WordWeavers Session 4 – Writing Dialogue

Students began by reading their stories from last week when they’d placed one of their own fictional characters in a work setting they’d researched by interviewing other students.  The writing was diverse and really interesting and included a man working in an all-female cleaning crew, a white Zimbabwean farmer advising on simulation exercises to a company sending rapid response teams to crisis situations, and an aristocratic soldier from the time of the Napoleonic wars arriving for an appointment in a present day British office!

We moved on to talk about writing dialogue in fiction.

We read what Stephen King had to say on the subject in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Hodder and Stoughton, 2000:

It’s dialogue that gives your cast their voices, and is crucial in defining their characters – only what people do tells us more about what they’re like…

King is firmly in the camp of show not tell when it comes to writing fiction.

We considered the functions of dialogue in fiction, which include

  • setting the scene
  • adding tone
  • advancing the plot
  • giving insight into character
  • reminding the reader of key information

We then read extracts (which included a lot of dialogue) from two of the stories from The BBC National Short Story Award 2011 anthology (Comma Press, 2011).  These were Rag Love by M.J. Hyland and The Dead Roads by D.W. Wilson.  Students chose one of the stories and continued writing the scene.  Afterwards they considered what they had concentrated on, advancing the plot or fleshing out the characters?  Or both? Or something else?  Did this tell them anything about their own writing process?

Finally, we looked at two poems which used dialogue; Tullynoe: Tête-à-Tête in the Parish Priest’s Parlour by Paul Durcan, a poem told entirely in dialogue, and Conversation with a Survivor by Erich Fried (translated from the German by Stuart Hood), both poems found in the Bloodaxe anthology Being Alive.

The final exercise was for students to use one of these poems as a model for their own work.

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As before, thank you to everyone involved and especially to Trowbridge Museum for hosting these writing workshops.

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