Writing dialogue is challenging. A good dialogue must sound natural and realistic and should support the plot. But teaching writing dialogue is a lot more challenging, as it is involves the responsibility of producing writers who can write believable and effective dialogues. If this is your first time to teach dialogue writing, following are some pointers.
- Ask the students to study samples of good dialogues. Tell your students to read classic and contemporary literature and ask them to analyze the dialogues. Instruct them to determine what makes these dialogues effective. As a form of exercise, ask the students to reconstruct the dialogues in their own words. For example, let them create a conversation between Anna and her lover Vronsky (of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina) using a modern setting.
- Instruct your students to develop their characters. The characters’ personality and background would determine how they speak. A lady lawyer speaks differently than a lady preschool teacher in the same way that a spinster aunt speaks differently than a cheerleader. If the students have a solid idea of who their characters are, they know their characters’ choice of words and manner of speaking. Ask the students to make a character profile for each of the characters by defining their gender, social background, education, profession, personality, mannerisms, and attitude. Every time they write dialogues, the students should consult the character profiles.
- Tell them to listen to real-life dialogues. Because characters are fictional versions of real people, dialogues must also be fictional versions of real-life dialogues. This is why students have to always note how real people converse and express themselves. Tell them to take note of the speaking habits, lines, and construction of sentences of real people and remind the students to incorporate their observations into their dialogues.
- Emphasize the need for distinctions in voices. When writing, the students must be able to show the differences in the characters by giving them different voices. The old lady character should sound like a real old lady, while the youngster should sound like really young. The readers should easily recognize the distinctions even without the “he/she said” tags.
- Let them read their dialogues aloud. Reading aloud is one way of knowing if the dialogues are really effective and realistic. Ask the students to pick one or two classmates, depending on the number of characters in the scene, to voice particular characters. If the dialogues are flowing like a real conversation, without sounding fake or structured, the dialogues are effective. If you sense awkwardness in the students when reading the dialogues, as if they are uncomfortable speaking their lines, the dialogues have to be improved.
- Prepare lots of exercises. Writing skills are enhanced through constant practice and plenty of exercises. And this applies to writing dialogues. To further enhance their talent in dialogue writing, give your students several exercises like writing a conversation between two completely opposite individuals, two dignified ladies competing for one job, and a group of people talking about a very sensitive issue. Assess the dialogues and spot the strengths and weaknesses.
Encourage your students to go out and observe people. Let them eavesdrop, so they can have a better grasp of how different people speak in different ways. The secret in making realistic and believable dialogues is not only imagination; exposure to the real world is also necessary.