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Dialogue Detectives: A Writing Exercise

Posted on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 in Writing

I had a nice draft going on how we journey through homeschool with a toddler in the house.

For the past few weeks the girls have been keeping a dialogue journal, a little pocket notebook to record the spoken words of the siblings, friends, and strangers. We’ve called it “Dialogue Detectives” (an idea from Julie Bogart, see note at the end of the post). The purpose of the assignment is to recognize patterns, word choices, and inflections that make a two year old sound like a real two year old and a grandmother sound like a grandmother. We’ve talked about writing dialogue in stories that really sounds true to the age and background of the characters they create. We’ve looked at examples in the books we’re reading as family.

On friday we combined the Story Squares and the research they’ve done on dialogue and asked them to freewrite for fifteen minutes, telling most of their story through dialogue.  We decided they should stick with a two year old as the main character in their dialogue since their best research has been with their own sister.

Mookie, the 11 year old, wrote a story about a princess and a castle (she didn’t actually draw the squares because as we were getting them out she said, “Oh, I have an idea” and I let her go with her inspiration instead of forcing the squares since they were only there for inspiration. Though her story ended up using several of the squares since she already had them in her head.)

Here’s an excerpt from her writing:

Sophie the maid was always up and about first in the castle each peaceful morning.  These days they weren’t too peaceful.
“Now if I can only brew the tea without the Princess waking up, ” she said to herself. As she pulled over a chair so that she could stand on it to reach the tea cupboard, she heard, “Need to go pooootty!” from upstairs.

“Ughhh,” Sophie said in disgust.  She walked down the flight of stairs that led to the Princess Victoria’s room.

“Need to go pooootty!” Victoria shouted again, this time more urgently.

“I’m coming, ” Sophie shouted back.

She reached the princess’ room and took her to the bathroom.  Once Victoria was seated, Sophie asked, “Why did you have to wake up already?”

“I don’t know,” answered the Princess, innocently.  ”I’m dooo-ooone.”

Jellybean, age 9, drew the following squares.  A Viking, Mystery Person, Hut, Forest, and Crown.

I think she got a little distracted by the story  brewing from the squares to remember to include much dialogue, but it’s still fun to see how a prompt can get a story started.

Once upon a time there was nothing.  There was absolutely nothing.  But then, as we all know, God created the world and the real adventure began.  Now, I know I’m going forward a little, well, a very long time, I should say. When there were forests everywhere and there was many, many peasants in the land.  My story is about a viking who went to the future, to medieval times, when there were knights and castles, dragons and two year olds.

My story begins on a bright summer day at a peasant’s house when a little girl named Evie and her little sister Sylvia were playing outside. Suddenly…

“Girls! Girls! Girls! Come quickly! Go inside!”

“Why, Why, why? Why must we Papa?” cried little Sylvia.

“Because there is to be a blizzard!”

This week the girls are observing and recording the dialogue of a different person in the family.  (This can be dangerous, mamas, your own dialogue might show up in a story!  Mookie said the Queen in her story would be saying, “Why are you bothering me? I didn’t fall asleep until five in the morning!” when the Princess Victoria went up to see her.  I can’t imagine where she gets these ideas.)

Other Activities with Dialogue:

  • After your child has recorded several days worth of dialogue have her write her observations, such as “run-on sentences, words that aren’t pronounced correctly” etc, on a notebooking page so that she can refer back to it for future assignments.
  • Talk about the purpose of dialogue in a story, such as: it moves the plot along, it develops character, it helps you believe the story really happened.*  Ask your children to find examples of dialogue in their current chapter books and decide what purpose the dialogue fills from the list above.
  • Use story squares (two squares with characters), a painting or picture and ask them to create dialogue for the people in the picture. For an extra challenge, ask them to choose one of the purposes from the above list and show it through the dialogue.
  • Talk about dialogue as you read aloud together.  Point out bad dialogue and ask why it’s bad.  Does it move the story along, does it sound believable to the age and background of the character?

*This list is taken from Julie Bogart’s Grammar and Literature Program, called The Arrow, in the unit on Half Magic.

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