Add Some Stanislavski to Perk Up Your Scenes

By Columnist Penny Fletcher

February 2017

As the writer of more than 12,000 news stories, columns, short stories and six books, I’ve relied on the Stanislavski acting method for fiction and nonfiction all my life. I just didn’t realize I was doing it until I started teaching classes on plot, character, scene-setting and dialogue.

When Stanislavski developed the method of drawing on our own experiences in 1906, he was talking about live theater. There’s a big difference between live theater and the pages of a short story, article, column or book. Words can become boring quickly unless they come alive.

Even the most boring news story can be an eye-catcher if we jump right into the action through the character’s emotions. That’s because emotions are universal. We don’t have to have lost a spouse or child to show the feelings of someone watching a family member die slowly of some terrible disease. Just remember a time when you felt the required emotion and talk about how it felt. Create the scene, whatever it is, from your own experience (which I must admit is a lot easier with fiction than nonfiction).

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If your character is in love, “talk about” the time when you first remember feeling love. If his or her sweetheart just said “yes” to a marriage proposal, show him (or her) jumping or buying flowers from a street vendor or twirling around the room. Or maybe he’s just been accepted into medical school. The medical school of his choice! Clapping or dancing or telephoning someone and laughing hysterically could be used as the basis for a scene.

When I teach a class I always do it with an example so I’ll use one here and let it speak for itself.

  1. Johnny was in love with Frankie but he couldn’t tell her. He had feared rejection his whole life. (OK, that’s it in a lifeless, throw-away nutshell. So now let’s try a different description of this lovesick guy.)
  2. Johnny lay face down on the bed. I never knew red dye could taste like this, he thought. He’d cried so long the cheap bedspread was soaked under his face and some of the dye had rubbed off on his lips. “Frankie, Frankie,” he whispered again and again, holding the well-worn printout of her face he’d gotten off Facebook close to his chest. “I love you so.” He swallowed hard and felt the lump in his throat descend to his chest. His hands shook. His lips trembled. I can’t tell her, I can’t risk opening my heart to her and having her grind it on the ground with her heel, like all the others. Like Jenna, and Marie, and Mother. Oh God- not even Mother returned my love!
There’s no sense in trying to explain the difference in the two paragraphs above to writers who already see the point and one thing that is always boring is when we write past what should be THE END
Penny Fletcher is the author of both traditionally published and self-published books; has been a journalist and bureau editor for several large companies including Media General Communications Inc., Sunbelt Newspapers and The Tampa Tribune. She has also taught at a local college and through her Florida library system, as well as worked as an outsource editor for Amazon’s first publishing division, BookSurge. She has also had about 200 private clients. You may contact her or view her work by visiting her website,, or on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, or through her “down-home local column,” Remember When, at