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dialogue exercise

Dialogue is a 'refresher,' akin to a zest of lemon in the cool water of your story. We use dialogue to provide readers some idea that two or more characters actually EXIST in a scene as living, viable people. Dialogue is often one of the best ways to convince people that tensions and conflicts did take place beyond just the plot, or that the plot helped to foster such tensions.
In this exercise (1-2 pages), your job is to create a scene of dialogue that will appear in your narrative essay OR to make up an imaginary dialogue of your own, possibly about a couple fighting or trying to make up after a fight.


The Dialogue Fill in the Blank Mad Lib
TASK: Create a dialogue between two individuals, feuding, madly in love, or both. Try to mesh their dialogue with action, to show their particular mood during the dialogue.
“_________________,” (quote) screamed ____________ (person A).

________________________________!” (statement, with passion)

“_____________________________,” coolly replied _________, (person B)
trying desperately to _________________(verb) and ____________________(verb)
while calmly ______________ (verbing). “_________________________________

______________________________________________________.” (statement, not much passion)
“____________________!?” (outraged question) bellowed the now infuriated
_____________ (person A) “____________________________________________
___________________________________________!” (extreme passion), now
getting increasingly more incensed, with a ____________ (adj.) look that
seemed to say, “__________________________________________.” (quote)

With a _________(noun) in hand, ____________ (person A) threatened to
__________ (verb) ___________ (person B) with the bucket of Zippy’s chili sitting on the
kitchen counter.

“Baby,” ________(verbed) and ________(verbed) _____________(person B). “_________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________.” The Zippy’s chili
___________(verbed) and squarely hit ___________ (person B) in the ________ (noun).
“_____________,” (quote) __________(verbed) _______________(person A).
____________ (person B) ______________(verbed).

Supplemental: Dialogue in the Narrative Essay

“Mr. Kubota,” asked Vladimir, his eyes moving upwards, quizzically entreating Kubota’s own. “How does one go about putting in dialogue in the narrative, and what’s the point of dialogue?” It was a hot day, in parking lot A at K.C.C.. Flies and gnats seemed to copulate in the heat.

Kubota coughed, for a bothersome gnat had lodged in the back of his larynx. He spat it out, pondered Vladimir’s question, and looked his student square in the eyes and spoke: “Dialogue should probably be placed in the sections of text where the character where you feel the most emotion from is saying something crucial or important.” He paused. “I’d put it in the sections where that character is making an important and realistic statement that occurred during that narrative memory.” He paused, then took a breath, still tasting gnat upon his breath. “In general, I’d advise that you try to mesh dialogue together with action and description—it makes for far more interesting reading, rather than just having two talking heads chattering together back and forth, as in the following example, that should NEVER, EVER take place unless you want to receive bachi, divine punishment, whatever,”

“Wassup. You chillin?”
“Nah. I’m not.”
“Okay. That’s cool. Me neither.”
“You doing anything major?”
“Where you at?”
“In Kubota’s class.

“What about formatting?” Vladimir asked, interrupting Kubota’s reverie. “How does that work?”

“In general,” Kubota replied, still wincing in irritation over the gnat’s having bothered his throat, “When a new speaker is introduced, you should indent five spaces so that there can be a clear distinction between speakers.”

Vladimir considered this point and continued: “What if I wanted to use pidgin or swear words, or my native language? Is it okay to put those things in? Are you going to knock off points for such words?”

Kubota immediately replied as follows: “Dialogue is living, real language. It’s the stuff that keeps actors and actresses talking to each other—the dialogue is fresh and real, and I refuse to censor it. If you really told your dad, ‘Dad, I no like take out da trash cuz da nasty buggah stay hauna li’ dat,’ I’d much rather see the dialogue be REALISTIC instead of something flat or fake. It’s always better to keep things that were said FRESH and REAL…

Vladimir looked bemused. “Not something flat, or something fake…something FRESH and REAL…” he queried, his voice trailing off.

“I’d hate to have the speech go something like this: ‘But Father…Alack! Mine heart is loath to take out yonder garbage hence this fair evening posthaste! Methinks the malodorous stench of the refuse bin shall make me swoon in disgust—my olfactory sensibilities have thus been offended forsooth!’”

“Why not? What’s wrong with that approach?” questioned Vladimir, a lover of the Renaissance-era theater.

“Nobody talks like that in real life, except for a Shakespearean actor with a penchant for histrionics. For English 100, use real dialogue, fresh dialogue, living dialogue, and watch your placement of periods, which go inside the quotation marks.”

“Shoots, Kubotaz, I got um down,” smiled Vladimir, as he drove off in his cherry-red BMW, accelerating in the parking lot at 50 miles per hour, and rolling over Kubota’s right Croc-covered foot in the process.

“Dat REALLY HURT! Gunfunnit racer.” Kubota bellowed, as he hobbled to his car in acute agony.

Some last thoughts about dialogue:

Notice how there’s a difference between these examples liberally adapted from Amy Tan. Which do you prefer?

My mother was standing in the back of the house, asking why my cousin didn’t send her the expected item, already two weeks late. She told me that she was so mad he had lied to her, causing her to lose face and patience. She was infuriated.

My mother was standing in the back, hissing loudly, red in the face: “Why dummy Chun Kit doan send me dat dress I order!? Awreaddy three weeks late, stupid boy! So mad he lie to me—I slap his face next time!”

Which form of dialogue tells us more about the character and essential 'vibe' of the mother?

Copyright 2008 Davin K. Kubota. All Rights Reserved.