Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Back to Basics-Dialog ii

So in Back to Basics-Dialog 1 we pretty much said:

1. Dialog isn't conversation.
2. It shouldn't have "echoes" like repeated names or phrases.
3. It should make the reader curious.
4. It should create or build conflict by revealing more than the characters actually say.

I thought that for the workshop I'm doing I'd take some samples of dialog, have kids read them aloud, and then ask them to talk about the short scenes, guiding the discussion with specific questions.

Here's one example:

“Wait up, Princess.” When I look back Juan is jogging to catch up. I take out my keys and  hurry to my driver’s door. 
“Late for something?” He’s right behind me.
“I’ve got homework.” I’ve already opened the door and scooted behind the wheel. 
“Sure. Just thought I'd tell you about Keith. See you tomorrow, Princess.”
“I’m not a — What about Keith?”
(From: The Princess of Las Pulgas, 2010)


How does the girl feel about the boy? 

What do you think the boy says after the girl's last line of dialog? 

I might ask them to write that last line and then re-read the dialog with a partner. 

So how does this exercise strike you? Is there more I could do besides another dialog sample and discussion? I think I need to keep these exercises short, varied, and interactive since the kids are from 10 to 13. 


  1. Great exercise! Maybe something about the balance between the dialogue itself and the narrative between, and how less or more of that changes the mood? Tricky! But really cool that you're doing this.

  2. Yes, that balance is tricky, Lisa and thanks for adding that idea. Believe me I'm collecting ideas like mad.

  3. I like this. For kids that age (I used to teach 12 and 13 year olds) you may want to have two students act it out instead of just read it. They love to get up and act.

  4. Good writing exercise.
    Another interesting things about dialog is that the conversation doesn't always follow. In other words, people often continue along their trajectory, their interests, and when they do that, they're not actually answering the line that went before them. A teacher in my MFA program pointed that out, and it's so true.

  5. If I get an extroverted group or at least a few risk takers, I think role play would be fun. I'll let you know, Kelly.

    Good point, Catherine, about conversation not always following to a point or a line of thinking. We can be a self-absorbed lot.

  6. I love the new action on your websight!!
    Thank you for stopping by for a meet me on Monday visit :)

  7. This is such a great idea. I'm curious how young readers will interpret this.

  8. I took a writing class in high school (so we were older than these kids) where in the section on dialogue, we went to the mall across the street, went into different stores, and hung out in a dressing room with a notepad. Then we took notes (tried to write everythign down verbatim) when we overheard conversations. It was a neat assignment!

  9. I like this idea for 10-13 yr old. You're right to keep it short. I also like Kelly's idea of acting it out, if you get an outgoing group.

    Since you can't really take them to a mall, maybe find a YouTube clip or make a quick Animoto video? That way you are bringing in other ways to reach them and you are still keeping it short.

  10. The suggestions are super and much appreciated. I'm ready to put the finishing touches on this and will report back with how it went.

    Thanks all.


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