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Dialogue Exercises for Writers

November 15, 2016

1) Character Through Dialogue

It’s dialogue that gives your cast their voices, and is crucial in defining their characters – only what people do tells us more about what they’re like, and talk is sneaky: what people say often conveys their character to others in ways of which they – the speakers – are completely unaware…

-Stephen King, On Writing


Using this picture, write a scene where each character unconsciously reveals something about her true feelings/attitudes to the other.


2) Subtext

When we humans speak, we are not merely communicating information but attempting to make an impression and achieve a goal. And sometimes we are hoping to prevent the listener from noticing what we are not saying, which is often not merely distracting but, we fear, as audible as what we are saying. As a result, dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it…

– Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer


Using this picture, write a scene in which the true situation between the characters is revealed in what they don’t say.


3) Inattention

In life, it’s rare that we truly are able to listen and find someone who will listen to us. And yet it’s unusual to find the more common phenomenon – inattention – appearing on the page. Generally, in fiction, one character speaks, and the other listens, and, having listened and understood, replies.

– Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer


Write a scene in which these characters are talking past each other – each following his/her own train of thought while ignoring or oblivious to the other’s.


4) Just for fun


Write a scene featuring a conversation between these two characters, which alludes to the reason they’re sitting on railroad tracks without ever stating it outright.

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