One of the most important components of any character-driven story is the dialogue. Writing is unique because the dialogue includes the thoughts of the characters in addition to the actual words that are being exchanged. This can be a bit tricky for the first-time writer in creating something that is cohesive and meaningful, so these dialogue writing exercises have been put together to help give some insight into that process.
#1. Record and transcribe a real conversation.
Maybe it’s you and your friend. Or you get permission to record a conversation on the street with two or more strangers. After you get the recording, transcribe what each person says to one another. Once you’ve finished that process, try to picture what each person was thinking before and after they made a statement. Insert those thoughts into that transcribed conversation.
What is the goal of this exercise? To begin documenting thoughts your characters may have so they can be placed appropriately within your narrative.
#2. Eliminate the exclamation point.
Have you ever encountered someone online who sends instant messages or emails in ALL CAPS? It’s pretty annoying, right? It’s like they’re yelling at you. The same thing happens when you use exclamation points within your dialogue on a regular basis. The average conversation isn’t two people yelling at each other. There are different tones of voice used for sure, as well as body language non-verbals, but exclamation points are pretty rare. Practice speaking in front of a mirror and watch your non-verbal cues. Then include what you see in the next dialogue set you write as descriptors for each set of spoken words.
What is the goal of this exercise? Dialogue must be realistic to keep a reader engaged. Most person-to-person communication is in our non-verbal cues and tones and not the actual words being said. By incorporating non-verbal descriptions, you’re working to create realistic dialogue.
#3. Progression happens in every conversation.
When you’re creating dialogue, there must be a purpose to the conversation. It must either develop the characters involved or it must create progress toward the plot points you’ve incorporated into the story. Without progression, there is no point to the dialogue. Pick a subject that you’re passionate about. Then have two characters debate that subject: one for it and the other against it. Create logical arguments on both sides of the debate. Don’t dictate an outcome.
What is the goal of this exercise? The point of writing dialogue isn’t to sway someone to your specific opinion. It’s for them to take ownership of their own opinion. If you create a logical argument for both characters to present, then you’re working on two things: the good vs evil dynamic that is in virtually every story every created and the ability to let a reader choose what they feel is important instead of telling the reader how they should think and/or feel.
#4. Make your point.
The most challenging component of dialogue creation is to avoid the long-winded speech. Think about the last conversation you had with someone. Did you speak non-stop for even just 2 minutes? Maybe at times you do when you’re trying to sway someone to a specific opinion, but otherwise the answer for most people is a solid “no.” You speak a few thoughts, then the other person speaks a few thoughts, and there’s back and forth that happens. In real life, it takes about 1 minute to speak 100 words. Most people will speak about 50 words at a time at most in a real conversation. That requires your dialogue to make its point and keep moving on. Practice writing dialogue in 2-3 sentence batches of no more than 50 words per speaking opportunity.
What is the goal of this exercise? When writing, it can be easy to become long-winded. You might write three pages of dialogue and think it’s amazing stuff, but in doing so, the realism factor begins to fade away. By forcing yourself to make each key point in 50 words or less, you’re practicing how to create short hits of meaningful dialogue that will keep the reader attached to the conversation instead of trying to skim through it for key points.
Without good dialogue, any genre of fiction is going to break down and become less meaningful. Certain non-fiction narratives also require meaningful dialogue to keep readers engaged. These dialogue writing exercises will help shore up your writing skills in this department so that you can make each line you write be meaningful in some way.