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Show don’t tell: Crafting good scenario dialogue

Show dont tell - Crafting good scenario dialogue

The point of a simulated scenario is for it to seem real to the learner. One big step to achieving this is crafting believable scenario dialogue that shows learners what is happening, instead of telling them. Think of a conversation you have with a friend – you don’t have an omniscient voice describing each thought you have or what actions you take, do you?

You simply talk to each other and let observing parties make up their own mind about the situation.

Here are a few short tips on how to achieve that.

Put dialog in quotation marks

A simple yet very effective technique. Don’t describe what people say – actually have them say it. And we do that in writing by using quotation marks.

Have a look at the examples below – which is more natural and realistic?

Telling

Showing

Write as if it were a movie

Consider most movies you’ve seen. Very rarely (if at all) do we have a narrator explaining how people feel about a certain situation. Instead the actors play out a scenario and through the clear use of dialogue, let the viewer discern their feelings.

It is the same for scenarios.

Telling

Showing

As you’ve probably noticed, showing generally requires more text. This is okay, because the writing is more engaging and let’s learners draw their own conclusions – which is hugely important.

Don’t tell them what to think

If you stick the learner into the scenario as a ‘you’ character, don’t tell them what to think or feel in the dialogue. The whole point of a lot of scenarios is for the student to figure this stuff out on their own. Consider the examples below, the dialogue that has been crossed out tells readers how they feel, instead of letting them make up their own mind.

You only have two days left to turn in the report. You’re worrying and panicked because you haven’t done any work on it since Tuesday. 

Thomas hasn’t shown up to tennis practice in over two weeks. You sure he’s been spending time with Amy instead.

You have a bad feeling about this. The front door is ajar and all the lights in the house are off. You’re worried someone might be hurt.

On her blog, Cathy Moore offers readers a free toolkit that can help further improve your writing skills.