Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Writing 101: Lesson # 4

Scenes and Putting Actions and Emotions in Dialogue
by Molly Noble Bull

In lesson # 3, we learned that a scene must end in disaster for the viewpoint character. But in fiction, a disaster doesn’t always mean a person died or the main character lost a fistfight. In a scene, a disaster simply means that the viewpoint character didn’t reach his or her goal for that scene.
Let us say that the teenage viewpoint character has a date with the cutest boy in school, and her goal in chapter one is to catch the bus on the corner and meet the hero at the football game. But she misses the last bus out. (Disaster)
More about scenes will appear in future chapters.

A couple of lessons ago, we learned that narration or narrative writing tells, like “Once upon a time there were three little pigs.” We also learned that dialogue shows and that a scene was that part of a chapter, book or story that takes place as it happened, second by second.
Scenes give the reader the feeling of actually being there.
Scenes can also describe emotions like being happy.

“She was happy” is telling, and good writers don’t tell they show.

“She smiled” is showing, and good writers show their characters saying something or doing something.

Not all dialogues contain the words “he said” or “she said.” There is something better.
Good writers often substitute a sentence that contains action for “he said” or “she said.”


“I’ll get it,” he said. (Okay)

“I’ll get it.” He raced to the door and opened it. (Better)

“I don’t understand,” she said. (Okay)

She shook her head. “I don’t understand.” (Better)

Here are some sentences that tell. Think of action words that show those same emotions and actions and write them in your sentences.

I will do the first two to get you started. Then you do the rest. Replace every “was” sentence or phrase with a sentence that contains action words, and remember, there can be many possible answers. I would like for you to get in the habit of actually acting out these emotion as if you were a character in a play or movie before writing them down on paper.

After hearing the news, he was sad. (telling)

He dropped his head, frowned and his shoulders slumped. (showing)

She nodded. (showing the word yes instead of saying it)

Show a character doing these things by their actions.

Write a non-verbal “no” that shows.
Answer: She shook her head.

He was thirsty.
(He was thirsty is telling. But when you describe him being thirsty by his actions, that’s showing. Describe him being thirsty. Then do the same thing with the rest of the examples below. )

Roger was disappointed.

Susan was also disappointed.

Nancy was hungry.

Judy was sick to her stomach.

Bob had a headache.

Mary was tired.

Jim was nervous.

Alice went inside.

Roger’s tooth hurt.

Susan’s arm itched.

George’s joke was very funny.

Lucy was very unhappy.

Jason liked to ride his horse.

He hated to do homework.

Sally liked to help mom in the kitchen.

Brenda was frightened of Pete’s dog.

Using as many of the telling sentences above as you like, write short dialogues. You will need at least three lines of dialogue and one action sentence for each. Below are two examples. Number your examples as I did below. Post no more than one of your answers below, and I will comment on it.

Example 1:

“I’m sorry, Roger,” the teacher said. “You failed the math test.”

“May I take it again, ma’am? You let me the last time.”

“No. You can’t. I have to turn in my semester grades in thirty minutes.”

He dropped his head, frowned and his shoulders slumped.

Example 2:

“Are you packed and ready to go camping, Susan?” her mother asked.

Susan glanced at the floor. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, you don’t look very excited about the trip. Is something wrong?”

She nodded. “My friend Mary has the chicken pox, and I just found a spot under my bangs.”

See you next time.
Molly Noble Bull


Suzanne Lieurance said...


What a great blog! I'm glad I found it. I'll be back often for writing tips. Thanks so much.

Suzanne Lieurance
The Working Writer's Coach
"When Your Pen Won't Budge, Read The Morning Nudge"

Molly Noble Bull said...

Dear Suzanne,
I am so glad you like our blog and my writing tips. If you scroll down, down you can also read lesson # 3, and lessons one and two are in the archives section.
I plan to visit your blog, and I hope you visit my websites.
Molly Noble Bull