20 Dialogue Writing Prompts to Level Up Your Story

by Sue Weems | 0 comments

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Dialogue is an essential component for most stories, whether it's for a narrative essay, memoir, or fiction. Even if you're writing nonfiction, you'll likely use stories to illustrate your point, and those stories will include dialogue. Today we have some dialogue writing prompts to help you write better dialogue while you develop some story ideas.  

Dialogue Writing Prompts

We've explored why you need dialogue and how to use dialogue tags correctly in your work. But today, let's get down to how to actually write it with some dialogue prompts to get you started. 

When I work with writers, they usually fall into two camps when it comes to dialogue. Some think they are terrific at capturing everyday conversations and have no problem adding them to their stories, but the problem with everyday conversations? They are mostly boring and full of repetition.

“How was your day?”

“Uh, fine.”

(Nothing is happening here, yet. I'd strike this from a story unless something in the rest of the scene makes these two lines essential.)

Other writers understand why they need dialogue, but they feel uncomfortable putting together engaging conversations that move their stories forward, especially when writing memoir. 

Both types of writers often misunderstand the purpose of dialogue for a specific purpose in a story. It's so much more than capturing a casual conversation between two people in a Taco Bell. Those conversations can certainly be terrific IF they are essential and move the story forward. But how do you know?

The 1 question that will improve your dialogue

I use several questions to help me evaluate my dialogue, but one is indispensable. Try it in your dialogue exercises and see if it doesn't tighten your story and character development.

Here's the question: 

1. Why does this dialogue exchange matter?

This question helps me decide which lines of dialogue are necessary. 

The answer needs to be directly related to either character or advancing the plot

Let's say that I'm working on a dialogue exercise for a story where a new detective is questioning a suspect with a long list of prior offenses. The scenes leading up to this dialogue exchange have probably already revealed that the detective is a novice and the suspect is a walking crime wave. So what purpose can the conversation serve?

If I'm trying to highlight the detective's inexperience, I'll focus on questions that are ineffective that the suspect easily evades. The suspect's dialogue lines will be smug while the detective's lines will be rattled and ineffective. 

If I'm trying to show that the detective is new, but sharp in unexpected ways, the dialogue exchange will include his confidence and technique throwing the suspect off, maybe even revealing things they never meant to say.

As you write dialogue and later revise dialogue, make sure each exchange is necessary for the story and does not repeat information included elsewhere. That will keep you from having characters stand around talking about the weather when it doesn't matter for the story, relationship, or character arc. 

And if that doesn't come naturally, don't worry! You just need practice. Here are a bunch of dialogue prompts to help you build those dialogue writing skills. 

Creative Dialogue Writing Prompts

I've organized these prompts according to a few of our reasons to use dialogue, from our article on Why Dialogue is Important. Choose the one that gets your pen moving!

Character

1. Write a short scene where a character asks the other, “Why are you always so secretive?”

2. Create a conversation about finding a stray dog where it reveals something unexpected about one or both characters.

3. Start a story with the line, “But mother, I've only gotten rid of the last five.”

4. Write a dialogue exchange where someone is confronted after they lost a family member's most prized possession.

5. Create a conversation where one character leans heavily on sarcasm and the other doesn't.

Conflict

6. Write a scene where a character is caught somewhere they don't want to be in an evening news segment.

7. Create a conversation between an assassin and their would-be target that complicates the mission. 

8. Start a conversation with “I'm not sure this is what I want.”

9. Write a conversation before, during, or after a catastrophic act of nature like a landslide or hurricane.

10. Create a dialogue exchange that includes the phrase, “Except it didn't happen.”

Suspense

11. Begin a conversation with, “Did you hear that?”

12. Write a conversation that takes place in a small enclosed space.

13. Create an exchange where someone says, “That wasn't me.”

14. Write a character's thoughts as they wait for a big moment that's minutes from happening.

15. Begin a scene with, “Hurry! We don't have much time.”

Plot

16. Write a scene where someone delivers bad news that changes the course of the story.

17. Start a conversation between characters with, “But you used to want to…”

18. Create a conversation that changes one character's decision or direction in the story. 

19. Begin a dialogue scene with, “So what's holding you back?”

20. Write a conversation that heightens the stakes in an argument.

Dialogue is essential for your story, so take the time to make it strong. Hopefully one of these prompts has given you ideas for writing today! 

What questions do you ask yourself as you evaluate dialogue? Share with us in the comments.

PRACTICE

Choose one of the dialogue prompts above and set your timer for 15 minutes. For the first 8 minutes, write the dialogue exchange, and don't worry about formatting or punctuation for now. Let the words flow.

Then for the last 7 minutes, read back through the dialogue and cut anything that doesn't reveal character or advance the plot, conflict, or suspense.  

When you're finished, share your practice in the Pro Practice Workshop, and leave feedback for a few other writers too.

Not a member? Join us!  

 

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Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.

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