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We've gone over a lot in this guide so far, so much so that it may be difficult to put everything to use in one go. Below I've written down some exercises you can do to help you improve your dialogue skills from punctuation all the way to writing subtext. Like the guide, the exercises will take it all one step at a time, so you can easily repeat steps with your own twists as you go along.
After that, all you can do is keep practicing and learning. Write, rewrite and rewrite again. Read and dissect how your favorite writers write, see if they have tips and tricks of their own they've shared on recorded conventions, talks or perhaps personal blogs, and so on. There's a wealth of knowledge ready for the taking.
Correct the punctuation and/or dialogue tags in the following sentences:
"You cannot be serious"! he cried.
"If I must go on", she said, "I will do so with pride".
"I would love to stay a little longer.", he said; walking to the door, "but I fear my cat has left on the oven."
"Would you look at those clouds, they remind me—", he said, drifting off as if among them.
"I don't think you comprehend the severity of your situation. You see" — she raised her hand and fire began to engulf it. — "fire and oil make for terrible friends."
"You cannot be serious!" he cried.
"If I must go on," she said, "I will do so with pride."
"I would love to stay a little longer," he said, walking to the door, "but I fear my cat has left on the oven."
"Would you look at those clouds, they remind me..." he said, drifting off as if among them.
"I don't think you comprehend the severity of your situation. You see" — she raised her hand and fire began to engulf it — "fire and oil make for terrible friends."
Write down a conversation two people had or are having in real life. It doesn't matter who (as long as you're not invading their privacy of course). Once you've written it down, turn that conversation into dialogue fit for a novel.
If the whole conversation was about nothing much in particular, you could be done within 1 sentence: "Hours flew by as they talked about games, YouTube videos and tv shows."
This would make for a boring and somewhat pointless exercise, however. So if this is the case, pick a subject within your recorded conversation and rewrite the conversation as if it's plot relevant.
Find a transcript or recording of a speech or monologue, it doesn't matter which. Add to this chunk of dialogue by describing how the person talking feels and/or how the crowd is reacting, and any other details you feel are important to break up the speech into more digestible chunks for a would-be reader.
Write or record a conversation, then rewrite it with one of the following changes to one of the characters:
- They choose to remain silent a lot more.
- They're now a child, or an adult if the original character was a child.
- Their body language speaks volumes while their words say nothing.
- They try their hardest to be as subtle as is humanly possible.
Pick two conversation topics that have little to nothing to do with each other. Write a conversation that starts with the first topic and reaches the second by using related topics. The more concise you can write it, the better. But you obviously want at least one topic in between the two you picked or else the point of the exercise is lost.
Write a regular conversation. Now rewrite it with subtext for one character. Then rewrite it with subtext for both characters.
For example, write a conversation about favorite books.
Then rewrite the conversation so character A is talking about not just their favorite book, but also their favorite person (perhaps person B).
Then rewrite it so character B is also talking about books and people (perhaps person A). Notice how subtext changes when both characters are aware the other isn't just talking about books.