Action and Imagery

Concepts for making your story writing better.

A story in fiction, to be admired and remembered, needs, among many, these essential elements—action, conflict, and active imageic-words.

In-scene storytelling is often more effective to engage and involve readers than telling-narration. The first example tells of a happening in narrative; the second, for comparison, is written in scene.


Harry flew a kite at the beach to entertain his invalid son but the kite got away, and Harry seethed with anger.

Many writers would think that changing from past to present tense would provide immediacy of action. Harry flies a kite at the beach to entertain his invalid son but the kite gets away, and Harry seethes with anger. From a reader’s pleasure-view, not much improvement. And, in fact, in-scene reader involvement can be well established in past tense (without inherent problems of present tense), and is usually preferable, at least here.

Compare in scene

Here is the same scene with the idea expressed using expanded, selected word choice; insertion of active (rather than passive) construction; and use of concrete imagery… all bolded to emphasize.

A wind gust elevated the dragon kite and the string ran through Harry’s hand fast enough to hurt.
        “Let me do it, Daddy,” his son Raymond said as he limped to Harry’s side. The boy held out his hand that, when awake, trembled from a congenital palsy. Could he hold the string? Fly the kite? He wanted to so badly.
        “Hold tight,” Harry urged, placing the string in the boy’s hand. The kite dipped then suddenly soared, the string taught again.
        The boy cried out. “I dropped it.” Harry reached out but the kite had lofted too far to grab the trailing string.
        The kite disappeared, driven out to the sea by the force of the wind.
        “I didn’t mean too,” the boy said, “Please don’t hit me.”

Note the words:

Active verbs: elevated, ran through (hand), hurt, limped, trembled, dipped, soared, dropped, lofted, disappeared, hit.
Concrete nouns: gust, palsy, string, sea.
Concrete modifiers: dragon, taught, trailing.

To improve as a fiction writer and storyteller:
1)  ritualize use of a dictionary and Thesaurus to search for the right words;
2) develop in-scene writing techniques (to replace narrative telling); be concrete–not abstract; keep perspective close to the action; keep characters’ sensations in their senses—sight, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling;
3) avoid passive constructions; and
4) rigorously seek the right balance for the story being told between narrative and in-scene telling.

Thanks for reading!


What do you do to make scenes come alive in literary fiction?
Keep readers involved when writing literary fiction stories

Creating Literary Stories

Looking for award-winning fiction books to read? By William H. Coles! TRY…
Guardian of Deceit
The Spirit of Want
The Surgeon’s Wife
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016

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