12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story: Dialogue/Voice

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.

Background Image: Chad Norman (CC-by-nc-sa)

April: Dialogue/Voice
Exercise #4

Write a page of dialogue between your main character and at least one other character. This must be pure dialogue: no description, no tags (tags are he said, she exclaimed, Bob yelled, Jane cried, etc.) This piece of dialogue doesn’t necessarily have to fit into your finished story; what you’re working on here is getting to know your characters and their speech mannerisms.

Some things to consider: What kind of education has your character had? Is English their first language? What sort of regionalisms does your character use? For example, does your character say “pop”, “soda” or “coke” when asking for a carbonated beverage? Does your character have a pet word or phrase, e.g. do they start every second sentence with, “Look, ….” or do they have a favorite expletive? What sort of slang does your character use (think about what year it is, where they live, what group(s) they belong to)? Are they trying to portray a certain image when they speak? Are they hiding anything?

Concentrate on making each person’s voice sound unique and identifiable. Read your dialogue aloud to hear how it sounds. Post and ask for feedback on it. Readers should be able to tell your speakers apart and identify who’s speaking without you telling them. Make changes incorporating the suggestions you’re given.

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