to rules in English than rules.
  6. The_Face

    The_Face Ex-Manager star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Feb 22, 2003
    My rule for "grammar in dialogue":

    Who needs it? :p

    One of my main goals is realistic dialogue for my characters. That means they "sound" like real people. Including poor grammar (especially fragments; I love fragments), things that aren't really words ("meh" is a good example, SpiritofEowyn), particular turns of phrase used by certain characters, etcetera etcetera. I will even include "uh"s and such sometimes. Imagine Han (here we go with Captain Solo again ;)) talking to the stormtroopers in Ep IV without all the ums and the like. It's not hilarious any more. But with those, we can feel his desperation. We should do the same thing to get feeling across in our fics.

    Of course, there are a couple characters for whom (ha) proper grammar is the way to go. I have an OC myself called The Gentleman Butcher who's a disturbed killer-for-hire who speaks with near-flawless Basic as he goes about his morbid business. That's what makes him different and interesting.

    So forget grammar in dialogue. Feel the character's voice, and go with that, no matter how many green squiggly lines you get (not that those mean much since they're wrong half the time :rolleyes:).
  7. TKeira_Lea

    TKeira_Lea Jedi Knight star 5

    Oct 10, 2002
    If you listen to people speak they make all sorts of grammatical errors. Some characters would sound silly speaking perfect English. When it comes to dialogue, I throw all the rules out the door. Punctuation in grammar depends on what I'm trying to show about the character. Run on sentences might show anxiety. Shortened sentences might show urgency.
  8. oqidaun

    oqidaun Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Jul 20, 2005
    I've characters of varying educational levels and situations involving them to speak both informally and formality. I think that it would be a mark against dynamic characterization to force perfect grammar on characters who would have no cause to speak in such a manner. Grammar isn't meant to be letter perfect in dialogue, but dialogue should always be consistent with characterization.
  9. rebel_cheese

    rebel_cheese Jedi Master star 4

    Jul 6, 2006
    When I write prose, I try to keep the grammar correct unless there's a good reason for a run-on sentence or a fragment. When I write dialogue, though, I go for whatever feels natural for the character in question. That's the best advice, really. And I agree with Face over the 'Meh' and 'Um'. My characters go 'Um' all the time.
  10. correllian_ale

    correllian_ale Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jun 20, 2005
    I tink it would kill me if all, nay any of my characters spoke grammatic english. That's not how real people speak - well, maybe if they're Imperials, but that's more of a cultural thing.

    I have younger characters that speak like any other teenager; but if they have to act "civilized", they can pass pretty easily by emulating the speech of those who speak well from "holo-vids". In that I use T.V. & movies is as big an influence in the GFFA as it is for us, especially in the way characters speak to one another.

  11. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Mar 26, 2001
    Mark Twain wrote a lot of bad grammar into his characters, but it worked because it was in-character and appropriate to their place in society.
  12. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Mar 1, 2002
    I pretty much agree with everyone here. The character has to determine the dialogue, not some grammatical rules.

    As a reader, however, things like "Meh" really throw me out of the story. It sounds too modern for my taste. "Um" and "uh" do not but those have been around for a long time in stories. People should really think about what sounds they use in writing SW fanfic. If it's something someone would say in high school or college among friends, it doesn't work in SW.
  13. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Mar 26, 2001
    It depends on the context of that, even. I once read a fic that was basically someone trying to write every character as a frat brother at UCLA. It might have been funny, except it was completely out of character.
  14. SilSolo

    SilSolo Jedi Knight star 5

    Mar 5, 2004
    Of course charas are allowed to speak with bad grammar!
  15. RebelGrrl

    RebelGrrl Jedi Master star 4

    Jan 13, 2006
    When I'm checking a story for a friend or for myself, I do not touch the grammar in dialog unless I know for a certainty that the individual speaking should be using correct grammar.

    The least likely of characters use correct grammar. Kyp Durron, for example, seldom dives too deeply into ErrorLand in Profic. Perhaps it's an unconscious reaction to his formative environment: speaking correct Basic puts him apart from the criminals he spent eight years surrounded by.

    Han would have had correct grammar drilled into him at the Academy, but his laxity of speech coul d be the opposite side of the same reaction.

    It's just best to leave dialogue alone in beta or proof reading a story unless you have specific instructions from the author on how to review it.
  16. Golden_Jedi

    Golden_Jedi Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Jun 10, 2005
    [face_laugh] Han's dialogues are the only thing my beta almost never touches.:rolleyes: :D
  17. verybusy

    verybusy Jedi Knight star 2

    Sep 18, 2006
    Huh... that's a though question, I think.[face_thinking]

    Anyway, I certainly let my characters talk in fragments and I love "Ummm" or "Hmmm..." or even "Huh...", but I find it nearly impossible to do as a non native speaker, is writing any dialogue with characters like Han Solo, because I just do not know how to use appropriate wrong grammar lately.



  18. Eleventh_Guard

    Eleventh_Guard Jedi Master star 5

    Dec 17, 2005
    It depends on the character. If there's a reason that the character's grammar would not be correct, then in dialogue I make it wrong. Examples: being four years old, not speaking the language for 12 years and being out of practice, having a dialect that incorporates "bad" grammar, etc.

  19. Alley_Skywalker

    Alley_Skywalker Jedi Master star 4

    Sep 27, 2005
    Grammar stuff...gah! I certainly don't know every grammar rule there is and I don't expect my characters to. I can get picky on myself in narrative but dialogue I just leave it be. I'm not always grammatically correct and so nether are my characters.

    Actually when I write a young Keith (an OC of mine) I try to quirk his sentences a lot more then I would naturally do myself. So that he sounds not just a bit "Southern" but also kinda quirky (which fits him).

    The most proper character, grammatically wise, that I think I've written so far is Obi-Wan (I should work on his dialogue more I realize...).
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