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Be a dialogue diva: 3 exercises to help you write a better conversation

If your he said, she said is stuck in a monotonous grind, listen up, lady! We’re showing you how to tweak your speech to get it sounding real instead of clunky and cliché. Ready to get to work? Here are three exercises to try.

 

Stage it

Have a page or two of dialogue between a few characters? Print out a few copies of the text, then give it to a couple of friends. Their job: To do a staged reading of the dialogue and accompanying descriptions you provide. Hearing the words instead of just reading them on a computer screen will help you see how your sentences flow, and if you need to tweak any contextual clues to better detail the emotion behind the speech.

Exercise: Ask your friends to read it the first time without knowing anything about the characters. Then, provide context and background, and read through it again. Not getting what you want? Describe the emotions you’re trying to convey, and have your friends read it through changing their tones and actions to give you a better idea of how to write the scene.

 

Transcribe it

Use your phone or a recorder to record a conversation between a few friends. Just a few minutes should do it. Now sit down and transcribe each and every word your buds say, including the placeholder words such as “like” or ”um.” When you’re finished, read your transcript while listening to the recording so that you can hear the cadence of their speech as you read the words.

Exercise: Try writing a conversation between your friends on paper. Focus on using phrases and words they use a lot in their everyday speech.

 

Pick a dialect

Spend an hour sitting in a crowded, public place, like a coffee shop, park or pizza parlor. Listen carefully to the voices of those around you, particularly the unfamiliar ones. Be on the lookout for different dialects, and try to write down phrases that they say. Spell phonetically and capture words or usages that are different from those you would typically use.

Exercise: Rewrite a movie or book scene for a character, but give them a particular foreign origin or regional dialect. Consider what phrases might be used to convey similar meanings. Think about expressions and pronunciations, as well.

published March 27, 2014
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