Two Tips for Writing Dialogue (With Examples!)

Dialogue can be tricky to write. When I teach people how to write branching scenarios, writing dialogue is one of the places people get stuck. If you’re used to writing in a more formal style, writing dialogue can feel very unfamiliar. The good news is that it’s a skill like anything else, and you can get better with practice. Two tactics you can use to improve your dialogue writing are using contractions and showing rather than telling. Follow these tips for writing dialogue that feels realistic to your learners and holds their attention.

Two Tips for Writing Dialogue (with Examples)

Tip #1: Use more contractions

When you write dialogue, use contractions. In fact, use more contractions than you think you need to. You were probably taught to avoid using contractions in your writing at some point in your educational career. Now, you need to unlearn that formal style and write in a more conversational style.

Before: Example without contractions

Read this example aloud.


Oliver shakes his head. “I am not sure I agree with you.”

“Trust me, I have been doing this for years. I know what I am talking about,” Rita replies.

“I am not saying you do not know what you are talking about, but I think I have a better understanding of this project than you do,” Oliver explains.


Does that sound natural? Was it hard to read the dialogue as written, without accidentally adding contractions? I find that “I am” is a particularly hard one for me; I often switch that phrase to a contraction unless I’m specifically thinking about it.

After: Example with contractions

Now, read this version aloud. Do you hear the difference? It sounds more like how people talk. The only difference is the addition of contractions.


Oliver shakes his head. “I’m not sure I agree with you.”

“Trust me, I’ve been doing this for years. I know what I’m talking about,” Rita replies.

“I’m not saying you don’t know what you are talking about, but I think I have a better understanding of this project than you do,” Oliver explains.


Tip #2: Show, don’t tell

Instead of directly telling your audience, you can show them with descriptive language and dialogue. It’s more interesting if you provide details that help people imagine the scene.

Before: Example of telling

In this example, you get a quick description of the characters.


Oliver is a new hire who is overly confident in his skills. Rita, who has been with the company for over 10 years, is annoyed with Oliver’s overconfidence. She wants him to respect her expertise.


That description isn’t terrible. Honestly, I often use something like this in a scenario overview during initial planning. It’s a little boring though.

After: Example of showing

You can create a more engaging story by letting people draw their own conclusions about Oliver’s attitude. Use the dialogue to show what he thinks, and use descriptions of body language to signal their emotions.


“Trust me, I’ve been doing this for years. I know what I’m talking about,” Rita replies.

“I’m not saying you don’t know what you are talking about, but I think I have a better understanding of this project than you do,” Oliver explains.

Rita’s jaw drops. “How can you say that? I’ve been working on this project for months, before you even started here. No one knows this project better than me!”

“Well, I know I’ve only been here a few weeks, but I’ve already learned a lot. I think I have a fresh perspective on things.”

Rita snickers. “A fresh perspective? That’s just code for ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.'”

Oliver crosses his arms. “Look, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job. I’m just trying to offer my input. I thought that’s why Courtney hired me.”


This second version still conveys the same dynamic between Oliver and Rita. Your audience will still figure out that Oliver is overconfident and Rita is looking for respect. Showing the dialogue between them creates a more emotionally engaging story. For something like an animated video scenario, this revised version would be much more effective at creating a story.

Learn more at the Learning Solutions Conference

Next week, on April 13 I’ll present a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) session on “Writing Scenarios: Compelling Characters and Distinctive Dialogue.” Rather than being a passive lecture session, I’ll lead participants in writing practice activities including revising dialogues and scripts to add contractions, show rather than tell, and more. If you will be at LSCon, I hope you’ll come to my session!

BYOD: Writing Scenarios
Compelling Characters and Distinctive Dialogue
Thursday, April 13, 2023 2:30-3:30 PM

Further reading

Check out Show, Don’t Tell: Tips and Examples of The Golden Rule on the Reedsy blog for more in-depth explanation of how to “show, don’t tell.” This blog post includes a number of examples, including some from famous novels.

For more specifically about writing scenarios, check out these posts.

3 thoughts on “Two Tips for Writing Dialogue (With Examples!)”

  1. Pingback: Two Tips for Writing Dialogue (With Examples!)

  2. This took me back to my teacher days with the show, don’t tell lesson! It’s great to see it applied in the real world!

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