Writing Exercise: Observing Dialogue

Writing dialogue.  In fiction, it can be challenging to make characters sound human and, simultaneously, make sure what’s said moves the story or a character’s development forward.  How people speak, what they say, and how they say it gives a writer ample opportunity for creativity.  But how do you make sure your characters sound like people?

The Exercise

Part One

One way to familiarize yourself with creating natural-sounding dialogue is to listen to people in conversations.  For this exercise, I’m asking you to eavesdrop on the people around you.

Go to a public place and observe two people or a group having a conversation.  Transcribe the conversation as much as possible, making sure to keep what’s being said as pure as possible.  Jot down what you can.  You’ll notice how people speak in sentence fragments, pauses, and subtext.

Suppose you don’t feel comfortable doing this in public.  In that case, you can use a conversation at work or between your kids or other relatives.  Just remember that you are observing the conversation, not participating.

Don’t do it for too long, just enough to get something useful for part two.

**NOTEDo not record the conversation.  Many states have laws against recording others without their permission.  Just to be safe, take notes. **

Part Two

Write a short story using the dialogue as a launching pad for creating the characters and the situation.  The conversation doesn’t have to be where you heard it; you can have the couple in the coffee shop be astronauts on Mars.  But stick with the dialogue you transcribed as close as possible.

Now, using that dialogue, continue the conversation.  Where do things go next?  Can you use what you heard and keep that tone and feeling with made-up dialogue?

Part Three

Once you finish the short story, have a trusted friend or loved one read it.  Can they tell where the real conversation ends, and your made-up dialogue begins?  This is a good test to see if you are on the right track to creating realistic dialogue.

Final Thoughts

While it can be a challenge, creating natural-sounding dialogue will help keep readers engaged with the story.  Often when we write dialogue, we are in a room alone, speaking to ourselves or in our head.  By observing and listening to real people interact, we can further our communication skills between our characters on the page.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!