Narrative Basics Lesson 2: Action

Describing action

Meaning of action

Consider this puzzle:

  • Action: I punch you.
  • Reaction: You laugh.

Did my action succeed or fail? Did I get what I wanted from punching you?

It depends! If I was angry and trying to hurt you, maybe I failed. If we were both laughing and wrestling, then maybe I succeeded.

It all depends on what the punch and your laughter mean.

To understand a story, readers need to understand what the actions mean. Sometimes the actions speak for themselves, but sometimes writers need to explain.

For example, in this snippet, what does it mean that Miles killed his uncle?

When you fight your uncle to the death, it’s hard to shake it. Hard to not see his face, his eyes glossing over, his breath slowing, gurgling, stopping. It’s hard to keep it a secret. A secret that seems to seep into everything—your immediate family, your school, your sleep.

Miles Morales: Spider-ManJason ReynoldsSource

In this story, it means that Miles suffers under a load of guilt. In a different story, it could mean something else entirely.

Here are some more examples where we see an action, and then the writer explains what it means.

Alexei watched as Sasha talked to the police officer, laughing at his jokes. Alexei could tell that she was going to get them out of trouble once again.

Henry sat in the storeroom, amidst a circle of milk cartons. One carton past expiry was bad enough. Six suggested his job was at risk.

Your turn

You’re not logged in!

If you want to save your writing, login and either assign this lesson to yourself or access it via your group.

Like what you see?