Narrative Basics Lesson 2: Action

Describing action

Environmental action

In stories, characters aren’t always the only ones taking action. Sometimes the world around them acts too: the weather, the landscape, objects, even their own bodies.

Here’s a snippet in which the environment—the weather and daylight—is changing.

The weather wasn’t nearly as beautiful as it had been earlier in the week, but it was definitely just as peaceful. The sunlight of daybreak was now being overshadowed by the gloom of clouds.

Miles Morales: Spider-ManJason ReynoldsSource

While in the next snippet, Aaron’s body mummifies piece by piece, like it’s just part of the world.

Before Miles could say anything else, Aaron’s cheeks sank, and his nose narrowed into a blade of skin and cartilage. The patch of hair on his chin grew long and white. There were burn marks on his face that began to wrinkle and crack like dry clay.

Miles Morales: Spider-ManJason ReynoldsSource

If you're interested, go back and look at those two snippets again, and pay attention to the tense. Notice how the first snippet uses passive tense? The environment was changing. Nothing specifically is acting, except maybe the clouds. While in the second snippet, each part of Aaron's face is acting almost of its own accord.

The point is that those are examples of two flavours of action: one passive, one more active. Do you feel how they are different? Do you have a preference?

Here are some more examples in which the environment is doing all the action.

The snow fell steadily, causing car windows to frost up and puddles to ice over. Alexei’s breath turned to steam before him as he waited for the traffic light to change.

The walls of the kitchen shook, and glass bottles and tins rattled on their shelves. Henry’s eardrums thrummed. Every hair on every cat stood on end.

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