Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ask the Editor: Grammar in Dialogue

 

Every 1st and 3rd Thursday, I'll take your editorial questions. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and more! I will showcase questions and answers (with permission) once I get questions as well. To ask a question, please fill out the form below.



I've been a freelance editor since November 2010. If I don't know the answer, I will find it.  


Christine Rains asks “Hi! ;)  I was wondering about this lately. Might not be an editor question exactly. Might just be personal opinion.

I've had people when critiquing my stories correct the grammar and structure of dialogue. My opinion is that people - well, most people! - don't speak with proper sentence structure or use words properly. It's part of their character. I can see correcting the rest of the text, but not dialogue unless it's something glaringly wrong.

As an editor, do you want grammatically correct dialogue or is there some other rules when it comes to such things?”

When I first started editing, I’ll admit I wanted to fix the grammar in the dialogue, but that’s just not the way people talk. It’s one of the things that irked me when I was studying foreign languages. The teachers would expect perfect dialogue instead of natural dialogue.

In writing, dialogue should be true to the character. Sometimes editors will ask for a cheat sheet, so to speak, on quirky things a character will say that aren’t grammatically or structurally correct. That way they don’t fix them. Yet, if you are going to have a character not know the different between “who” and “whom” or the like, then you need to be consistent.

As an editor, I will fix typos and grammar things that look more like a mistake than a character’s way of speech. If I have a question about it, I’ll comment on it. After all, you want your characters to be understandable, but no, they don’t have to have perfect grammar or structure.

As for the non-dialogue text, if it isn’t a character’s thoughts, it should be more or less grammatical, but even then there are stylistic cases that change that. Writers should remember when it comes to editors, we’re trying to do our best to make the story the best it can be, but in the end it is the author who decides whether the advice is true to the character/story or not.

10 comments:

farawayeyes said...

Thanks to both you and Christine. Often the grammar or lack thereof is what creates the 'voice'.

Terri Talley Venters said...

Very informative post! My biggest thing in dialogue is not using complete sentences. Who speaks like that? Glad it's okay. My biggest hurdle is my minor use of German in my next 2 books. And they speak in slang too. I feel your pain about foreign languages, Cherie. And don't get me started on my white trash maid in my sequel. Now I'm tackling a little Scotish dialect in my prologue. Oy Vey!

Mary Mary said...

Fascinating tidbit! Thanks for sharing this.

Christine Rains said...

Thanks for answering my question. :) I have a follow up question: Is there a place for semi-colons in dialogue? I never use them. They feel unnatural to me.

Damon said...

what a greaaat post love your blog =) follow

Elana Johnson said...

Great advice!

The Golden Eagle said...

I've wondered about this as well. I wonder if that's part of the reason my characters are occasionally grammar-savvy nerds . . . LOL.

Austin James said...

Good to know :) I like when dialogue flows, seems natural, and is is easy to follow. I've always admired authors like Twain who can pull off strong regional accents and slang in dialogue (which is something I would have great trouble with if I tried). Stephen King does a good job doing the same thing (only this time with Maine). I guess that's one of the advantages to writing about a place you've live most your life.

Kari Marie White said...

This was a very helpful tip! Thanks to both of you!

Pk Hrezo said...

What a great thing to do, Cherie! I will remember this.
I totally agree with the dialog part. I hate reading a story where the dialog is so stilted and stiff. And IMO writing dialog is the most fun part of the process.