This story from our archives, and published in our Animal anthology, is a great example of a story making powerful use of dialogue to unfold events, reveal character, and express feelings.
The most remarkable part of Lena’s story is the last quarter where four characters respond to a traumatic event. This section, beginning with the “No!” spoken by the narrator and continuing to the end, depends heavily on dialogue. It could almost be a play. Notice that, although the lines spoken by Sandy, Carrie, Mom, the narrator, and Mrs. Hall are often very short, we get a clear sense of how each character differs from the others and how they relate to each other as family, friends, and neighbors. This is accomplished through the narrative that accompanies the dialogue.
In a play the story is told exclusively through dialogue. But story authors supplement dialogue with narrative–words in addition to the dialogue–to help us understand the characters. They use narrative to direct our imaginations in much the same way a director directs actors.
Project: Write a Play with at Least Four Characters
The best way to develop an appreciation for how narrative helps you develop your characters is by writing a play. Go back through stories you have written and find the one with the most dialogue. Transform this story into a play. You will probably need to re-imagine the story because you may find that, once the dialogue is stripped of the accompanying narrative, it no longer makes sense. Your challenge as a playwright is to tell your story exclusively through the words spoken by your characters!
Go to the library and look at plays to learn what format to use when writing your play. You can also look up some screenplays recently published in Stone Soup. You will see that at the beginning of a play playwrights list the characters and tell how they relate to each other. Also, at the beginning of each scene the characters present in the scene are listed. Characters are listed whether they talk or not. The beginning of a scene is also the place to include a short narrative description of where the action for the scene takes place. When writing your play you should follow these customary practices.
by Lena Boesser-Koschmann, age 11
Illustrated by Jathan Brubaker, 13
Published in Stone Soup, November/December 1992
THE MORNING WAS cool. It wasn’t cold, but not warm enough to go without a jacket. Sandy and I were walking toward the field where Chipper, my seven-year-old pony, was staked. I was swinging the reins, and Sandy was walking beside me. We didn’t talk to each other, and it was quiet. A bird chirped, singing out a strange melody. When we arrived, I softly called to Chipper. He lifted his head and walked slowly over to me. He nuzzled my pocket to see if I had any treats for him. I laughed and slipped the bit into his mouth. He jerked his head a little at the coldness of the bit. I unhooked the rope from his halter and, grabbing the reins in my hand, jumped up onto his back. Since Sandy was taking the road, I decided to canter Chipper in the field.
As I neared the road that separates Chipper’s field and Timer’s field (Timer is Chipper’s brother), I noticed a guest from the Goldhill Inn. He was taking a video of the inn. He nodded a friendly hello to me, and I decided to show off a little. Maybe he’d videotape me. I clicked Chipper again and gave him a little kick. He loped faster. When he came to the edge of the field where Timer was staked, I stopped him and let him walk.
Timer was going crazy. He was running around in circles, bucking and kicking his legs. I thought his unusual behavior was just in his excitement to see Chipper. I let Chipper walk up to him, and Timer kicked him. Timer was acting really weird. It was then that I noticed the bear. He was sitting in the berry patch no more than sixty yards away. I gasped. Chipper jumped. Quickly, I leapt off Chipper and tried to pull him away from Timer. It was impossible.
Just then Sandy called, “What’s wrong?”
“Bear.” I spoke that one simple word.
“Bear,” I repeated.
“In the berry patch, right over there!” I pointed over toward the raspberries that were around one side of the garden. I was talking fast and calmly to Chipper, pulling at his head a little at a time. Finally, we were walking away from Timer, who was as wild as ever.
All the time I have had Chipper, I have never actually come within sight of a bear while riding (unless you count the time I heard snuffling in the woods and saw fresh droppings). Chipper was getting excited by now. He was hard to control from the ground. I ran him to the nearest tree and tied him quickly to it. It was only then that I relaxed and looked closely at the bear. It wasn’t a big bear, but I’m not too good at telling what age animals are. Maybe he was the one year old that had been hanging around the town.
“He’s so cute,” I said to Sandy, who was looking at the small bear also.
“I know. That might be the one we saw in our yard the other day.”
Just then Mrs. Hall shouted out her window at us, “There’s a bear right there, ya known
“We know,” I shouted back and then untied the reins and started walking back toward my house.
Once we were out on the road, I leapt up onto Chipper once again.
“What are you doing?” Sandy asked.
“I’m going to put Chipper back in the pasture. Then we can come back to see the bear some more.”
“Thank you for your permission, oh great one,” she said.
I giggled. Then I loped Chipper down the short path way to our house. He seemed to know where we were going. He automatically went to the gate of the big pas ture. I opened the gate and he trotted inside. I slipped off his reins, and he loped across the pasture to scratch on a stake. Then I ran to tell my mom about the bear.
When I reached the porch, I didn’t bother to use the stepsâ€”I never didâ€”but vaulted up onto the porch.
When I opened the door, Carrie, my sister, greeted me with a questioning look.
“I thought you were going riding,” my mom said.
“We were, but the horses are all hyped up because there’s a bear in Mrs. Hall’s berry patch,” I answered.
And at the same time Sandy said, “There’s a bear over at Mrs. Hall’s.”
I laughed. “I think it’s the same one that was in our yard the other day,n I said. “Sandy and I are going over to see what it does.”
“Well, Carrie and I are going down to the school in about fifteen minutes. I have some work I need to do before tomorrow. Tell me about the bear when I get back.”
Then Sandy and I walked back across the road to Mrs. Hall’s place. She was yelling and screaming and banging pans at the bear.
“She’s mad,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Very good,” Sandy said sarcastically.
“I can’t see the bear,” I said, standing on my toes and trying to see it.
“Let’s go over where we were before.” But we didn’t get a chance to because just then we saw Bill slowly walking, gun in hand, toward the bear.
“No!n I gasped. Why would anyone shoot a baby bear? A bear without its mother. A bear with nowhere to go. Bill aimed. Then a shot rang out.
“God,” Sandy said, obviously mad. I couldn’t speak. I was boiling over with angerâ€”a steam pot that can’t stop boiling, even when the burner beneath it is off. Maybe it wasn’t dead. Maybe he had just shot to scare it. Then why had he aimed the gun? I argued with my self. “I am never speaking to him again,” I said under my breath.
“Nothing. I just feel sorry for the bear.”
“I know. I mean, it couldn’t defend itself. They didn’t have to shoot it,” Sandy said in a sarcastic voice.
Then, we walked wordlessly back toward my house. Mom and Carrie were just leaving. They had these looks on their faces. They had heard the gunshot, obviously. “It’s dead.” My voice cracked as I said it.
“Who shot it?” my mom asked.
“Bill Hall.” Sandy spoke his name in disgust. Just then we saw Mrs. Hall walking toward the Jones’ place, her kids hanging on her.
“Is it dead?” my mom called to Mrs. Hall, even though she knew the answer.
“Yes,” Mrs. Hall called back matter of factly.
“Why did you shoot it?”
“I didn’t shoot it, Bill did!”
Great, Mrs. Hall, blame it on Bill. Mrs. Hall went on, “You know what happened yesterday? He was growling at me from behind the woodpile.” Then Silvie started crying, and Mrs. Hall continued walking.
All my mom said was, “Come on, Carrie, let’s go.” And they rode off.
I slowly walked over to Chipper. He looked at me with his big brown eyes and yawned. I forced a smile. “He’s dead, Chipper, dead.” And I buried my face in his strong neck.