Dialogue, or a conversation between two or more people, is something that dominates just about every work of fiction. So, why is dialogue so hard to write? We’re going to explore the nature of dialogue by breaking down a series of dialogue examples, from literature to games. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll know how a breadth of mediums tackle the indomitable task of writing dialogue.
A quick primer on dialogue
Most of us understand what dialogue is and how it works. But just to make sure we're on the same page, let's start by defining it. Then we will review some dialogue examples from across multiple media.
What is dialogue?
Dialogue is a written or spoken exchange of words between one or more characters. Most narrative stories feature this verbal communication, which is often easily identifiable by either quotations in literature or dedicated spaces in scripts. Dialogue has various uses, though it is most often for the purposes of advancing the plot and building character. For example, it lets the audience learn more about a character, their history, feelings, and viewpoints.
- Used for advancing the plot
- Captures the "voice" of a character
- An opportunity for subtext and verbal irony
There are two basic types of dialogue — inner dialogue and outer dialogue. Inner dialogue is a conversation a character might have in their head with themselves. Granted, this will often overlap as a monologue or even an aside.
Outer dialogue is what we typically see — a conversation between two or more characters. Now, let's see some of the best dialogue examples in action.
Dialogue Examples in a Story
Meet the Parents
“Whew, she is a tomcat.” Writers of all disciplines should study this scene for guidance on how to write comedy.
DIALOGUE BETWEEN TWO CHARACTERS EXAMPLE
Anime – particularly Shonen anime – is known more for its action than its dialogue. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t great anime dialogue. Quite the contrary, in fact, some of the best moments in Shonen anime come in the form of dialogue.
This interaction between Naruto and Pain is regarded as one of the greatest dialogue-driven scenes in anime. As you’re reading, think about how the dialogue mirrors real-world themes relating to imperialism, war, and vengeance.
DIALOGUE WRITING EXAMPLES
Oxenfree, Firewatch, and other games
Video games designers have the unique ability to give players the agency to influence dialogue in their games. Over the years, we’ve seen designers implement branching dialogue trees in popular games like Mass Effect and The Witcher 3.
We’ve also seen designers implement innovative dialogue systems in games like Oxenfree and Firewatch. In all of these examples, players are given agency to influence the narrative of their world, all via dialogue.
FICTION DIALOGUE EXAMPLES
A Streetcar Named Desire
Sometimes, dialogue works best when it’s extremely one-sided. Wait, no that can’t be right? Yes, it is! One-sided dialogue is like a tea-kettle that simmers and simmers until it explodes.
Tennessee Williams is regarded as one of the great dialogue writers of all-time. This example from A Streetcar Named Desire is a perfect example why. Click the image link to read the scene in StudioBinder's screenwriting software.
Dialogue Between Two Characters Example
Hills Like White Elephants
Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” contains one of the most famous literary examples of dialogue. In this story, dialogue plays an essential role.
Hemingway doesn’t outright tell us what’s going on, but rather asks us to interpret the content of the two characters’ conversation. The end result is something naturalistic.
Kill Bill & Other Tarantino Films
Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films aren’t exactly known for their sharp dialogue – but there are some gold nuggets hidden underneath the blood and gore. In our video on Tarantino dialogue, we show you how high stakes, plot structure, and anecdotes grip readers in scenes 10 pages or longer.
Check out the Kill Bill: Volume 2 confrontation scene below, and consider how dialogue paces the scene.
Dialogue Examples in Literature
Macbeth is a great play to study if you want to learn about dialogue. The conversations between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are particularly insightful for writers because they represent an ever-shifting power dynamic.
This scene from Act Three, Scene Two shows the deterioration of Macbeth’s mind – and Lady Macbeth’s desperate attempt to restore order.
How to Edit a Dialogue Scene
Inspired by these examples? Ready to work on your own dialogue scene? Use our next article on “how to edit a dialogue scene” as a reference for your work. We’ll show you a variety of creative and technical strategies for turning a simple exchange into an unforgettable one. By the end, you’ll know how to approach a dialogue scene in a myriad of ways.