It’s my pleasure to welcome Earl Staggs to Ruby On Tuesday. Earl is an award- winning author of mysteries and thrillers. Earl would love to hear from you so kindly leave him a question or comment at the end of the post.~~~Ruby

By Earl Staggs

Justified_Action_Cover_for_Kindle (2) (1)Rather than letting a narrator describe how characters think and feel, I prefer writing scenes in which my characters express their opinions, and if they disagree, so much the better.  Such scenes are an opportunity to reveal something about the characters along with their beliefs and also can move the story forward with plot points and complications.

To illustrate, the following excerpt is from my newest novel, JUSTIFIED ACTION, a Mystery/Thriller.  The novel is primarily about the main character’s personal journey after someone close to him is murdered and his determination to find the killer.  The background for the story, however, is a secretive agency which tracks terrorist groups.

Tall Chambers is the main character in JUSTIFIED ACTION.  In the following scene, Tall has captured international terrorist Anatole Remski, whose father was Russian but who was raised as an Iranian.  In a firefight the night before, all of Remski’s group who were there were killed, and Remski is being held at a nearby Army base in Afghanistan.  Tall is anxious to interrogate the man to learn the names of the rest of his group.


 Tall smiled when he entered the room and sat across the table from him. “My name is Chambers, Mr. Remski. I have some questions for you. If you give me the answers I need, I’ll see that they go easier on you in court.”

Remski grinned, but didn’t speak. He held the grin and his eyes narrowed. He seemed to be studying Tall, sizing him up. “That’s very kind of you, Mr. Chambers,” he said in a soft voice with a distinct Arab accent, “but I’ll do fine without your assistance. I advise you not to waste your time or mine.”

“I’m not wasting my time. I need the names of your associates. You’re responsible for bombings which killed many American soldiers. The authorities will make you pay for that. If you cooperate, I’ll do what I can to help you.”

Remski’s grin faded, and he turned his head away. He sighed, almost as if bored. “All they have is hearsay with regard to my participation in those events, Mr. Chambers. As to actual proof, they have nothing. Besides, the killing of American soldiers in this country is not considered a crime by many people here. Weigh that against the many thousands you have slaughtered, and it amounts to very little.”

“You’re wrong,” Tall said. “Regardless of how you feel about our presence here, those who judge you will be bound by international law to sentence you in accordance with the crimes you’ve committed. As for the casualties we’re responsible for, no one regrets them more than I do, but they’re the unfortunate consequence of war. That’s very different from what you do.”

Remski turned back to him “Is it, Mr. Chambers? Why is it different?” His voice was strong and harsh now. His blue eyes had taken on a hardness that wasn’t there before. “Is it because you shout words like freedom and democracy while you murder innocent people? You Americans think you have a right to invade other countries and force them to change. Where is it written that your way is the way for all people? How do you rationalize killing innocent people to force other countries to do everything the American way?”

“That’s not what we do. Our goal is to help people gain their freedom and govern themselves.”

Remski smirked. “You think you’re qualified to tell others how to govern a country? Your country is bankrupt financially and morally, Mr. Chambers. Take your soldiers home. Take care of your own problems and let us take care of ours. Stop waving your red, white and blue flag while you slaughter our citizens in the name of freedom.”

“We don’t slaughter people. We’re only here to help.”

With fierce anger burning in his eyes, Remski shouted, “Do this for me, Mr. Chambers. Go to my village in Abuzak. Stand over the graves of my parents, my wife and my son. Tell them how you marched into their village to help them by lining them up and shooting them. Tell them they were killed for their freedom.”

Tall was caught off guard. He knew of the massacre at Abuzak. A squad of American soldiers marched into the small village looking for subversives and killed every man, woman and child they found. “I’m sorry about what happened to your family. That was a terrible tragedy and never should have happened. The soldiers who went into that village were wrong. They were tried and punished for what they did.”

Remski leaned over the table. He lowered his voice, but not his vehement anger. “Tried and punished? The soldiers who slaughtered my family, my entire village, were discharged and sent home to their own families. Their leader was sentenced to ten years in prison and was released after three years. Do you consider that adequate punishment for what they did?”

“No, in all honesty, I do not. Is that why you kill Americans? Because a small group of them went out of control and did a horrible act? Nothing can compensate you for your loss, but what you’re doing is just as wrong. Seventeen of your associates were killed tonight. Give me the names of the other members of your group. They don’t have to die like the others.”

Remski hung his head and wagged it. When he spoke, he seemed more in control of himself. “No, Mr. Chambers, I will give you no names. The people you murdered tonight are in the arms of Allah and will be rewarded for their sacrifice. Those who remain will continue our war against you as long as you invade our country and slaughter our families. If they give their lives, they, too, will be rewarded. You cannot stop them from doing what they were born to do.” He looked squarely into Tall’s eyes with more hatred and defiance than Tall had ever seen. “And you can’t stop me.”

“Look around,” Tall said. “We have stopped you.”



Tall was wrong about Remski being stopped. Shortly after their confrontation, he escaped. and the chase was on again.

I used dialogue in a confrontation between the two characters to reveal the differences in their idealogies and philosophies.  I could have let the narrator tell Remski’s backstory, what happened to his family, and why he hates Americans, but I felt it was more effective to let it come out in dialogue.  To me, it was interesting to write and, I hope, more interesting to read.

What do you think?

EarlStaggs (2)

Earl Staggs earned a long list of Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year.  He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.  Email: earlstaggs@sbcglobal.net Website: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com



  1. Yes, it seems doubtful a narrator could match Remski shouting at Chambers to go to his village, stand over his family’s graves, and tell them about help and freedom. Powerful.


  2. Earl:
    You’ve definitely whetted everyone’s appetite for more, with this great post. I was just as fascinated as the rest of your readers. More, please! Thanks so much for posting on Ruby On Tuesday.


  3. Excellent excerpt, Earl, and you are so on point with your comments. Getting all the items you mentioned in a scene is, by my way of thinking, the height of writing art-and-craft! Well done.



  4. My thanks to everyone who came by and commented. Thanks even more for agreeing with the way I wrote the scene. Nothing is more satisfying to me than validation from other writers.

    I like action when I write — and read — and dialogue IS action. It’s the act off people talking. I like what Elmore Leonard once said: “My readers skip over narrative to get to the dialogue, so I leave out what they skip over.”

    A special thanks to you, Ruby, for allowing me to take up space here. It was a treat, and I hope you’ll invite me again.


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