It can help to think of speech as an action. People don't speak for no reason!

Characters often try to influence each other through their emotions.

For example, characters might intimidate or threaten each other.

In this snippet, Mango’s school principal is intimidating her in order to get a confession

Ms. Lipschultz interlaced her fingers on the desk and got right to the point. “Destruction of property is a serious offense, Mango. Do you understand that?”

  • Characters can intimidate each other to make them do something or prevent them from doing something.
  • Intimidation can be direct or indirect.
  • Direct intimidation or threats can sound a lot like commands ("Put your hands up or I shoot!").
  • Indirect intimidation or threats can sound more like questions or statements of information ("Be a shame if you didn't put your hands up.").

In the snippet above, you need to know that Mango has done something wrong, and the prinicipal knows it, to understand that the principal is intimidating her—otherwise you might think she was just providing some information.

A character’s intimidation only works if they can back it up with action. In the snippet above, Ms. Lipschultz is trying to use her power as a principal and the power of the law to back up her threat.

When you read the examples below, and write your own, think about what power the speaker has to back up their threat.

“I wouldn’t call us little.”

The lions stalked out from the underbrush. One and two and three and four, all with mouths as big as my head, and teeth as long as my nose. 

The leader smiled a hungry smile. “I think we’re more than big enough to eat a small boy and his pet fraidy cat.”

The security guard crossed her arms and frowned. I could smell cigarette smoke on her as she marched by the three of us.

“Alright, that's enough,” she spat gruffly. “You're all in a lot of trouble. IDs. Now. Don't be pretending like you don't have anything on you.”

Write your own variation where one character tries to intimidate another. What do they want the other character to do (or not do)? Are they direct or indirect? Will it work? Do they have the power to back up the threat?

Meme of Fry from Futurama not knowing where to put punctuation

True dat. Dialogue punctuation can be finicky.

Here's a handy guide (or you can just google for dialogue punctuation—everyone has the same questions!)