Writers use what they see and (over)hear in real life as material. This two-part exercise explores differences between spoken and written dialogue. Focus areas: dialect, idioms, idiosyncratic styles.
Prep and resources
Exercise (A) explores dialogue: it may be helpful to briefs students a week ahead, to listen to conversations during the week, and bring snippets and memorable phrases to the session. A smartphone might be useful to record conversations between students.
Start with an icebreaker — e.g. ask each student to write five sentences about themselves, with four that are true and one false. The group tries to guess which is the lie. Sometimes these statements also inspire great story ideas!
Exercise A: real vs. written dialogue
Ask students to recall a conversation that was particularly memorable — either one that they were part of, or one they overheard — and then to transcribe it from memory, using as many characteristics of the speaker’s speech patterns as they can capture.
Things to focus on include dialect, idioms, idiosyncratic styles.
Exercise B: straight talking
Ask students to identify two characters that they began to explore/develop through Exercise A. Imagining a difficult scene between these two characters, e.g. in a café or restaurant, ask them to write in dialogue only for ten minutes.
Things to focus on: the ways dialogue can be laid out on the page.
Feedback: students read aloud and discuss.
Additional exercise: narrative interjections
Ask students to rewrite the scene from Exercise B, using interjections of narrative.
Feedback: ask the students who read before to read aloud again. How has the work changed? How can narrative help the dialogue become less expository?
Discuss the work produced in class. How does it illustrate the way a conversation can carry a story? Can what is unsaid be just as informative/powerful as what is explicitly stated?