I’ve improved so much just by reading your website and IMDB posts. So a heartfelt thank you, sir.
My question is cultural, when it comes to dialogue. I’m from India — Bollywood. Been here, in Los Angeles, for three years. People who’ve read my scripts (Hollywood scripts) like ‘em except the dialogue. After a lot of research, I understand how to write American “lingo”, but….
I have no clue when to use “I’ve” as opposed to “I have,” “You’re” as opposed to “You are.” In recent movie Bad Santa even word “Okay” on subtitle was “‘Kay”.
The usual internet response to this kind of basic question is: “If you don’t know the difference, you shouldn’t write.” Obviously, I disagree. Why? ‘cuz you don’t give up when you’re 23.
I know, most help on this on the internet is towards American writers. But, I was schooled in English, all my life, but a British school. I have better command over the English language than many here, and I hate when they say “We understand, English is your second language,” cuz of my dialogue.
And honest to God, your teachings with upcoming Bollywood writers is Godsend. All my friends there visit your website.
I’m happy to get readers anywhere. According to my web log statistics, India falls at number 16, between the
Philippines and Mexico. So to all my Indian readers, welcome.
I share your frustration with the “if you don’t like it, then leave” attitude of far too many Americans, whose concept of internationality begins and ends at the namesake house of pancakes.
There is a difference between “you’re” and “you are” as used in American English. Unlike spoken French, where consonants sort of attach themselves to the nearest convenient word, an American speaker either says “you are” or “you’re.” It’s not just spoken laziness.
For dialogue purposes, here’s my advice:
The contractions we’re talking about are basically pronoun + helper verb (to be, to have, or would). If this contraction precedes another verb, use the contraction. “I’ve told her not to talk with anyone.” “You’ll see what I mean.” “He’d be a fool to listen.” In the context of the scene, the character might speak both words for emphasis or parallel construction: “Believe me, I am regretting it now.” “You would think that, wouldn’t you?”
By the same logic, American English leans towards the n’t verb negation. “I didn’t understand at the time.” “You shouldn’t have come.” There may be instance where you want to emphasize the “not,” such as, “You should not mock the Moccasin Man.” And don’t stack up contractions. “You wouldn’t have known” is fine. “You wouldn’t've known” is fussy and awful.
Only “to be” contracts if there’s not a following verb. So, “I’m sorry.” But not, “I’ve a reservation.”
Don’t use ‘cuz. “Because” is a word that’s naturally shrunken down by the reader. The short version feels like a zit.
“Gotta,” in the sense of “got to” or “have to,” is pretty common in American dialogue — but don’t use it in normal prose. “You’ve gotta be kidding me” or “I gotta get to the store by five” are both a little idiomatic, but read well.
There are probably a few dozen other words that are fine in some circumstances, dreadful in others: gimme, shoulda, kinda, sorta, etc. If in doubt, spell it out.
Hope this helps.