Practicing dialogue

Hi everyone,
David giving brief remarks
Do you sometimes have conversations in your head in which you play both characters? I do quite often and suspect that this is a trait common to most people. For writers these conversations may be important because they help develop skills with dialogue in our writing.

Almost anything can trigger internal dialogue, at least with me. Maybe I have an unpleasant confrontation with someone in a store and carry the scene in my imagination to what I should have said and what he might have said and so on. There’s a name for that. It’s what you should have said just before the elevator door closes or just before you climbed the stairs to leave.

On other occasions the internal dialogue might be stimulated by someone I see on the street, across the room, driving past, or in the newspaper. It’s an odd habit, talking to someone in your mind and giving that person words that he or she probably would never have said, or said in the same way.

Do you do that? Some writers are wonderful with dialogue. Their characters speak with such natural voices. Is this a lucky skill or one that develops by listening to how people sound when they talk and honing their skills by conducting lively and frequent conversations in their heads? Good dialogue can be one of a writer’s most crucial tools. How do you practice yours?


11 comments on “Practicing dialogue

  1. I was a very shy child and was terrified to talk to strangers. Around the end of elementary school, I figured out that like you, I could have a dialogue in my head. I could be myself and the person I needed to talk to. I could rehearse different scenarios, plan ahead for a variety of answers and reduce my anxiety. Turns out, that it works for writing, too.

  2. That’s very interesting, David. I don’t do that but I DO practice dialogue in my head of what I am going to say in an uncomfortable situation, such as having to confront someone. I sometimes even write down what I will say.

    • I’ve done that also, B.j. although I haven’t written it out. Through my years in management it often paid to think in advance of how meetings or confrontations might go and be prepared with scenarios to cover each.

  3. David, Psychologists call that practicing of dialog in your head,”behavior rehersal,” and yes it is excellent for learning to write dialog for your characters. You said there was a name for the behavior of talking to yourself, but you didn’t tell us what it was called. Or did you have something else in mind?

    • Hi, Joy,

      I was trying to think of the nickle term for such mental gymnastics and I think Pat has provided it below. I like “behavior rehearsal” too. Sounds expensive!

    • Yep, so do I, Veda. Replaying conversations in my head is a good place for Captain Hindsight to fly in and report what I should have said.

  4. Oh, yes! Constant conversations in my head. One scene in particular, I’m really good at. The French call it ‘staircase wit’ it’s all the witty, clever things you wish you’d said, as you’re climbing the stairs at night after some dinner or party or whatever. Something ‘escalier.’. I’m brilliant at that.

    • My dear Pat, you’re brilliant at anything you do so it comes as no surprise to me that you also excel practicing the fine art of “staircase wit.”

  5. Hi Everyone.
    This past Sunday, I went to a family affair with New England accents reverberating among 4 generations. My 77 year old brother from NYC was called: “Ah-thur” so many times while we NYers call hin Arrr-ther. It was fun the next day to practice the open “A” and drop the propensity for “R”! The escalier stepped from one dialect to another.
    Jeanne Poland

    • Great example, Jeanne. I just came from the gigantic gift market in Dallas and was aware more than once of the difference in how people sound from various parts of the country.

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