5 Elements of Storytelling

by Joe Bunting | 80 comments

If you want to write a good (and publishable) short story, start by writing a balanced one. There are five elements of storytelling, and if you focus on one element too much your story can get off-kilter and topple.

Photo by Matthias Rhomberg

These five elements are the building blocks of story, and they are:

1. Action. What are your characters doing?

2. Dialogue. What are they saying?

3. Description. What are they see­ing, hear­ing, touch­ing, tast­ing, and smelling?

4. Inner Monologue. What are they thinking?

5. Exposition / Narrative. What other infor­ma­tion does the nar­ra­tor (IE you) want us to know?

I've added emotion in the past, but that can be lumped into inner monologue. Other people add summary, but that can be part of exposition.

Every writer focuses on some of these elements more than others. Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy are heavy on the action, dialogue, and description side. They give almost no inner monologue. Other writers like Dickens and George Elliott use more narrative and inner monologue.

Let's look at some examples:

1. Action

Tommy drove to the park. He walked on the grass barefoot and looked up when he passed under the oak trees. After walking for a little while, he sat against one of the oaks, closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Notice all the action verbs: drove, walked, passed, walking, sat, closed, fell.

2. Dialogue

He dreamt of his last conversation with Suzy.

“I'll never leave you,” he said.

“You don't have to. I'll be gone in the morning.”

“I'll follow you.”

“You can. I'll just leave again, though.”

“I'll follow forever if I have to.”

“If you want to torture yourself, be my guest.”

In dialogue, make sure you only use the verb said (as in he said / she said). It can be tempting to mix it up with verbs like exclaimed, shouted, whispered, added, countered, and so on. However, readers tend to ignore speaker tags, and varying them is distracting and doesn't add to the dialogue.

3. Description

Tommy woke to feel of a warm breeze on his cheeks and bare arms. The oak leaves struck into each other in the wind and sounded like an audience of elves applauding. He smelled the grass and the breeze tasted of lemon and iron.

Description is a great way to pace your story. If you pepper your story with description, you won't have to worry too much about your story moving too quickly for the reader. Don't use too much at one time though or your reader will get bored.

4. Inner Monologue

He thought of her and wondered where she was. He wondered if she was in trouble or with another man. He should follow her. He would get up in just a second. He just needed to sit there for a second more and breathe in the breeze and taste the air. Then he would go.

Inner monologue is the thing that sets apart writing from most other art forms. In film or theater, the audience rarely has access to the minds of the characters. Maybe that's why the “reality television” style has become so popular on shows like The Office and Modern Family.

However, if you overuse inner monologue your story will sound like a diary. It's also easy to lose the plot of the story if you use too much, and it can become too much telling and not enough showing.

5. Exposition / Narrative

But he didn't go, and Tommy never saw Suzy again, though he thought of her often and with regret. He stayed in Texas and fell in love with other women, none of which he married or even talked to much. He lived alone and died in the house they both lived in all those years ago.

Exposition is when the narrator takes over the story, often through some kind of summary or information dumping. It's like a voice over in a movie.

Exposition is necessary to tell almost all stories. However, it's an example of telling, and you want to show as much as possible. Use it sparingly.

Which storytelling element do you like using the most? 


Write a story about Tommy using all the elements above. After each sentence, write the storytelling element you used.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section.

And if you post, please comment on a few other pieces to let the writer know how they did.


Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.


  1. Chihuahua Zero

    I think I have seen this somewhere (possibly here) before, but it’s fun seeing this again, even in another forum. Something about seeing a neat categorization of story elements.

    • Joe Bunting

      Hi CZ. Yes, I’ve posted about these elements before. I felt it would be good to rehash them in a more complete way though. Glad you liked it 🙂

  2. Bronson O'Quinn

    A lot of people say I’m best at dialogue, but I really love finding great verbs for action bits. I’m not very good at the latter, but it feels wonderful when I pull it off.

    What about you, Joe? What storytelling element do you like most?

    • Katie Axelson

      Dialogue is my favorite too.

    • Joe Bunting

      Hey Bronson. I hear you. Good dialogue is awesome. Have you ever thought about writing plays? 

      I like action and description the best.

  3. Carey Rowland

    This is helpful, Joe. Thanks

  4. Cole Bradburn

    Very helpful.  I need to focus more on Action and Description.  Dialogue and Inner monologue seem to come easy, and even when I’m trying to limit them (telling) and describe more (showing), it seems they are in abundance.

    • Joe Bunting

      Some people can pull off a sort of Inner monologue action / description thing. The whole idea behind stream of consciousness is a filtering of all them through inner monologue. You might experiment with that. 

    • John Fisher

      Yeah!  I often tend to gravitate toward stream-of-consciousness.

  5. Hal

    All right, here goes.

    The musty, earthy scent of the pond filled his nostrils as he breathed in the early morning air. (description) The gurgling of a fish breaking the surface of the water, the buzzing of flies, gnats, and mosquitoes forging a quiet din that was, to Tommy, the unique cacophony of home.(description) He raised the lid on a single eye, peering out to see the morning, his first peek of the day to come. (action) The light filtering in overloaded his eyes, used to the dark after so many hours of still, sleeping reflection. (action) The lid snapped shut again. (action) Perhaps I should sleep for just a little while longer. (inner monologue) It was foolish, he knew. The kingfisher would be through soon, and he had to move to more protected waters. (description) His stomach rumbled. (action) “Soon,” he muttered to it, patting it gingerly with a green three fingered hand. (dialogue)

    “What’s soon?” another voice piped up. (dialogue) It was no one he had ever heard before. (action)

    “Who’s there? Who is talking to me?”(dialogue)

    “It’s me. Just call me Pablo.”(dialogue)

    “Pablo? That’s a funny name. I’m Tommy.”(dialogue) He opened both of his eyes and looked around. (action) “Where are you, Pablo? I can’t see you.”(dialogue)

    “Oh, I’m very near. Don’t worry about seeing me – I’m very small. It’s nice to meet you, Tommy. What are you going to do, today?”(dialogue)

    “Today? Well, first I have to get over to that tree over there – I want to be out of the way when the King comes.”(dialogue)

    “Who’s the king?”(dialogue)

    “He’s a giant bird that comes down here everyday and lances my friends and neighbors.”(dialogue)

    “Seems kind of rude. Does he ever talk to anyone or apologize?” (dialogue)

    “Why would he? Bird’s gotta eat. Frog’s gotta be sneaky, or frog’s bird food. Circle of life and all that.”(dialogue)

    Pablo said nothing. (action) Seemed like a short and brutal existence, ended by something bigger and hungrier than you was the way of life. (inner monologue) He accepted it; it was the way it had always been, but he didn’t like it. He wanted to live, and to die an old gnat, watching his great great grandgnats flitting around. (inner monologue, action)

    • Marianne

      This is a good scene.  I can see how the pieces all fit.  I like your idea of the frog and the gnat talking.  

    • Joe Bunting

      Well done, Hal. Good scene and good labels. I like how you define the last bit as inner monologue / action, and I think you’re right. I only caught one label I disagree with:

      It was no one he had ever heard before. (action)

      To me that’s either narrative / exposition or inner monologue. It’s hard to say. I don’t think it’s action though. Does that make sense?

      Besides that, excellent job!

    • Hal

      Totally makes sense. I was trying to adhere to the instructions and label every sentence. Action was absolutely not the right choice (and there was no exposition option 🙂 Thanks for the feedback.

    • Hal

      Hah I guess exposition was there. How did I miss that? Well, c’est la vie.

    • Joe Bunting


      No problem. I hope the exercise helped.

    • John Fisher

      Very original twist on a story about Tommy!  I like “forging a quiet din”, great turn of phrase.  The story keeps the reader’s interest because you don’t really find out who the players are till the end!

    • JB Lacaden

      Great way of describing the setting of the story. Nice writing. 🙂

    • zo-zo

      Loved it!!!  Especially the description of the first paragraph!

    • Yvette Carol

      I really felt I was there!

  6. DanielaDragas

    Hi Joe,

    Thank you for this useful and insightful post. I am only new
    to the blogosphere but found your blog very useful. ‘Wrestling’ with the craft
    of short story writing has always been challenging for me. Reading this post
    made me analyse some of those I published on my blog and I can see how some of
    them suffer from too much description, exposition, and/or narrative. For the exercise
    you suggested, I have used the last one I published that is somewhat different
    to those I wrote earlier. I wanted to see how does it ‘fit’. I hope that will
    be OK with you. Any suggestion you or others may have will be most welcome.
    Thank you.

     So here it goes:

    Action: ‘When bus arrived this morning, I heard my
    name called. That startled me. Young woman was smiling at me between the raw of
    bus chairs. I recognized her face. We attended some classes at University
    together. I smiled at her and she moved few steps to sit beside me.’

    Dialogue: “Oh
    really? You mean like court reports?”

    “No, not really.”

    “So what do you write then?”

    “I write stories, and poetry and posts for my

    “Oh, I see you mean you are writing for a

    “No, I have not published anything yet.”

    Description: ‘Every
    morning I wait for a sleepy yellow bus to turn up at the end of my street. My wind
    swept street, rain washed street, bathed in golden sun street. The small group
    of usual suburban commuters lingers around. Tired office workers, woman with
    large hips and thick pink lipstick, students hunched over their readings, with
    fingers busy over small keyboards on even smaller gadgets.’

    Inner Monologue: ‘I
    could not recall her name, but sound of her voice evoked images of her in that
    class; always punctual, focused, eager, assignments completed before their
    deadlines. Well pitched presentations. Great networking skills. Brisk movements
    and sharp eloquence.’

    Exposition/Narrative: ‘It
    was at that moment I noticed her well cut business suit, soft leather briefcase and gold
    rimmed glasses. From the corner of my eye I caught the glimpse of rain starting
    outside and a small boy running across the road holding his mother’s hand
    tightly in his.’


    • Wanda Kiernan

      Do you mean for this to be a story or just elements of one?  Did you organize it using Joe’s order?  I could see a story here but organized in this order: Description, Action, Inner Monologue, Exposition/Narrative, Dialogue.  With a bit more editing you could have a nice tight short story.  The dialogue suggests the story could take another turn, and may give you the opportunity to try the 5 elements again.  Good luck with your writing.

    • DanielaDragas

      Hi Wanda,

      Thank you for your input. These were the elements of the
      shorty story I published on my blog.



    • Joe Bunting

      I like it Daniela. I actually really enjoyed the inner monologue section. I might make some corrections on your tags, though. 

      The exposition/narrative section is closer to action and description. And there are some exposition and inner monologue elements in your action section:

      ‘When bus arrived this morning, I heard myname called (action). That startled me (inner monologue). Young woman was smiling at me between the raw of bus chairs (action but it’s tinged with description of what your character is seeing). I recognized her face. We attended some classes at Universitytogether (exposition—this is classic backstory). I smiled at her and she moved few steps to sit beside me (action).

      I know that’s kind of complicated. I think you did well though 🙂

    • DanielaDragas

      Hi Joe,

      Thank you very much for your time and help. I am really glad
      you like it. I published this short little piece on my blog recently and just
      wanted to use some elements to see how it will look like. I appreciate your
      help and really like your site. As I am writing in my second language, I can
      always do with help.

      Kind Regards,


  7. Mollie

    Tommy picked up her pace as she ran alongside the slow-moving train.  Harriet reached out to catch hold of Tommy’s extended hands.  As she was lifted into the car.
    As she caught her breath, she looked around at the new faces.
    “Hi, I’m Tommy,” she said.  “Tommy Kilgoode.”
    “The preacher’s daughter?” Said a scruffy man.
    “Yeah,” Harriet said, “Old man Kilgoode.”
    “Thought you was supposed to marry that Jedediah Weaver.”
    Tommy blushed, “Not me.  I’ll never be stuck with him.”
    The air in the car seemed to grow tight as everyone stared blankly at Tommy.  She breathed in the dank smell of wet hay and leaves.  The car’s monotonous rattling seemed to tell her, “Go back, Go back, Go back.”
    She thought of Mamma standing on the front porch ringing the dinner bell, Daddy pulling up in his wagon with the eldest boys in the back.  Jedediah Weaver would be over today too.  She sighed and folded her arms across her chest.  He would probably be the first to notice her absence.  Glad of the dark, she let the tears slip down her dirty cheeks.
    Tommy could have turned back when the train reached the end of town, but she didn’t.  The hurt was too deep, and her dreams too big for her to go home then.  But after a few years out in the big world, her heart yearned for home and she returned to marry simple Jedediah Weaver.  Good thing, too, for soon after their marriage, he struck it rich in deep, greasy black gold.

    • Katie Axelson

      I like how you broke the five elements up into their own section for the practice. Now, try intermingling them.


    • Mollie

       Thanks.  This was hard, as I often focus on dialogue and description.  I’m working on creating a combination.

    • zo-zo

      This was very evocative and engrossing, Mollie!  Really enjoyed it!  The only thing was that it felt like a massive jump after ‘her dreams too big for her to go home then’ to her changing her mind – that felt like it came very much out the blue, and didn’t fit with the rest.  But  I did love the ‘deep, greasy black gold’!!

    • Mollie

       Thank you, zo-zo.  Honestly, I didn’t like the abrupt ending either.  I was trying to do exposition instead of narrative.  However, I felt like Tommy would have come back home and deserved wealthy liberation from her humble home.  I just didn’t write it like I should have.

    • Yvette Carol

      A surprise ending. Yay!!! You’ve got some nice turns of phrase Mollie which felt fresh

    • Mollie

       Thank you.  I feel the ending was surprise, but too abrupt as zo-zo mentioned.   Thank you, I try to keep it fresh and not to let grammar bog me down.

  8. John Fisher

    Tommy threw his mortarboard hat in the air with all the others and they set up a wild series of overlapping whoops that made the old gym ring.  [description] It was over, his school career — unless he went to college. [inner dialogue]  What was he going to do? [inner dialogue] 

    He shoved such thoughts away and found Larry in the crowd and then Ricky immediately joined them; they made for the exit together, the old gang, or at least the nucleus of it.  [description]  “Remember the keg party, it’s at Tricia’s, her folks are cool with it,” Larry instructed.  [dialogue]  “Yeah, I’ll be there as soon as I get off.” [dialogue]  Ricky’s eyes flared. [description]  “You mean yer old man’s makin’ you work TONIGHT?” [dialogue]  Tommy shot Ricky a side-long look; the question didn’t deserve an answer. [description]  They all knew what a hard-nose Tommy’s dad was. [description]  “I’ll see you guys then.” [dialogue]    

    Tommy walked out to the last row of the parking lot where he always parked his car, the pride of his life, a 1958 Chevy Impala, the first year for Impalas, with the big-block 348, three-dueces Power Pak and a Hearst shifter.  [description]He’d painted it bright canary yellow and installed black rolled-and-pleated upolstery inside.  [description]  As he climbed behind the huge old steering wheel, something felt different but he couldn’t name what it was. [description]

    He pulled up in front of the machine shop ten minutes early.  [description]  Sonny was sitting on the front-end loader in the front yard, smoking and waiting till the last possible moment to clock in.  [description]  He grinned at Tommy. [description]  “Get all gradjimitated?”  [dialogue]

    “Yep.” [dialogue]

    “Get drunk yet?” [dialogue]

    That comes later.”  [dialogue]  They grinned at each other and walked in to the time-clock. [description]

    I may go to college, he mused.  [inner dialogue]  Maybe the band will hit big and I can leave all this behind. [inner dialogue]  But I’ll always have a job here. [inner dialogue]

    • Katie Axelson

      I like your story John. I did notice you only labeled three of the five elements. Do you have something against the labels for action and exposition? I definitely think some of your “descriptions” are really action.


    • John Fisher

      Katie, you know what I did?  In getting involved with writing the story, I completely forgot about two of the elements, Exposition/Narative and Action!  I realize now that some of my sentences would more appropriately fit in one of these two neglected categories.  Thank you for the good feedback!

    • Marianne

      And I got so into reading it that I didn’t notice.  It’s funny how it’s so easy to get carried away but I like to get carried away while I read or write. That was good thanks.  

    • JB Lacaden

      I like the emotion involved in the story. The feeling of transitioning from one phase of your life to the next.

  9. Juliana Austen

    Not sure I got all of those – great to practice though – Thanks!
    Tommy pushed Alf and laughed. (action)

    “What are you think your doing?”  Alf grabbed his head in a head lock,
    Tommy dug a finger into Alf’s ribs as he wriggled out of the hold and and began
    to sprint down the road.

    “Oww – I’ll get you” (dialogue)

    Tommy slid around the corner whooping as he
    went and careened into old Mrs Potter. (action)

    “Sorry, sorry Mrs P.” he said and picked up
    her basket and parcels.

    Alf slid around the corner and his face
    dropped as he saw the old woman.

    She stared at the two boys hard, her face
    creased into a frown. (description)

    “What are you doing? Can’t a body even walk
    on the street without a gaggle of undisciplined louts, yes louts, knocking a
    poor old lady off her feet.” (dialogue)

    I didn’t knock…. Tommy caught her eye and
    hung his head. She was tiny Mrs Potter but she was fierce. (description)

    “Sorry Mrs Potter” he said

    “Sorry” said Alf. He hung his head

    “Why are you here? Why aren’t over there
    with the boys?” she said.

    “We are not old enough Mrs Potter. You
    gotta be 18 to enlist.” said Tommy. (dialogue)

    “So you’ll be going soon then?” She said
    and glared at the boys as she continued up the street.

    “Yeah, we’ll be going soon.” said Alf.

    They continued down the road slower now.

    “Have you heard from Jim?” Tommy asked

    Alf nodded “He wrote to our mum and said he
    was going to France.”

    Larry is still in Eygpt – he’s been pretty

    “I have only got 6 weeks till my birthday.”
    Said Alf

    “I’ve already talked to the recruiting
    officer. Dad’s going to sign the form”. Said Tommy. (dialogue)

    “So you’ll be able to go soon? My mother is
    never going to sign that form, never!”

    “Next week.” Tommy  said “I go to camp, next week”. His
    friend stared at him and then put out his hand and said “Good job Tommy.” The
    pair shook hands solemnly. (action)

    Tommy stared at the blue sky and the
    familiar houses of this street where he had lived all his life, with his
    brothers, and his friends. Would he see it again he wondered he felt excited
    and fearful in equal parts whatever happened nothing was ever going to be quite
    the same again.  (inner monologue)

    • Wanda Kiernan

      From the playfulness of the boys at the start of your story, I thought they were much younger than weeks away from being able to enlist.  And Tommy’s thoughts about his life on the block, and how it will change once he enlists and goes away is very poignant.  I was going to recommend to somehow let the reader know sooner that the boys were older, but after reading it a second time I’m not so sure.  The innocence  that the playfulness evokes is a nice contrast to the impending seriousness of enlisting and going to war.

    • Hal

      Interesting moment in time. I agree with Wanda that the playfulness of the boys is anachronistic with their ages. 

      I also wonder about how sincere an apology from the two boys would be. They’re 18 year old boys – men, really – that are full of testosterone and themselves. They’re all amped up about going to war, to fight, and maybe to die for their country.

      They should be out chasing skirts or telling their sweethearts they’ll love them forever and be back before they know it, or something. 

      I think that if you make the reason they’re chasing each other more ‘age appropriate’, while keeping it playful, will have the same effect when the shoe drops and the reader discovers that the easy and playful life of these boys is in front of the backdrop of a war torn country.

      Could be an interesting story, for sure.

    • Juliana Austen

      Thank you both so much for the feedback – really helpful!

    • Katie Axelson

      I think you’re missing exposition, Juliana. That’s the hardest for me too.


    • Juliana Austen

      Oh yes! I know! I felt unable to wrap it up without being totally cliched!

    • Joe Bunting

      I hear you. I hate endings that summarize the story with a cute bit of exposition. Instead, I sometimes like to point forward in time, to summarize the future. That way you get some sense of finality but there’s so much left to ponder at the same time.

  10. JB Lacaden

    Tommy shifted uncomfortably in
    his seat. Beside him, the lady with the blond hair and badly applied make-up
    kept on taking photographs of the church’s interiors. (Narrative)


    “Move a bit to the side young
    man, I’ll just take a picture of that nice window where Jesus is dying on the
    cross,” she said as she pointed the huge camera at Tommy. (Dialogue)


    Tommy moved until his butt was
    only half-seated. In front of him, he watched the groom laughing with the best
    man. Tommy watched the groom in his splendid tux and enviable joy. Tommy
    imagined himself wearing the tux and the one with the great smile on his face.
    Tommy imagined himself— (Action)


    “There she is!”


    Tommy woke up from his daydreaming,
    as the chatter grew louder. Everyone inside the church was staring at the
    entrance. Tommy twisted his body and watched as the bride started walking down
    the aisle, her father guiding her along—the father, the man who denied Tommy to
    be with his daughter. Tommy watched as she drew closer to his row. Behind the
    veil, he saw that she was beautiful. She had always been beautiful. Tommy felt
    a pang of pain in his chest. (Action and Narrative?)


    Tommy remembered.


    “He asked me to marry him,” she
    started to say as they were seated inside the coffee shop.


    Tommy clearly remembered the day
    when she broke the news to him. She didn’t have a smile on her face that day.


    “You answered yes,” Tommy said,
    not as a question.


    “Please come Tom,” she said to


    Tommy’s eyes were on the diamond
    ring on her finger.


    “Come to the wedding, promise me,”
    she continued.


    Tommy gave a nod of his head, his
    eyes moving to his heart-shaped face and deep, brown eyes. She smiled, followed
    by a “Thank you.”


    Before they parted ways, she told
    him one last thing. “Tom, promise me you’ll stop the wedding. Be there. Be
    there and stop me from being married.”


    “I will,” Tom answered. (Dialogue with Narrative)


    Tommy remembered how much he hurt
    inside that day inside the coffee shop, but the pain wasn’t as great as the one
    he felt as he was seated inside the church. The bride and the groom were now
    standing before the priest. Everyone inside the church was silent. Tommy
    quietly stood up as the rings were being placed in each other’s fingers. Tommy
    walked towards the church entrance as the “I do’s” were being said. Tommy didn’t
    look back as the bride and the groom shared their first kiss together. (Action)

    • Wanda Kiernan

      I liked the layers of conflict.  Looks like you can keep this story going.

    • JB Lacaden

      Thanks Wanda! Glad you liked it 🙂

    • Yvette Carol

      To me, no layers no point in reading

    • Hal

      Nice little vignette. Might make a reasonable short story, leaving the reader to ponder lots of little questions. Why did she say yes in the first place? Why didn’t he stop the wedding like he promised? Does he normally not fulfill his promises, or was this one somehow special? Was he really in love with her if he let something like her father’s disapproval get in the way of marrying her? Is his motivation to hurt her? Why doesn’t she seem to be waiting for him to stop the wedding, but rather goes through the motions of something she doesn’t want to do? etc. 

      Lots of real meaty questions that are really good, in my opinion, to leave open ended.

    • JB Lacaden

      Yeah. If given more time, some of the questions will get answered, but overall I would still leave it open-ended.

    • zo-zo

      Beautiful writing…

    • JB Lacaden

      Thanks zo 🙂

    • Marianne

      That was great JB especially the ending.  It really makes you think about how hard it must be for anyone to stop a wedding, especially under those circumstances. It carried me along so that I didn’t particularly notice which part was which kind of writing.  

    • JB Lacaden

      I’m glad you were able to immerse yourself into my story. Thank you very much Marianne. 🙂

    • Yvette Carol

      JB, that was so touching. I laughed at the ‘half-seated butt’ 🙂

    • JB Lacaden

      Thanks Yvette 🙂

  11. zo-zo

    This is SUCH GREAT ADVICE!!!  I have never heard this before, but it makes perfect sense, and give me a better understanding of writing.  I think often my writing is unbalanced – in these prompts I am usually dialogue heavy, but in my other writing I sometimes use too much description.  I never usually use inner monologue because I thought it was the ultimate in ‘telling’ – so you’re saying there is a place for it other than teen fiction?  

    Tommy threw off his costume and started
    running. The old ladies next to him shrieked and a little girl
    started crying. Her cries were nearly as loud as his mother.

    ‘Tommy Rufus Turner come back here
    right now,’ she followed him in her starched yellow dress flapping.

    But if Tommy heard his mother, which
    was doubtful considering his obsession with the blue shiny water
    before him, he did not take any notice. (narrative) He was thinking
    about how the water would feel on his skin as he splashed in it, he
    was thinking how smart he was that he wriggled out of his mother’s
    arms, he was thinking that he was the boss at this very moment, and
    there was nobody around to stop him. (inner monologue)

    The surface of the water was ablaze
    with the sun, rippled and swaying from the kicks of the other
    children in the pool. The pool smelt like chlorine and sunscreen,
    like every other day after glorious day of summer. Tommy had fallen
    hopelessly in love. (descriptive)

    The public pool was a fancy affair, and
    Tommy’s mother had dressed up just for the occasion, as well as her
    darling only child. They were matching – how sweet, she thought,
    how just darling – her yellow sundress and him in his yellow ducky
    bathing suit. She had spent twenty minutes slicking his hair back,
    trying to comb that one strand that never lay flat. She won the
    battle this time. (narrative)

    Naked Tommy Turner ran over towels and
    sodas and hats, diving straight for the water. Splash. And right
    after him flew in Caroline Turner, saving her four year old from his
    blue obsession. (action)

    • Joe Bunting

      Hey Zo,

      Yep, inner monologue definitely has it’s place, especially when it’s used as well as you used it in this practice. I loved that. I’ve made the case against inner monologue here on the blog because I think it’s very easy to overuse it, but used well it can add an emotional depth like no other element. 

      Nice practice!

    • zo-zo

      Thanks Joe!  NOW that makes sense!!  A little goes a long way, hey…

    • Juliana Austen

      You made me laugh! That is such a rare and special gift.

    • zo-zo

      Thanks for your comment, Juliana!  I can write quite intense pieces, so this comment literally made my day!!

    • Marianne

      That is hilarious Zo Zo.  I love the last paragraph.  It moves so fast just like the action suggests.  That was great.  

    • zo-zo

      Thanks, Marianne!!  Always appreciate your feedback.

    • Yvette Carol

      The description was exquiste zo-zo

    • zo-zo

      Thanks Yvette!! I’d have to agree with you about your post to Joe – it is hands down my favourite part of writing…

  12. Bjhousewriter


    Tommy walked down the street. He stopped outside his favorite store. He listened to the loud beat of the djem drum. It was a beautiful sound to Tommy, but not to his parents. He would often daydream of owing one of his own someday.

    Mrs. Turner saw Tommy and she came out to tàlk to him.

    “Hi, Tommy. How are you doing today”

    “I am doing great! I just had to stop and hear my favorite music.”

    how much money do you have saved up so far?”

    “Only about $25.00.”

    ”Well that’s a start.”

    Tommy said goodbye to Mrs. Turner and headed for home.

  13. Marianne

    The point of being on time is to get a good seat was what Tommy was thinking while he waited for his wife Sue.  She’s always late and then complains because she can’t see, he thought.  (Interior monologue).

    Finally he heard the door to the bedroom open then slam shut and he heard her hopping across the upstairs hall, probably trying to get her shoes buckled as she hopped.  (Action)

    “I know, I know, we’re going to be late,” she said as she came down the stairs shoving things into the evening bag that went with her black Versace gown.  (Dialogue and action).

    “Yes well, you like to get a good seat,” he said. “And there were no reservations for this concert.”  (Dialogue)

    On the way to the convention center, they got caught in traffic.  The car in front of them contained one of those groups of children who look out of the back window and wave.  One tall girl was blowing huge bubbles with pink gum,  and the a boy was putting straws up his nose.  (Description). 

    It seemed like they were behind that car and those children forever.  Time crept as it does when one is late and then held up by traffic.  The event was a charity concert with the proceeds going to help poor children.  (Exposition).  Tommy wondered if the children he would be helping put straws up their noses (Interior monologue).  

    • John Fisher

      I like the tone of irony, expecially at the end when he wonders about the children he’ll be helping.  The low-level frustration throughout is funny too.

    • Marianne

      Thanks John.  

    • Yvette Carol

      Ha ha Marianne, the end made me smile. You have a deft touch as always….

    • Marianne

      Thanks Yvette Carol. 

    • JB Lacaden

      I can completely relate to this. It just sucks when, you’re already running late, then BAM! you get stuck in traffic.

      love your practice Marianne! 🙂

    • Marianne

      I hear you.  Then stupid people say “you should leave ahead of time”.  I hate that.  

    • zo-zo

      By saying so little you’ve revealed a lot of Tommy, and the relationship he has with his wife.  And then you add some humour in the mix too – lovely balance of emotions in here… And yes, I LOVED the descriptions of the kids too!!!

    • Marianne

      Thanks Zo-zo.  I can see my nephew with straws sticking out of his nose (he was being a walrus) right now.  

  14. Yvette Carol

    Hey Joe, thanks for the list of 5, I took a copy of it. As soon as I read it I knew I was guilty of the last on the list; exposition. OMG. I’ve had to go back to editing book one in my trilogy since doing that online writing course I told you about a couple of months ago. Amazing how one course can move you so far forward. Now, in editing it once again, I am agog on a day-to-day basis how heavily I have leaned towards exposition!! It’s like maybe I have read a few too many myths & legends….So currently I’m trying to delete great swathes of it and insert more of numbers 1-4 🙂 

    • Joe Bunting

      Hey Yvette,

      That sucks! The worst part of learning is when you realize how much you didn’t know before. Good luck with the editing. It has to be done, but it’s certainly not easy. 

      Proud of you.

  15. Jnkc713

    Tom liked the way she smelled. It
    wasn’t exactly how Susan smelled but it reminded him of the cotton
    candy she insisted on buying everytime they went to a baseball game,
    too sweet and too sticky.(inner monologue)

    “Make sure you look out for cotton
    candy, remember pink’s my favorite.”

    He would always roll his eyes and send
    her into a fit of defensive giggles.

    “What? It’s soooo good and you know I
    have a major sweet tooth.”

    His eyes would then grow big as he
    tilted his head and a slight frown touched the corners of his mouth,
    teasing her attempt to rationalize cotton candy.

    “I only get it one special occasions.
    Oh! Look that guy has some!” (dialogue)

    He never had to say much around Susan.
    She knew every line etched across his face, every misplaced hair,
    every scar, and every mole and she was responsive to even the
    slightest change or muscle twitch. She knew his face and could tell
    what he was thinking. (inner monologue/descriptive)

    Tonight, the girl’s smell reminded him
    of Susan and she was just as responsive as Susan, but not to his
    face. He couldn’t even remember if she looked him in the eyes once
    this evening. No, this girl was responsive to his body. (inner monologue)

    She had short inky black hair swept
    across her face, covering one of her equally dark eyes. Her neck was
    elegant, sloping from her chin and dipping to graze the tops of her
    collarbone. (descriptive)

    I think that’s what first attracted him
    to her. Tom thought a woman’s collarbones were so sexy. They somehow
    balanced the body and made the frame seem so fragile. He approached
    her because of her collarbones and her smell reminded him of Susan. (narrative)

    Her collarbones spread to her rounded
    shoulders and her small rounded breasts, her nipples were pink. He
    reached up to rub his thumb against it.(descriptive/action)

    She slapped his hand away playfully. (action)

    “Tom! I am trying to get some work

    He smiled returning his thumb gently on
    her nipple and lightly stroking it up and down. She raised her
    eyebrows and squirmed away.

    “It’s distracting…and ticklish.”

    When she said ‘ticklish’ she crinkled
    her nose and smiled slyly.(action/dialogue)

    Tom reached for her nipple once more
    but this time she let him caress her. She pushed her work aside, sunk
    into the soft threadbare sheets as she laid her head against the
    pillow and closed her eyes. (description)

    She looked straight into his eyes.(action)

    “No touching.” (dialogue)

    She was slender and below her chest was
    a rainstorm of stars tattooed across her stomach to the middle of her
    thigh. (descriptive) He hadn’t noticed them before but now he raised his fingertips
    to her ribcage and began to trace the trail of falling stars. (action)

    She brushed his fingers away. (action)

    “No touching.” (dialogue)

    He sunk into the sticky plastic couch
    and felt her long wispy legs squeeze him as she moved back and forth
    in his lap. (action) She pressed her body closer to his. Her sweet smell
    filled his nostrils, crushing his lungs, and consuming his body and
    mind. He closed his eyes and tangled his fingers in her hair as he
    brought her closer.

    She wasn’t Susan, her smell just
    reminded him of her. (action/descriptive/monologue)

    Tom didn’t go home after being kicked
    out of the club. (narrative) That girl wasn’t Susan but maybe he could still find
    her. He walked for a few blocks until entering a door glowing under a
    bright pink neon sign. Inside, the place smelled sweet. (descriptive/inner monologue)

    This is my first post, I might have taken a little more than 15 minutes. I really appreciate any feedback.

  16. ameliorated

    Tommy removed a few bills from his wallet. Folded them. Set them
    on the table. If there were any surer way to summon Eve, he didn’t know it.

    She wasn’t long in coming.

    “You rang?”
    “I did.”
    “You paying?”
    “So give me the game plan.”
    “There’s a man at Lakefront Towers. Apartment 1302. I need
    you to pay him a visit.”
    “High-rise living. What’s he got on you?”
    “This one isn’t for me.”
    “That girl you’ve been playing house with? Celine?”
    “Hah. You keeping tabs on me, Eve? No. Not her either.”
    “I’ve kept tabs on bigger losers.”
    “I can pretend to be hurt, but you’re not gonna buy it. Just ask me what the job is.”
    “What’s the job, Tommy?”
    “The usual.”
    “You want it … neat? Messy?”
    “Like you ever keep it neat.”
    “Like you ever want it neat.”
    “Mmm. That’s why I hire you, baby.”

    Tommy watched Eve pick up the bills, her hand catching the notes between two slender fingers. Her nails were polished bright enough to piss off the sun.

    He hadn’t paid enough for a class-A hit, but Eve’s crew was known for working quickly. At this point, that mattered a hell of a lot more than an Oxi-clean crime scene.

    Tommy thought about the hours of darkness still lying ahead. All the calls he’d have to make before morning. …The chewing-out he’d have to endure from Celine. If it didn’t amount to something this time, he didn’t know if he’d be up for another go-around.
    Tommy picked up his cigarette and let the ennui of the diner sink into his bones.
    Maybe it wasn’t so good to be home after all.

    • Stella

      Fantastic work! Could follow which element you used easily. I like how you used them sequentially and still wrote a scene that’s gripping and flows naturally. I think your dialogue is the strongest. It both conveys the characters’ relationships and moves the plot forward.

  17. Stella

    Tommy lay flat on his mattress, arms and legs sprawled. He stared up at the ceiling, shading his eyes from the sunlight streaming through his window. He rolled to the side, made a move to get up, then slumped back into bed.

    “Sir? Are you awake?” His helper had come into the room.

    “I’m alright…”

    “I just wondered if you knew what time it was.”

    “Two twenty-three pm?”

    “Just checking if you knew.”

    His helper left the door open when she exited. He could see the clean white floors outside his bedroom, smell the bright air of day from outside.

    Yes, he knew the time. Just because he was in bed didn’t mean he wasn’t working. Since when did staying in bed becoming associated with laziness and unproductivity? He was someone lucky enough to know himself very well. Well enough to realise that he was at his most productive when lying in bed.

    But he was wrong. It was too easy to let one’s physical posture affect one’s attitude, and he realized only much later that perhaps he should have adopted a more conventional position when trying to work from home.


    I realise I use a lot of dialogue, summary and inner monologue. Summary and inner monologue especially blend into each other. Is the difference the span of time that they cover? Inner monologue is ‘in the moment’, summary is the character’s thoughts over a much wider period of time. Or is it the difference the degree to which the words are coloured by a character’s voice? If it sounds like the character, it’s inner monologue. If it sounds like a detached narrator, it’s summary.

    Action and description are also hard to distinguish. Thanks for the post, it made me realise I have very little description in my writing (I’m more of a cerebral person) and hence my settings suffer.



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