Writing Dialogue [20 Best Examples + Formatting Guide]

Have you ever found yourself cringing at clunky dialogue while reading a book or watching a movie? I know I have.

It’s like nails on a chalkboard, completely ruining the experience. But on the flip side, well-written dialogue can transform a story. It’s the magic that makes characters leap off the page, immersing us in their world.

As a writer, I’m fascinated by the mechanics of great dialogue.

So here are 20 of the best examples of writing dialogue that brings your story to life.

Example 1: Dialogue that Reveals Character

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Writer at a computer working on dialogue
I made this image — Writing Dialogue

One of the most powerful functions of dialogue is to shed light on your characters’ personalities.

The way they speak – their word choice, tone, even their hesitations – can tell us so much about who they are. Check out this example:

“Look, I ain’t gonna sugarcoat this,” the detective growled, his knuckles whitening as he gripped the chair. “You were spotted leaving the scene, and the murder weapon’s got your prints all over it.”

Without any lengthy description, we get a sense of this detective as a no-nonsense, direct type of guy.

Example 2: Dialogue that Builds Tension

Dialogue can become this amazing tool to ratchet up the tension in a scene.

Short, clipped exchanges and carefully placed silences can leave the reader on the edge of their seat.

Here’s how it might play out:

“Do you hear that?” Sarah whispered.

“Hear what?”

A scratching noise echoed from the attic. Sarah’s eyes widened.

“It’s coming back.”

The suspense is killing me just writing that!

Example 3: Dialogue that Drives the Plot

Conversations aren’t just about characters sitting around and chatting.

Great dialogue should actively push the story forward. It can set up a conflict, reveal key information, or change the course of events.

Take a look at this:

“I’ve made my decision,” the king declared, the crown heavy on his brow. “We go to war.”

A single line, and the whole trajectory of the story shifts.

Formatting Tips: The Basics

Now, before we get carried away, let’s cover some essential dialogue formatting rules.

Think of these as the grammar of a good conversation.

  • Quotation Marks: Yep, those little squiggles are your best friend. They signal to the reader: “Hey! Someone’s talking!”
  • New Speaker, New Paragraph: Whenever a different character starts talking, give them a new paragraph. It’s all about keeping things easy to follow.
  • Dialogue Tags: These are the little phrases like “he said” or “she replied.” Use them, but try not to overuse them. A well-placed action beat can often do a better job of showing who’s speaking.

Example 4: Dialogue that Creates Humor

Dialogue can be ridiculously funny when done well.

The key? Snappy exchanges, playful misunderstandings, and just a dash of absurdity. Consider this:

“I saw the weirdest thing at the grocery store today,” Tom said, “A woman arguing with a head of lettuce.”

“Was she winning?” Lily asked, a grin playing on her lips.

You can almost hear the deadpan delivery, can’t you?

Example 5: Dialogue that Shows Relationships

The way characters speak to each other says a ton about the dynamics between them.

Is there warmth, hostility, an underlying power struggle? Dialogue can paint a crystal-clear picture. Imagine this exchange:

“You didn’t do the dishes again?” Sarah sighed, hands planted on her hips.

“Aw, c’mon babe. I was busy,” Mike whined, avoiding her gaze.

We instantly sense the long-suffering tone from Sarah and the playful guilt from Mike.

Example 6: Dialogue with Subtext

The most interesting dialogue often has layers. What the characters say might not be exactly what they mean.

This is where subtext comes in – the unspoken thoughts and feelings bubbling beneath the surface.

Take this snippet:

“It’s a nice ring,” Emily said, her voice flat.

“You don’t like it?” Mark’s brow furrowed.

Emily shrugged. “It’s fine.”

Is Emily truly indifferent? Or is she masking disappointment, perhaps a sense of something not being quite right? Subtext makes us read between the lines.

Formatting Tips: Getting Fancy

Now, let’s spice things up with a few more advanced formatting tricks:

  • Ellipses (…): These little dots are perfect for showing a character trailing off, hesitating, or searching for words. Example: “I…I don’t know what to say.”
  • Em Dashes (—): These guys can interrupt a thought or indicate a sudden change in direction. Example: “I was going to apologize, but then — well, you’re still being a jerk.”
  • Internal Dialogue: Instead of quotation marks, sometimes you’ll want to italicize a character’s inner thoughts. Example: Why did I say that? I’m such an idiot.

Cautionary Note

It’s important to remember: dialogue shouldn’t feel like an interrogation. Avoid rigid “question-answer, question-answer” patterns. Real conversations flow and meander naturally.

Example 7: Dialogue with Dialects and Accents

Regional dialects and accents can bring so much flavor to your characters, but it’s a delicate balance.

You want to add authenticity without it becoming a caricature or making it hard to understand.

Here’s a subtle example:

“Well, I’ll be darned,” drawled the farmer, squinting at the sky. “Looks like a storm’s brewin’.”

Notice how just a few word choices and a slight change in pronunciation hint at the speaker’s background.

Example 8: Dialogue in Groups

Writing conversations with more than two people can get chaotic fast. The key is clarity.

Here are a few tips:

  • Strong Dialogue Tags: Sometimes, you need to be more specific than just “he said” or “she said”. Example: “Don’t be ridiculous,” scoffed Sarah.
  • Action Beats: Break up chunks of dialogue with actions that show who’s speaking. Example: Tom slammed his fist on the table. “I won’t stand for this!”

Example 9: Dialogue Over the Phone (or Other Technology)

Conversations where characters aren’t physically together pose unique challenges.

You can’t rely on body language cues. Instead, focus on conveying tone and potential misunderstandings.

For instance:

“Hello?” Sarah’s voice crackled through the phone.

A long pause. “Sarah, is that you?”

“Mom? Why are you whispering?”

Instantly there’s a sense of distance and something not being quite right.

Example 10: Inner Monologue with a Twist

We often think of internal dialogue as a single character reflecting, but sometimes our inner voices can argue.

This can be a powerful way to showcase internal conflict.

Here’s how it might look:

You should just tell him how you feel, one voice chimed.

Are you crazy? the other shrieked back. He’ll never feel the same way.

This creates a vivid picture of a character torn between opposing desires.

Example 11: Dialogue With a Manipulative Character

Manipulative characters often use language as a weapon.

They might use guilt trips, flattery, or veiled threats to get what they want.

Consider this:

“After everything I’ve done for you…” The old woman sighed, a flicker of disappointment in her eyes. “Well, I guess I shouldn’t expect gratitude.”

Notice how she doesn’t directly ask for anything, instead hinting at a debt, leaving the listener feeling uneasy and obligated.

Example 12: Dialogue Across Time Periods

If you’re writing historical fiction or anything with time travel elements, you’ll need to capture the distinct speech patterns of different eras.

Imagine this exchange:

“Gadzooks! What manner of contraption is this?” The Victorian gentleman exclaimed, staring in bewilderment at the smartphone.

“It’s a phone,” the teenager replied, barely suppressing a laugh. “Let me show you.”

This little snippet highlights the potential for both humor and linguistic challenges when worlds collide.

Formatting Tip: Dialogue Without Tags

Sometimes, for a rapid-fire or dreamlike effect, you might want to ditch the “he said” or “she asked” altogether.

It’s a bold move, but it can be effective if done sparingly.

Check this out:

“Where are you going?”


“When will you be back?”

“I don’t know.”

“Please don’t leave me.”

This creates a sense of urgency, the raw exchange forcing us to focus solely on the words themselves.

Example 13: Dialogue that Shows Transformation

A great way to showcase how a character develops is through shifts in how they speak.

Maybe they become bolder, quieter, or their vocabulary changes.

Let’s see an example:

Scene 1: “I-I don’t know,” Emily whimpered, cowering in the corner.

Scene 2 (Later in the story): “That’s it. I’m not taking this anymore!” Emily declared, her chin held high.

The dialogue itself reflects her transformation from victim to someone ready to stand up for herself.

Example 14: Dialogue that’s Just Plain Weird

It’s okay to get strange sometimes.

Absurdist humor or unsettling conversations can add a unique flavor to your story. Just be sure it fits the overall tone.

Consider this:

“Do you believe in cucumbers?” the man asked, his eyes wide and unblinking.

“Excuse me?”

“Cucumbers, my dear. Agents of the underground vegetable kingdom.”

This immediately creates a sense of oddness and perhaps a touch of unease. Is this guy crazy, or is there something more going on?

Example 15: Dialogue with a Purpose

Remember, good dialogue isn’t just about being entertaining.

It should move your story along. Here are some functions dialogue can serve:

  • Providing Exposition: Sometimes, you need to inform the reader of backstory or world-building details. Trickle information through natural conversation rather than an information dump.
  • Foreshadowing: Subtle hints within a conversation can foreshadow future events or create a sense of unease for the reader.
  • Revealing a Twist: A single line of dialogue can completely flip the script and reframe everything that came before.

Example 16: Dialogue with Non-Verbal Elements

So much of communication happens beyond just words.

Sighs, laughs, and gestures can add richness to dialogue on the page.

For instance:

“I’m fine,” she said, crossing her arms and looking away.

Notice how the body language contradicts her words, hinting at inner turmoil.

Example 17: Silence as Dialogue

Sometimes, what isn’t said is the most powerful thing of all.

A pregnant pause or a character refusing to speak can convey volumes.

Imagine this:

“So, will you help me or not?” Tom pleaded.

Sarah stared at him, her lips a thin line. Finally, she turned and walked away.

The lack of a verbal response speaks louder than any words could.

Example 18: Dialogue With Humorous Effect

A well-timed O.S. voice can deliver a funny remark or punchline, undercutting the seriousness of a scene or taking a moment in an unexpected comedic direction.



The teacher drones on about the causes of the American Revolution, his voice as dull as the worn textbook in front of him.

KEVIN tries to stifle his yawns, failing miserably.

STUDENT (O.S.) Is he ever going to stop talking? My brain just turned to mush.

Snickers ripple through the class. The teacher pauses, a look of annoyance flickering across his face. Kevin shoots a desperate look towards the source of the O.S. voice.


  • Timing is everything. The best comedic O.S. lines act as a witty reaction to something else happening in a scene. The student’s comment comes right as Kevin’s boredom peaks.
  • Subverting expectations is funny. The audience expects the scene to continue with a stern reprimand for speaking out of turn, but the script doesn’t give us that. This leaves room for further humor.
  • Consider the tone of the voice – sarcastic, matter-of-fact, or outright whiny? This adds to the comedic effect.

Example 19: Dialogue With Unexpected Reveals

Think of this as a surprise twist using O.S. dialogue.

The audience (and maybe even some characters) are led to believe one thing, only for an O.S. voice to reveal something completely unexpected, shifting the scene’s dynamic.



Photos of the crime scene are scattered on the table. HARRIS Don’t lie to me! We’ve got witnesses who saw you at the scene.

SUSPECT I – I swear, I had nothing to do with it! I was… I was with my girlfriend.

Harris leans in, a triumphant glint in her eyes. She claps her hands sharply, startling the suspect.

WOMAN (O.S.) That’s a lie! He was nowhere near me last night! The suspect whips around. His face pales as we hear the sound of the interrogation room door swinging open…


  • The power lies in the build-up. The initial dialogue and the characters’ reactions should lead the audience to believe one outcome, making the O.S. interruption all the more impactful.
  • Consider who speaks the O.S. line. Is it someone the audience recognizes, or a totally new character whose identity becomes a new mystery?
  • Play with the proximity of the voice. Is it right outside the room, adding to the dramatic reveal as the door opens, or is it more distant – perhaps a voice over an intercom – for an even more unsettling effect?

Example 20: Dialogue With a “Haunted” Feeling

Explanation: O.S. can be used to create an eerie or unsettling atmosphere, particularly in horror or psychological thrillers. This could be unexplained voices, creepy whispers, or sounds that hint at a supernatural (or simply unnerving) presence.


INT. OLD MANSION – NIGHTSARAH explores the abandoned mansion, flashlight cutting through the thick dust.

Cobwebs cling to every surface. A faint WHISPER drifts through the air, seeming to come from everywhere at once. Sarah freezes. VOICE (O.S.) Get out… leave this place…

Sarah’s breath catches in her throat. She hesitantly follows the direction of the voice, her flashlight beam trembling.


  • Less is more. The vaguer and more inexplicable the O.S. voice, the more chilling it becomes.
  • Layer sounds for a full creepy effect. Combine whispers with unexpected bangs, creaks, or the faint sound of footsteps following behind Sarah.
  • Play with audience expectations. If the script initially leads the audience to think the house is merely abandoned, the O.S. voices become that much more terrifying.

Here is a good video about writing dialogue:

YouTube Video by Jerry B. Jenkins — Writing Dialogue

Additional Dialogue Tips & Tricks

  • Read Your Dialogue Aloud: This is the best way to catch awkward phrasing or unnatural rhythms. Our ears often pick up on what our eyes might miss.
  • Less is More: Don’t feel the need to have every single interaction be profound. Sometimes a simple “Hey” or “Thanks” can do the job just fine.
  • Eavesdrop: Paying attention to real-life conversations is fantastic research. Note the pauses, the filler words, the way people interrupt each other.

Final Thoughts: Writing Dialogue

Phew! We did it!

Does that feel like a solid collection of dialogue examples? We haven’t covered absolutely every scenario, but I hope these illustrate the vast potential within dialogue to bring your stories to life.

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