[Writing Prompt] Give Your Characters A Voice

Today we’re going to focus on dialogue.

Gripping, realistic dialogue can bring a story and its characters to life. Writing great dialogue, however, takes practice.

The Prompt

Write A Story Told Almost Completely In Dialogue

Tips

  • Remember that how we speak (what we say and what we don’t say) is heavily influenced by how we’re feeling — what kind of day we’re having; how we feel about what we’re saying; how we feel about who we’re saying it to.
  • Use emotions to dictate word choice, length of sentence (if you’re breathless because the object of your affection is actually talking to you, your sentences are going to be fragmentary. If you’re talking about a your life’s work, you’re going to use big words and jargon and hardly pause for breath).
  • Remember that no-one really talks like they do in plays: no-one listens carefully and answers appropriately, and no-one tells the whole truth.
  • You can use play format to write this (” STAN: I can’t believe you said that! / MOLLY [walking away]: Believe it, bub.”).
  • You can write this is a more traditionally narrative way (“I can’t believe you said that!” / “Believe it, bub” / “Come back, please! Honey?”)
  • You can include dialogue tags and ‘stage directions’ if you feel you need them. This can be helpful if more than two people are talking. (“‘I can’t believe you said that!’ / ‘Believe it, bub,’ Molly said. / ‘You are so screwed, bro.’ Dan shook his head as he watched his friend’s wife walk away, her head held high. ‘I think she means it this time.’ “)
  • Don’t go crazy with the dialogue tags (…she cheered; she exulted… “She said” is usually fine). And watch your adjectives, unless you’re writing a Tom Swift parody!
  • People rarely use each other’s names in everyday speech. Resist the temptation to have your characters do it. Instead, focus on making each character’s way of expressing themselves distinctive. (How often have you heard a story your friend told you, laughed, and said ‘yup, that sounds like something he’d say’? People DO sound different from each other. Use that.)
  • It might be easiest to limit this story to two characters so you can really focus on each of their voices — with maybe a walk-on part from a waiter or a cop or the person they’ve been waiting for, just to mix things up.

GO!

What form did you decide on? How did this go for you? Do you usually write a lot of dialogue or was this new for you? Leave a comment below or chat about it in the community.

[Writing Prompt] Dialogue Attributions

We’ve been focusing on dialogue – from realistic to stylized.

Today we’re going to work on the thorny issue of dialogue attribution. Should you say “he said” or “he whispered seductively”?

How about neither?

The Prompt

Write a story that is dialogue-heavy but features no dialogue attributions at all.

You know what this looks like, right? Picture a fast-paced thriller where the protagonist and his boss are talking about the probability that the volcano will explode, or the Russians will invade. The conversation pings back and forth, snaking its way down the page without a ‘he said’ in sight. Or maybe it’s a romance where, one hopes, it’ll be pretty clear who’s saying what and to whom. But you never know…

Tips

  • This is easiest to do if only two people are involved in an exchange at a time and if it doesn’t go on too long.
  • It is possible to make it clear who is speaking by having very strong characters (one curt, one longwinded; one snarky, one sweet)

How long can you make the exchange run before it becomes hopelessly confusing and you have to insert a stage direction?

(Remember, this is just a fun exercise.)

Go!

And when you have written your story, log in and post your success in The Victory Dance group or simply comment on this post and let the congrats come flying in.

[Writing Prompts] Realistic Dialogue

I don’t know if you’ve been using little or lots of dialogue in your stories up until now. We’re going to spend the next few days looking at dialogue issues, and play with a few different aspects of it.

The Prompt

Write a story that features realistic dialogue

Tips

When writing dialogue, remember that people don’t talk in speeches, not really. And they certainly don’t listen to each other. We interrupt, talk at cross-purposes and misunderstand each other all the time. Capture some of that.

When writing colloquially don’t go overboard with misspellings and missing letters to convey how people ‘really’ talk. Using ‘gonna’ and dropping the ‘g’ from ‘ing’ is fine if you’re trying to show that someone has a really strong accent, but invented spellings risk just making the reader impatient and irritated. Much better to try to capture the rhythm of a locale’s speech or use one or two tell-tale local words, than to try to transliterate a dialect accurately.

Remember to use sentence length to reflect how someone is feeling: short, choppy sentences for someone who is agitated; long, lugubrious sentences for contented fat cats.

Go!

And when you have written your story, log in and post your success in The Victory Dance group or simply comment on this post and let the congrats come flying in.

[Prompt] May 27 – Dialogue

Today it’s time to work on our dialogue.

Write a story that focuses on writing realistic dialogue

I’m a fan of the podcast Writing Excuses hosted by 3-4 working science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction/comic authors and occasional guests. Even if you don’t write in these forms, don’t let that put you off. It’s 15 minutes long and almost always inspiring.

The reason I mention this is because of their episode with guest Jon Scalzi who gave an excellent, and kind of hilarious theory of why dialogue often comes out sounding less than realistic. I recommend you listen here, but the embarrassingly-accurate gist is that writers spend a lot of time reading. That means that when it comes time to write dialogue we have a tendency to write it as if we are, well, writing it. We don’t tend to write how people really talk, with all the interjections, interruptions and selfishness of people in everyday conversation.

So lets try to capture some of that in our stories today. Let’s write how people really talk and not how we wish they would.

Go!

[Prompt] May 9 – Chatty Cathy

LET YOUR CHARACTER TALK

Tell a story where everything we learn about the character comes from the things they say.
Does what they say match up with what they mean? Iin what ways do they lie about themselves when the speak? How do people react?)

Tell Us About Your Character Through Their Voice

Go!