Write down from memory a conversation you recently had with a friend or family member, or that you overheard between two or more people. First, just write down the words, exactly as you remember them. Then go back and add some description of the speakers’ mannerisms and actions while they were talking. Don’t overdo it; just provide enough information to convey the moods and attitudes of the people involved. Finally, read through what you’ve written and remove any unnecessary words or phrases–all the false starts and partial thoughts and comments that have nothing to do with the real topic of the conversation.
If you want to test how well you’ve captured the personalities of your speakers, remove (or change) the speakers’ names and then let someone who knows them well read what you’ve written. If you’ve portrayed them accurately, your reader should be able to identify them even without the names.
To put your characterization-through-dialogue skills to the ultimate test, put the same two characters into a completely made-up situation and let them act out the scene through dialogue. If your characterizations are on the mark, your reader should not only be able to identify the speakers, but should feel that they acted “in character” in the situation you’ve created.
If you plan to write mostly nonfiction, stage a practice “interview” with someone you’re comfortable with. Establish ahead of time what the topic of the conversation will be, and make up a list of questions to keep the conversation on track. It would be a good idea to use a tape recorder so you can concentrate on making notes about what your interview subject is doing during the conversation. Try to notice facial expressions, changes in the pitch or volume of their speech, what they do with their hands, etc. Afterward, transcribe the conversation from the tape, inserting appropriate descriptive details from your notes. Try to get across the mood of the interview just with the subject’s words and actions.
This creative exercise came from the course Getting Started In Writing
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