Celebrating East African Writing!

Writing Conversations

The following tips are borrowed from I have just mentioned the points in brief so be sure to go online and read up on the tips to great dialogues.



Writing dialogue — realistic dialogue, anyway — does not come easily to everyone. Done well, dialogue advances the story and fleshes out the characters while providing a break from straight exposition.


However, just as realistic dialogue is one of the most powerful tools at a writer’s disposal, nothing pulls the reader out of a story faster than bad dialogue. It takes time to develop a good ear, but noting these simple rules and obvious pitfalls can make a huge difference.


1. Listen to How People Talk: Having a sense of natural speech patterns is essential to good dialogue. Start to pay attention to the expressions that people use and the music of everyday conversation.


2. Not Exactly like Real Speech: A transcription of a conversation would be completely boring to read. Edit out the filler words and unessential dialogue — that is, the dialogue that doesn’t contribute to the plot in some way.


3. Don’t Provide Too Much Info at Once: It should not be obvious to the reader that they’re being fed important facts. Let the story unfold naturally.


4. Break Up Dialogue with Action: Remind your reader that your characters are physical human beings by grounding their dialogue in the physical world.


5. Don’t Overdo Dialogue Tags: Veering too much beyond “he said/she said” only draws attention to the tags — and you want the reader’s attention centered on your brilliant dialogue, not your ability to think of synonyms for “said.”


6. Stereotypes, Profanity, and Slang: Be aware of falling back on stereotypes, and use profanity and slang sparingly. All of these risk distracting or alienating your reader.


7. Read Widely: Pay attention to why things work or don’t work. Where are you taken out of the story’s action? Where did you stop believing in a character?


8. Punctuate Dialogue Correctly: The rules for punctuating dialogue can be confusing: many writers need help getting them right in the beginning. Take some time to learn the basics.


Speaking of conversations, The Kenyan Conversations Writing Contest is still on. As you may have noticed there is quite a bit of dialogue going on in the comments section under the photographs we posted last week.


Here are the stories/dialogues that have been accepted into the contest. The stories/dialogues will be published with the photos on which they are based. Please comment on the pieces, encourage and advice the author, and vote using our Storymoja Scale described under the pieces.


1. Illicict by Alex Mutua: Me.  Luke Markarius. Add you more money! The budget doesn’t even recognize small time traders, Njogu.


2. Liquidation by Christine Yienya:  “You and I are the owners of this yard; we just pick one container put the debes in, lock it and keep the keys. Then after one week…..’


3. Not Easily Broken by Nyawira Njenga: I had heard of the sad news at my charcoal stall in the market. Nantondo, the village chief rumour monger had filled me in.


4. No More Shallow Graves by Julius Muriungi: On the other end, inside Snit-Tam transport company offices in industrial area, a heavily built man sat before a laptop with a mug of coffee in his left hand


5. Storm is Coming by Eddy Ngeta: Heavy gusts of wind sweep over the abandoned container depot hurling dust and sundry debris into the faces of the two men seated on an old, oil-plastered workman’s bench…


Although we will not be accepting any more story/dialogues based on the photos posted on Tuesday 6th July and Thursday 8th July, you can still comment on the photographs and stand the chance to win Kshs 2000/-, Storymoja Books and tickets to the Storymoja Hay Festival coming up soon. Be on the lookout for the photographs that will go online this week, comment on them and send in your story dialogues to participate in the contest.


We reiterate the contest rules below:

Twice a week, on Tuesday and on Thursday, we will post a photograph on the Storymoja Blog ( and on Generation Kenya ( website. These photographs will be of Kenyan People, in Kenyan Scenes, talking about Kenya.


You can do two things:


  1. Comment on the picture, tell us what you think is going on in the picture, what the people in the photographs might be talking about. Keep it brief, and come back to see what others have said. If you find an issue that you care about has been brought up, please comment, and stay to have a conversation.


  • Send us a story or dialogue based on the photograph.  Your story or dialogue, if chosen will be published on the Storymoja Blog as part of a combined Contemporary Kenya/Kenyan Conversations Campaign. Weekly winners will be announced every Friday.

    Guidelines for Participation:

    1. Comment on the blog under the picture on the Storymoja Blog.
    2. Send in a story or dialogue that is not more than 500 words long.
    3. Send in your story or dialogue to Clearly mark in the subject Contemporary/Kenyan Conversations (include the number indicated on the photos).


    Have a wonderful week!


    This entry was posted on July 12, 2010 by in Writing.
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