© Pegi Deitz Shea
COOL Dialogue is the only dialogue worthy of your stories. In order for your dialogue
to be COOL, it must have these four elements:
C - Consistency to the Character. The dialogue must match your character’s
RAPS: Relationship with other characters he or she is speaking with, Age,
Personality, & Setting.
O - Opinions and/or Outpouring of emotions. The content of the dialogue
must have meaning, must be specific.
O - Onward movement for the story. Dialogue can foreshadow future events,
initiate action & inform other characters and readers.
L - Least number of words. Apply the MAN quiz: Can you use Monologue—silent thoughts—to share secrets with readers and to hide information and emotions from other characters? Can you show the information or emotion better with Action added or with action alone? Can you skip meaningless dialogue (ex. telephone greetings) and use Narration instead? Shoot for a balance of narration and dialogue.
DIALOGUE PUNCTUATION BASICS:
1. Begin a new paragraph when introducing dialogue or changing speakers.
2. Put quotation marks only around the words spoken.
3. Place all punctuation inside the quotation marks.
4. Use “tags” to identify speakers. Make sure your tag has a “speech” verb
(ex. said, whispered, hollered, asked). If you want to use an “action tag” end the sentence with a period, not a comma. (ex. Dan tapped Jesse’s shoulder. “Want to play catch?”
COOL DIALOGUE WORKSHOP
Organizational tip: Try using teams of two first. After your class is comfortable with the skills, try individual assignments in which the children choose the characters themselves, and work on their own.
1. Separate the class into groups of four children.
2. Write one general story problem on the board. Examples: Something valuable has broken, or the main character is trying to do something for the first time, or two characters are lost.)
3. Assign each group a different set of two characters and a setting. Mix up the ages of the characters and dates & places. (Ex. one group may have a grandfather and an 8-year-old girl living in colonial America. Another group may have twin 10-year-old boys in Japan in the year 2100.) This is a great opportunity to connect with your social studies curriculum. Use a culture or time frame you’re studying.
4. Before beginning the stories, have the children write mini character sketches. What do each of the characters look like? Likes and dislikes? Strengths? Flaws? They can’t write COOL dialogue unless they know their characters.
5. Have kids use dialogue to open the story and show readers the conflict. (ex. “Oh no! I can’t believe I just broke the vase. Grandma’s going to kill me!”) Then they can proceed with the story, balancing narration with dialogue.
6. After they have a story with a beginning, middle and end, it’s rewriting time! Use the COOL formula as a revision checklist of dialogue. Also consult my “ABCs of Revision.”
7. COOL DIALOGUE SAMPLE
Story problem: Something is Missing from the Office!
Characters: Mr. Peterson, 55, skinny, bald, school custodian
Mrs. Lorry, 45, short, glasses, school principal
Mickey, 9, troublemaker, 3rd grade
Mickey’s Dad (Mr. Green), TV newsman
Laura, below average student, 3rd grade
Laura’s Mom (Mrs. Weaver), waitress
Miss Rivers, wheelchair, 3rd grade teacher,
Mrs. Walker, gym teacher, athletic
Mr. Clay, 30, art teacher