Their speech should flow somewhat naturally as it's read, like it's a real person talking, but don't include every single verbal pause, even if they're always nervous. If their nervousness is relevant to that particular scene or line of dialogue, some "um"s and "uh"s are great and convey their feelings to the reader. Constantly including verbal pauses like this, though, is unnecessary and makes the material tedious to read.
Throw proper grammar out the window if you need to - write how they talk! Don't worry about not ending a sentence with a preposition or stuff like that. Just let them talk. It should still be readable and make sense, obviously, but unless they're a super formal scholar dude, they're not going to talk like "I placed the papers upon the desk at which you sit."
Punctuation always goes INSIDE quotation marks.
If they're quoting something or someone within their line of dialogue, use single quotation marks for the thing they're quoting. Example: "I went to the beach, and Masaki said, 'Remember not to eat the sand - it doesn't taste good.'"
Dialogue should always add something to the story. Avoid using conversations between characters as "filler." It either has to advance the plot or develop the characters.
Grammar and Punctuation for Dialogue – Whenever I See This Mistake, I Die a Little Inside, so Please Stop Doing This -sips tea- Edit
Repeat after me:
"Quote," Name said. OR "Quote," said Name.
Name said, "Quote."
"Quote!" said Name. OR "Quote!" Name said.
These are C O R R E C T.
Do NOT do THIS:
"Quote." Name said.
"Quote," Said Name.
"Quote!" Said Name.
Use commas. Don't capitalize unless it's the beginning of a sentence or a proper noun. Please. I'm begging you.
"This is a serious storm we're getting," she said, peering out the window at the rain.
I came over the hill in the moment that Atlas yelled, "Get back!"
"Run faster, recruit!" he snarled, his breath scorching the back of my neck.
"Well, we could do it this way." He turned a page in his book, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Kill the priestess instead of the alchemist, you know? Might make things more interesting for those rebel worms."
She drew her sword, a magnificent, masterfully forged blade that gleamed in the torchlight. "Don't make us beat the truth out of you, ronin."
Diction and syntax are absolutely crucial if you want to tell a good story. Diction is purposeful word choice, and syntax is purposeful sentence structure.
What makes a story interesting to read isn't the plot itself, but the way you tell the story. A story about a man sitting in a chair with powerful diction and syntax will be infinitely better than a story with a riveting plot that has weak diction and syntax. This is writing - it's all about the words.
Pay attention to the words you're using and how you place them in a sentence. Make use of punctuation too, and mix up the length of the sentences. Here are some examples of diction and syntax in action:
She walked down the street with hurried steps, casting frequent glances over her shoulder, her hand resting on the cold gun at her waist.
Sometimes You Have to Throw Grammar Rules Out the Window, and That's OkayEdit
English teachers tell you never to start a sentence with "but" or "however" or end with a preposition. In the writing world, no one cares. It's true that you'll want to avoid doing those things in an academic essay, but in a story? It doesn't matter. Write with your voice. Start sentences with "but." End with "of" or "at." It doesn't matter. It's your writing.
Punctuation rules will almost always apply, though, and don't completely ditch the basic rules of the English language! Your writing still has to make sense.
Everyone's heard this, but there's no harm in re-enforcing this rule. Don't tell me your character is sad or angry or overjoyed - show it! Use their thoughts, words, and actions to convey their feelings - it results in richer writing and makes it more interesting to read. It also helps with imagery, painting a picture in the reader's mind of what exactly is going on in your story.
Instead of: He was sad when his father died, and he grieved for a long time.
It couldn't be true.
His father couldn't be dead.
Grief ripped through him, tearing into his heart like the claws of a terrible beast, and he wanted to scream his pain into the night. But the scream couldn't come, for it was suffocated by the gravity of everything awful he felt, every last bit of sadness and darkness weighing it down and crushing it.
Instead of: She was furious with them. All of them.
They were so stupid!
She slammed her fists onto the desk, the jar of pens on the edge falling onto the floor. They spilled everywhere, but she didn't care, throwing a stack of papers off the desk for good measure. She wanted to yell and scream and kick someone and curse, but she didn't want to risk her kids hearing her. But...
THEY. WERE. SO. INCREDIBLY. STUPID.
They'd gotten her into this mess! They'd put everyone's lives and futures in danger! They'd ruined everything! It was all going fine until they'd just had to go visit the mountain witch...
She bit her lip, glaring at the blank computer screen, and cursed her entire existence.
Most of the time, "that" is an unnecessary word. I use it sometimes, and other times not - sometimes I feel it helps the sentence flow better, and other times, it's just in the way. Obviously, you have to keep it when you're using it in a sentence like this:
Groundhogs that decide not to follow my directions will find themselves unable to attend the bonfire this evening.
But a lot of the time, "that" doesn't have to be there.
Action scenes should focus primarily on the emotions of the characters - you are telling a story, not choreographing a scene for a movie. Thus, it should read like a story and not a script. Don't tell me every kick or punch your character executes - tell me how the fight makes them feel. Tell me about the lion that roars inside them or the sheep that cowers in fear. Tell me about the fire blazing through their veins, empowering them to fight till the death, or about the ice that freezes them, preventing them from moving so much as a thread of a muscle.
Describe their fear, their anger, their frustration, their excitement. DESCRIBE IT ALL. TELL ME THEIR EMOTIONS. I DON'T CARE WHAT KICK THEY DID AND WHEN.
You definitely don't need to be an expert on martial arts or swords or anything to write a good fight scene, but some knowledge always helps. Do a little research into what weapons your characters are using - this will help you portray the fight more realistically.
Watch fight scenes from movies for inspiration.
As always, reading makes you a better writer, so find something with lots of action and see how the author portrays it - this will help you with your own fight scenes, or just action in general.
The more I got kicked, the more I ran away, the less powerful and superhuman I felt. Now, in this moment, it was clearer than ever that I was not the "perfect soldier" they had created me to be, and that a mere human could push me around. I was nowhere near as strong as I was supposed to be, as I was meant to be, and I...
I couldn't do this.
I didn't even bother to look at the scoreboard, knowing I was thousands of points behind Ashkii and that I could never catch up.
I was going to lose the match.
I could never win.
Ashkii's heel cracked me across the jaw, and I staggered back, the pain drowning in a tsunami of shock. I could feel warm blood dripping out of my mouth, and I saw only stars, tiny specks that danced in front of me, mocking me, laughing at me.
It all depends on what's happening in your scene and how the characters are feeling.
Describing Characters - First and Third PersonEdit
It's best to let the other characters do the describing, unless a particular feature is relevant to the scene you're writing. In third person, don't describe your character from their point of view unless you're really distancing yourself as the narrator. Letting the other characters describe them brings the audience closer to the character because it doesn't feel like the narrator is there, if that makes any sense. If you only have one POV character, you can't do this as easily, so you'll just have to work descriptions in where it's relevant.
In first person, you want to ONE HUNDRED PERCENT avoid having the character describe themselves unless it’s actually important. No one thinks about their messy brown hair or blue eyes. They just. They don't. Please avoid this.
Third Person Example: Character A Describes Character BEdit
✽✽✽ Note: This is also a good time to tell the reader some things about Character A! ✽✽✽
He was new.
Loki squinted at the newcomer, someone who, unlike him, appeared to have a constant shape. Weird. His hair was long and flowing, typical of an elf, and he was quite tall, towering over Loki. Loki didn't want whoever this was to know he was a shapeshifter, but if he didn't care, he would have changed into a giraffe.
He didn't like looking up at people.
"Hi," he said, digging into the bag for another chip. "Haven't seen you here before."
The newcomer said nothing, only looking at him with piercing blue eyes, and Loki was mildly creeped out.
Third Person Example: Character Describes Self (but it's relevant to the story)Edit
It was calling to him.
He took it into his hands and gazed at his reflection, an arctic chill washing over him. Staring back at him was, well, him, but there was...there was something else too. He squinted and stared at the boy in the mirror, but nothing changed. The hair was dark as ever, like soulless ebony. The eyes were green as forgotten fields. The flesh was as pale as a corpse's. It was all the same.
He was on the other side of the glass, but I didn't care, at least not now, not in this moment. He was here and he was real, and I could scarcely believe it.
Everything Mother had said about him was true. We had the same brown eyes, the same wild hair, the same wiry build. My scar from the fight paled in comparison to his scar from the war, but it was in the same place, a slice across my face that would never heal completely. It was the same, but it was younger, smaller, just like me.
I looked just like him, and I loved that.
From behind the glass, he winked at me, and I could see the impish glint in his eyes that everyone said I had. But his wasn't just an impish glint - it was a glint of love, a glint of caring, a glint of happiness.
He turned to leave, but I knew he was coming around on the other side, and I couldn't wait to see him. I ran to meet him, smiling and laughing, and my legs couldn't carry me fast enough. I rounded the corner, my heart ready to explode out of my chest, and there, waiting to meet me, was...
There was nothing.
My laughter stopped. My smile faded, snatched away by the cruel wind that hissed through the train tunnel. All around me was nothing, nothing but vast emptiness and mournful, deserted tracks.
We just talked about describing characters, but what about creating them? Here are some things to keep in mind when you're doing that:
1. No one is perfect, and no one wants to read about someone who is. Give them flaws. Let them make mistakes. Let them be human. (Saying human for simplicity's sake -- you can definitely have a dragon or a tree or a bag of potato chips as well, as long as it's a believable one.)
They don't have to be a full-on disaster, but characters with flaws make the story more interesting. There are lots of ways to add to the plot using these flaws, and they make for better interactions between the characters.
2. Make sure you know their backstory, and make sure it adds to the plot or who they are as a person in some way. You don't have to know every single detail, but you should have a general idea of who they are and why they act the way they do.
3. Let them be themselves. Characters tend to take over in fiction, and that's okay. Let them lead the way. Let them grow. Let them take the story -- and their character -- in the direction they're pulling.
Write Drunk, Edit Sober (Not Literally, But You Get the Idea)Edit
When you sit down to write, don't worry about making every line perfect. Don't worry about writing the most beautiful thing ever known to mankind. Just start writing. Just get the words out, no matter how crazy they sound. Edit later - get the whole story out first. Keep writing, and don't stop - it's never going to get written if you don't put pen to paper.
The world needs your story. If writing is something you want to do, go for it! There's nothing to be afraid of, and if you're worried about critics, well, you're not writing for them. You are and always should be writing for you, so as long as you like what you're writing, who cares?