This activity is built around a story by 11-year-old Lena Boesser-Koschmann, first published in the November/December 1992 issue of Stone Soup, and more recently in the Stone Soup Book of Animal Stories. "The Bear" is a great story on many levels. For the purposes of this activity, we focus on its 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.
Before you start the activity, read "The Bear" carefully, taking particular note of the ways Lena uses dialogue.
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.