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Lesson 5 – Make It Real – Use Dialogue, Accents, and Present Tense to Bring your Story to Life

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In this lesson, you learn to:

  • Use dialogue and character accents to bring your story to life
  • Put your story in the present-tense to increase humor effectiveness

Using dialogue and accents for storytelling is highly effective…but why is it crucial from a humor perspective? Many of the lessons on humor require the audience to have crystal clear images of what is happening in the story or humor set-up. The most effective strategy is to develop and deliver your story in a manner where they feel they are “right there, witnessing the event.”

When the audience is immersed in your story in the present-tense, they get to relive it with you. Here is an example of changing a story segment from the “past-tense” to the “present-tense.”


Back in 1980, my brother and I went to a comedy club in England when tensions were high between the Irish and English. We were sitting in the front row. The comedian asked if there were any Irish in the audience, and my dim-witted brother waved his arm. I remember the comedian smiling as he promised that there would not be any Irish jokes to maintain peace and harmony. He then started off on a series of jokes that caused the mainly English audience to erupt into laughter. The first joked started off with a Frenchman called Patrick Murphy walking into a bar.


Picture my brother and I sitting in the front row of a comedy club in England. It’s 1980 and tensions are high between the Irish and English. The comedian asks, “Any Irish in the audience?” My dim-witted brother waves his arm as the comedian smiles and says, ”In the interest of peace and harmony between the English and the Irish, there will be no Irish jokes tonight.” Moments later, the mainly English audience erupts into laughter as the comedian starts off…“A Frenchman went into a bar…his name was Patrick Murphy!

Benefits of using dialogue and accents include:

  1. It helps emphasize the emotion and conflict in the story.
  2. It helps the audience distinguish different characters and avoids story-line confusion.
  3. It maximizes the potential for laughter.

Key Strategies include:

  1. Relaying your story in the present tense
  2. “Acting out” your story using dialogue, and accents.

Let’s take a closer look.

In all the different parts of this story, I take on the persona of the characters with vocal variety, energy, volume, facial expressions, gestures, and movement. Most importantly, I take on the accents of the characters.

You may want to review this video a second time to understand what I could do to enhance the effectiveness. There are always opportunities for improvement, and that is what I love about the humor development process.

Here are some opportunities that come to mind for me:

  1. Tell the story in the present tense instead of the past tense.
  2. Be consistent with my wife’s accent. (I used my regular voice when she said, “Go outside and see what it is.
  3. Use different accents when acting out the “voice” of my body parts. For example:
    • Brain (German accent)
    • Stomach (Indian accent)
    • Bladder (Irish accent)

Here is a short video where I demonstrate English, Scottish, and Irish accents while telling a funny story.

 How to Use Dialogue Effectively in Stories

  1. Write out your story, make it concise, make the scenes in it highly visual, then highlight the sections where you are going to incorporate dialogue. This will help prompt you to use dialogue and accents at these sections when practicing. In the screenshot you can see how I have highlighted dialogue parts in blue.
  2. Put your story in the present tense. One way of doing that is to start off with words such as “picture,” imagine,” or “visualize.” For example:
    • Picture me camping in the wilderness of Canada…
    • Imagine me in a very scary scenario…a bear encounter…
    • Visualize a scenario where I am awoken by a large creature outside…
  3. Practice using different men’s/women’s voices and accents. Note: Many speakers fear trying different accents because they’re afraid of doing them “wrong.” The accent does not need to be technically accurate. It just needs to be different enough for the audience to have a clear understanding who is speaking. E.g. My wife is Canadian, but I struggle to do a Canadian accent. I give her an English-sounding voice in my stories.
  1. Study different accents to get a feel for the pronunciations and expressions. (Go to YouTube and type in “French accent,” “English accent,” or “German accent” to get voice training videos. You can even get more specific if you want to hear accents by gender, age, etc.).
  2. Speak while facing different directions for each character. It helps the audience distinguish characters, especially if the characters have similar accents. For example, speak to your right corner for one character, and your left corner for the other.
  3. Take on the persona of the person, animal, or thing you are portraying. (This might include facial expressions, gestures, voice, energy, expressions, etc.). See Lesson 6 on gestures, facial expressions, and purposeful movement.
  4. Characterize the emotions of the characters and portray appropriate levels of fear, delight, anxiety, etc.
  5. Keep the dialogue natural and fluent. It should feel comfortable to you and should not be too wordy.
  6. Compliment your story with a combination of visual details and physical descriptions. Keep it believable.
  7. Think about your dialogue tag lines. Watch out for overuse of “he said” and “she said,” among other common dialogue beginners. Use narrative sentences to describe the character’s immediate actions, location, etc. Note the lack of “he said, she said” in the bear story example at the beginning of my story examples.
  8. Practice, practice, and practice some more…out loud! Have fun portraying your characters.
  9. Video tape your practice sessions and critique them.


Download the attached editable PDF and change the story from the past-tense to the present-tense.

Download (PDF, 401KB)


Scroll down in the document to see my present-tense edited version. Mine will no doubt be somewhat different from yours however the point of the exercise is to:

  1. Understand how to change a story or set-up line from the past-tense to the present-tense
  2. Identify that re-wording to the present-tense provides the same story with fewer words
  3. Comprehend the benefits of rewording to the present-tense…inviting the audience to “step into the scene.”

Download (PDF, 574KB)

Copyright © MMXIX by David R. Hill

Lesson tags: accents, comedy writing, dave hill, dave hill speaks, dialogue, funny, funny motivational speaker, humor, present tense
Back to: Finding the Funny: How to Create and Deliver Humor in any Speech or Presentation