Speaking for Others

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Dialogue is a driving force in story-writing, yet it is one of the most challenging elements to master. To write powerful dialogue, you have to both adapt to the colloquial characteristics of the conversation and reveal information which simultaneously moves the plot forward. Integrating your own voice while taking on the voices of other people can be extremely difficult. 

One of the great masters of dialogue was Ernest Hemingway, who managed to compose simple, straightforward, and realistic conversations while maintaining narrative depth. Notice, in the following passage from The Old Man and the Sea, how Hemingway suggests so much about his characters as he reveals the direction of the plot:

When the wind was in the east a smell came across the harbour from the shark factory; but today there was only the faint edge of the odour because the wind had backed into the north and then dropped off and it was pleasant and sunny on the Terrace.
    “Santiago,” the boy said.
    “Yes,” the old man said. He was holding his glass and thinking of many years ago.
    “Can I go out to get sardines for you for tomorrow?”
    “No. Go and play baseball. I can still row and Rogelio will throw the net.”
    “I would like to go. If I cannot fish with you. I would like to serve in some way.”
    “You bought me a beer,” the old man said. “You are already a man.”
    “How old was I when you first took me in a boat?”
    “Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?”
    “I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing me into the bow where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver and the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me.”
    “Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?”
    “I remember everything from when we first went together.”
    The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.

Now it’s your turn! Write a passage in which you start with a short paragraph describing the setting, and then lead into a conversation between two characters. You can reveal information about their past, about some sort of tension between them, or about something that they are going to do in the future.

In need of further inspiration? Read these pieces by Community Ambassadors AllisonHRedwood and WhoTalksLikeMe!