Wouldn’t it be cool if you could plot all your conversations?  Not knowing how the other person will respond makes it hard to write a script for it. But as a writer of fiction you have the ability to play with the possibilities, to make guesses.  Perhaps in this practice we will find the seeds for better conversations off the page.

There are as varied methods of this as there are stories, . Every author has his or her own way of doing things.  But I think the main points are as follows ~

1)  You need to decide what it is you want to occur in the conversation.  What is the outcome you’d like? Where do you want it to leave everyone and the story?

2)  Be clear on the points each participant must make.  This is where the careful plotting goes on.  What needs to happen first to move the conversation logically and easily into the next? Think about what’s possible and what’s probable for all.  What are the needs of each person here?  What are their motivations?

3)  Listen to what the characters have to say.  Don’t be addicted to it finishing up a certain way.  The characters might have their own ideas about where it should go. You can always backtrack and adjust.  But allowing a new direction or new path to form if the characters choose it can take you to interesting places. Your characters may well  know more than you do.  If you’re not so sure about where the conversation ends, imagine the possible results from it.  Does this new angle make more sense, add a new twist?  Sometimes you may find that it does.

But if you’re not completely sure take some time to analyze it.  The new direction might  look cool just because it’s surprising. (Especially if you’ve been heading down the same road for awhile.)  As the author you must make this call.  It is your story.  Is this new perspective really what’s best for the story, for where you want to go?  Like the way I must weigh the thoughts of my writer’s group.  If I have three comments – sometimes all different – I know I must step in and make the choice on how it will be changed.  It has to be my call.  (Hint: If more than one person finds something wrong, there is a problem that must be fixed. As the author, though, you need to choose how that will happen.)  Do so even with your characters’ ideas.

4)  When you’ve finalized the plot, envision the exchange to see where their bodies are. Body language can show motivation in ways words cannot.

5) Read the conversation out loud to see if it makes sense.  Maybe even enlist others to play the roles!

If you’re going to have an important conversation with someone where you are not the author, it can be helpful to follow these rules, too.  Think about what you wish to cover in the discussion, what your points need to be and where you’d like it to go. See if you can guess others’ motivations – what are they looking for?

In your next conversation watch carefully, with a writer’s eye to see how it turns out.  Listen well for what the other person’s motivations might be.  Make choices in the moment. Just like fiction, you may need to stay open for the track the conversation takes, despite your desires.

In all conversations, if you stay open to what the others’ needs might be, you can mine rich material for your characters and write more true-to-life conversations.  Paying attention to your own needs and those of others can make your real life conversations more effective.

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