Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writer's Weights: Dialogue Voice Challenge (WW4)

Want to exercise your writing chops? This week's Writer's Weights challenge focuses on dialogue. Answers to the challenge will be posted on Friday. If you use this exercise, post a link in the comments, and I'll update the post with your link. Everyone is welcome to participate.

Good dialogue does a number of things. This week's exercise emphasizes differentiating the dialogue between two characters. The idea is that someone should be able to know exactly who is saying what. This can be done through attributions, however, more importantly and naturally it can be accomplished with the following techniques as well.
  • Accents and or phrasing. Accents can be a way to make a character sound different from other characters and this works well if you have characters from different places. However, it can be difficult to do well and may annoy some readers. However, the more subtle forms of this can be fairly useful. Especially if approached from a dialogue perspective. For example, in different parts of the US people refer to carbonated beverages as pop vs. soda. However, it can go much further whereas we always use language the same, some individuals may say "hi" and other's "how's it going" where they are actually just greeting you and not asking you how it's going.
  • Speaking patterns. Some people are more formal in the way they speak than others and might tend to speak in long sentences vs. someone else taking in shorter sentences. One might be more liable to string ideas together in a certain way. I as a reader won't consciously notice this difference, but subconsciously I may. Similarly, word choice in English allows one to have one person use more latin-root words vs. germanic-root words (Michael Stackpole used this approach in "Once a Hero").
  • Vocabulary. A character who is a mechanic and knows about cars isn't going to say that rubber pipe that attaches to the engine, but will know the correct word to describe that. Additionally, they may have a tendency to focus on a certain set of words that can be used within the writing and vocabulary of their dialogue that will fit well for them.
  • During editing remove the attributions, shuffle the lines and see if you can pick out which lines are said by which characters. Where it isn't clear, revise until it becomes clear.

The Challenge: write a scene of 1000 words or less where the dialogue uses one or more techniques discussed above to differentiate the speakers. The theme for this week is: sand.

This week's Writer's Weights participants:


  1. I've never thought of trying to shuffle the lines around, and seeing if the speakers were still identifiable. This could be a very interesting exercise! I may write up a short one this week if I have a free lunch.

  2. It'll be great to have company. I'll understand if you don't make it. I'm always impressed by those who can get stuff written over lunch (although I did work on this over lunch). My lunches tend to be very interrupt driven.

  3. You know, I may actually need to use the last of these tips. The dialogue in my novels seems to be somewhat identical and flat... I don't think I'll make it, but it's a great exercise. :) Good luck with it.

  4. I have accepted the challenge :) Here's my writer's weights exercise. It was good to exercise those writing muscles again.


  5. @Harry: Hope that you find it useful. Good luck with your WIP.

    @TS: Nice. I'll link it up later after I take my computer to the doc.

  6. This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want? Ha-ha). You definitely put a new spin on a topic that’s been written about for years. Great stuff, just great
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