From Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting to Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, there are more books out there on screenwriting than most aspiring scribes know what to do with. How do you choose which ones to read? Whose advice should you follow?

Penny Penniston makes a good point in the introduction to her new book, Talk the Talk: A Dialogue Workshop for Scriptwriters (Michael Wiese Productions, 250 pages, $16.47). There are so many tips and tricks out there on how to develop your characters and advance your plot; how do you separate the good advice from the bad? According to Penniston, there is no such thing as the good advice/bad advice distinction. Advice is either helpful or not helpful. That’s it.

“Making this distinction forces you to take responsibility for figuring out what you need, right now, to make your work better and to help you along in this moment,” notes Penniston. “Try out everything that anyone suggests. If you find a suggestion helpful, use it. If it’s not helpful, ignore it for the moment… In six months, revisit the unhelpful advice. Reevaluate it. Maybe it’s helpful now.”

The advice presented in Penniston’s book is not related to general screenwriting. You’ll find nothing on archetypes or the three-act structure. As indicated by the title, Talk the Talk is exclusively devoted to advice on how to write great dialogue. Each chapter consists of a brief overview of a particular facet of dialogue writing, from creating an original character voice to giving each character a reason to stay in the scene. The meat of the book, however, is the exercises at the end of each chapter. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced exercises intended for use in writing groups, and as solo exercises as well.

The exercises are the focus of the book; after all, as every book on writing (including this one) points out, you can read all you want about the theory behind writing a good book or script, but if you don’t actually practice your writing, you’ll never improve. So how are the exercises in Penniston’s book? Unfortunately, they’re a bit predictable. For example, the solo exercise on creating an original voice has the writer pick four people with distinctive voices, write a list of adjectives that describe the tones of those voices (sarcastic, earnest, cocky, etc.) and write an original monologue that combines three of those adjectives.

The chapters themselves tend to get extremely repetitive. This is more a technical point, granted, but reading various permutations of the same sentence over and over again in the description of the beginning, intermediate and advanced exercises can get frustrating. In the book’s defense, this would be less aggravating if the book were read chapter-by-chapter instead of all the way through; if you need help on how to end your scene, you go to the appropriate chapter, complete the exercises and see if the advice was helpful. Then proceed to whichever other chapter covers a topic you need help with, and go from there.

The advice featured in Talk the Talk is much more specific than that of many other books on screenwriting. This is mostly because Talk the Talk focuses exclusively on dialogue, but also because it’s more helpful to writing groups than to individual writers. There are solo exercises, but they are tacked onto the end of each chapter and contain little original material. They feel like an afterthought. So if you’re an aspiring writer who needs help with dialogue and is part of a writing group, this just might be the perfect book for you. If not—well then, this might be one you’ll want to miss.