5 Essential Exercises For Writing Dialogue

5 Essential Exercises For Writing Dialogue


We are posting a series of Essential Writing Exercises to help you tell your stories. This post includes five essential exercises for writing dialogue.

We’re living in interesting times and many of us have more time on our hands. To help us get through it, I am going to post a series of Essential Writing Exercises to help you tell your stories.

On our course, Writers Write ONLINE, we spend time creating characters, plotting, learning to write dialogue, learning how to pace, and learning how to show and not tell. We teach you about viewpoint, setting, description, and scenes, and much, much more. In my series, I am going to concentrate on a few of these areas.

My first post will be for writers who are trying to write better dialogue. I have included five essential exercises for writing dialogue.

5 Essential Exercises For Writing Dialogue

When we teach Writers Write ONLINE, we find that dialogue intimidates beginner writers.

Remember that great dialogue in fiction does the following four things:

  1. Dialogue allows us to show conflict.
  2. Dialogue creates tension.
  3. Dialogue advances the story.
  4. Dialogue reveals character. (indirect characterisation)

Try to make every piece of dialogue achieve one or more of these requirements.

Exercise 1: Just For Fun

Write a dialogue-only scene between two inanimate objects that are normally used or found together. Examples: pen and paper; laptop and desktop; TV show and Reality TV show; bacteria and antibiotic.

This exercise will reveal tension and conflict between the two. It will also show you how to create a dialogue-only sequence in your story. It will show you that you need to choose characters that have something to talk about.

Laptop vs Desktop Example:

Laptop: You don't know how lucky you are to just sit there all day, updating and scanning.
Desktop: Easy for you to say. I never get to go anywhere and I have to do the bulk of the work in this household. He keeps on adding memory as if I don't have enough to think about.
Laptop: You won't believe the disgusting places he put me down today. On a coffee shop floor. It was gross. And on his colleague's lap - you know Dave? The one I always tell you about. OMG. It was so uncomfortable.
Desktop: Stop complaining, LT. At least you get to see things. I wonder if Dave will ever come visit?
Laptop: Believe me, you don't want Dave here with his sticky hands and his icky breath. And he always leans in too close to the screen. It's obscene.
Desktop: I hope he disinfected you before he put you down next to me.

Exercise 2: A Tense Situation

Write a scene between a protagonist and their love interest. Show how the love interest complicates the protagonist’s story goal in some way. Examples: a detective who needs to get to a murder scene and his wife who wants to talk to him; a princess who needs to save her kingdom and her love interest who wants to go on a quest; a journalist wants to get to an important interview and their love interest goes into labour.

  1. Name the people.
  2. Use dialogue, body language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

This exercise will reveal your characters’ personalities and show them as three-dimensional people. It will also allow for conflict and tension. Love interests are perfect for sub-plots in stories.

Must-read: 10 Ways To Introduce Conflict In Dialogue

Exercise 3: Three Of Us

Write a one-page scene with three characters in it. Show how the three people all speak differently – the words they use and their speech patterns should not be the same. Examples: The banker, the politician, and the mistress; The robot, the robot’s creator, and the creator’s mother; The personal trainer, the actor, and the actor’s agent.

  1. Name the people.
  2. Use dialogue, body language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

This exercise will show the characters: how old they are, how they see the world, and how they treat other people. It will also show the relationship dynamics.

Exercise 4: Eavesdrop

‘I was kind of excited about going to jail the first time and I learnt some great dialogue.’ ~Quentin Tarantino

You don’t have to go to jail, but you need to listen in on a conversation for this exercise. Tape it if you can. Then write down exactly what the people said.

This exercise will show you that dialogue in fiction cannot be like dialogue in real life. Real life conversations are often vague and of no consequence. People often don’t even listen to one another.

Rewrite the dialogue as if it were a novel. Introduce a conflict and show the characters.

Must-read: 10 Dialogue Errors Writers Should Avoid At All Costs

Exercise 5: An important Conversation

Write a pivotal scene in a story, one where an important decision is made. This scene will propel your protagonist to their story goal. Examples: a woman tells her husband that she is leaving him; a detective interviews a suspect and discovers something odd; a knight captures an enemy and discovers that all is not what it might seem.

  1. Name the people.
  2. Use dialogue, body language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

This exercise will show you how to use dialogue to move a story forward. It will show you how what you conceal and reveal in conversations change stories.

The Last Word

Use these five essential exercises for writing dialogue.to practise incorporating dialogue into all of your scenes. The more you write conversations, the better your dialogue will become.

Look out for our next post: 5 Essential Exercises For Creating Characters

Join us for Writers Write ONLINE for many more exercises like this (with feedback), and learn how to write a book.

© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this blogger’s writing, read:

  1. How To Finish Writing Your Book
  2. Thriller Book Title Generator
  3. The Almost Moment Is The Secret To Successful Romance Writing
  4. What Is Direct And Indirect Characterisation? And Which One Should I Use?
  5. 5 Steps To Creativity In Writing
  6. How To Write Your Novel From The Middle Like James Scott Bell
  7. 5 Ways To Choose A Pseudonym

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Marie Gaffney

    Thank-you so much for the clear, concise, explanation!

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