Writing Assignment: Capturing Dialog

by Randy Murray on March 19, 2010

If you have the goal of becoming a better writer, you need to practice.

Here’s your writing assignment for today:

Write a short section of dialog. You can start from an overheard conversation, but you are not limited to it. Try and convey the individual personalities using only their spoken words.

Dialog is one of the most difficult types of writing. You are limited to only what a person says, not what they do, not what they’re thinking, what they look like, or other visual cues. Working with dialog only focuses you very narrowly on what they are saying and precisely how they say it.

Try this: go to a restaurant where you know no one and listen to the people around you. Listen to how they speak, the sounds that they make. Note that most people don’t talk in complete sentences or paragraphs. Listen for the things that make them individuals.

When you’re done with your writing, ask yourself if this dialog reads and sounds like real human speech. Does it convey the personalities of the speakers? And as always, give your completed work to someone else to review and comment on.

Here’s my example:

“She said I could spend the night at her place, but I’ve been in the city since seven.”


“Oh, and I’ve got to be at that sale tomorrow. My mother wants me to come home, too.”

“Sure. You should go home.”

“Oh, I’m not even looking forward to going out. Everyone always says, ‘Oh you’re a nutritionist? What do you eat?’”

“Oh, but you’re so thin!”

“I eat food, just like everybody else.”

“Sure, you eat healthy.”

“Just not today.”

“Ha! I don’t even think about it. This was good.”

“Yeah. Thanks. We better get going.”

“That’s a nice coat.”

“Uh huh.”

“And you’re going out tomorrow night?”

“Yeah, he’s nice. He called me Tuesday, no pressure. Said he wanted to go out Saturday night. He’s meeting me in the city.”

“Oh. He’s not picking you up?”

“He said he wanted to surprise me. He said he wouldn’t tell me where we were going.”

“You’re so lucky. He sounds nice.”

“Yeah. Did I tell you . . .”

You may leave your completed assignment in the comment section below.

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