Narrative Basics Lesson 2: Action

Describing action

Sequencing action

Stories don’t just have one action; they are a sequence of actions. Sometimes actions happen one after the other, and sometimes they happen at the same time. 

One of the challenges in writing a story is making it clear what is happening when.

Here’s a snippet with five actions.

Good morning, Miles said to himself, his hands covering his face as his eyes adjusted to the sun pouring in through his window. But one eye wouldn’t open.

Miles Morales: Spider-ManJason ReynoldsSource

But four of these actions happen at the same time.

Good morning, Miles said to himself, his hands covering his face as his eyes adjusted to the sun pouring in through his window. But one eye wouldn’t open.

Miles Morales: Spider-ManJason ReynoldsSource

How does Jason Reynolds help us understand what action is happening all at once?

Good morning, Miles said to himself, his hands covering his face as his eyes adjusted to the sun pouring in through his window. But one eye wouldn’t open.

Miles Morales: Spider-ManJason ReynoldsSource

He does two things:

  • He uses connecting words or punctuation to either join or separate actions, and
  • He changes from past to present tense to help show actions happening at the same time.

Here are some examples that follow the pattern of several simultaneous actions, then one action by itself.

Alexei fumbled with the keys, his hands shivering as he huddled in front of the door to block the howling wind. The lock clicked open.

Cassie balanced on one foot, holding the door open with her other, while she grabbed the glass of lemonade that Henry was pouring. A stream of lemonade trickled to the floor.

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