March Writing Exercises: Week of 03/11
Week 2: Dialogue
As March continues and we focus on what we can learn from short stories, this week will be all about dialogue.
People don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say. That’s true in real life and in fiction. Dialogue is not only about what is being said, but also about what is left unsaid. That is the playing field of narration: it shows us how people interact nonverbally. So, how do you strike a perfect balance between the two? While there isn’t a perfect formula, as writers we can explore the functions of dialogue and narration in a scene, so that we can find the mix that’s right for story or novel.
For this week’s writing exercises, I’m switching up the format a bit. Each day contains a theme which has been created to set your focus when working in your dialogue. Read each little blurb and get writing!
Day 1: Relationships
In a dialogue, at least two people interact. They exchange information, ask questions, answer them, comment, fight, tease… whatever. Today, write a conversation between two characters that reveals something about their relationship
Day 2: Vehicle for Character Development
Much like what we spoke of in yesterday's prompt, dialogue reveals something about your characters. The way people speak and interact in a conversation says a whole lot about them. The words a character chooses can and should expose the character’s background, personality, and emotional status. The CEO of a multibillion-dollar company would choose different words than a military general, a stay-at-home mom, or a teenage girl. No need for lengthy character descriptions, if you choose the right words to put in your characters’ mouths.
Write a scene using dialogue that explores this today.
Day 3: Revealing Tension
We all know this: small talk and happy talk—conversations where nothing goes wrong—are boring and have no place in fiction.
When two or more people talk, tensions are bound to arise. The tension may be caused by conflicting motivations, by unspoken desires, by a difference in opinion, by hidden agendas. But it is there—and it is one of the most important functions of dialogue to reveal it. That’s what makes a scene sizzle and the sizzle is what ultimately moves the plot forward.
Create some dialogue today that explores this.
Day 4: Creating Atmosphere
Conversations should never take place in a vacuum. The narration needs to firmly ground your reader in time and space. But this does not mean that you should drown out your characters’ words with lengthy background information, scene descriptions, summaries, and commentary. Just like your dialogue cannot be a place to dump information, your narration can’t be either. Instead, your narration must support and enhance the spoken words of your characters. Narration anchors the reader and creates the atmosphere of the setting and the specific circumstance of the scene.
Day 5: Revealing Underlying Emotions
Bringing in the reaction of people other than the two dialogue partners, allows the reader to sense the ambiance of the setting, supporting the now even more obvious tension. The scene becomes a palpable. The reader is right there, watching, able to draw his or her own conclusions. Add some dialogue from someone other than your main characters today. See if this creates some more setting or reveals more emotion.