As a writer who has experience with being bullied, writing bullying scenes is both a personal and visceral challenge.
Here’s how to write bullying scenes:
Write a bullying scene in fiction by knowing the major types: physical, verbal, emotional, digital, and group bullying. Mirror real-world dynamics, use subtlety, and showcase consequences. Consider the viewpoints of both victim and bully, use body language, and approach the topic sensitively.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write bullying scenes.
What Is a Bullying Scene?
In fiction, a bullying scene is an event where one or more characters exert dominance, power, or influence over another character in a harmful or derogatory manner.
These scenes can be physical, verbal, or emotional in nature.
They usually serve to heighten drama, reveal character flaws or virtues, and propel the plot forward.
Bullying scenes are challenging to write because they need to be sensitive to the topic while also fitting into the larger narrative.
Poorly handled bullying scenes can feel gratuitous, unrealistic, or disrespectful to those who have experienced bullying.
Like me (I suffered intense bullying in middle school).
However, when done well, they can offer powerful social commentary and deepen the reader’s engagement with the story.
Types of Bullying Scenes
There are many different types of bullying scenes you can write in your story.
Check out the list (and explanations) below to see which one fits best in your narrative.
Physical bullying scenes involve explicit acts of violence or intimidation.
In these scenes, the bully might fictionally push, punch, or otherwise physically harm the victim.
These instances are visceral and can quickly engage the reader’s emotions.
When writing a physical bullying scene, it’s essential to be explicit about the consequences.
Don’t glorify the violence.
Instead, use the characters’ reactions and the subsequent fallout to explore the emotional and physical repercussions.
This will lend your scene realism and ethical weight.
In verbal bullying scenes, the aggression is in the words.
Taunts, jeers, or cruel jokes directed at the victim can be just as damaging as physical blows.
Verbal bullying can occur anywhere: in a school hallway, over social media, or during a confrontation between characters.
When crafting a verbal bullying scene, pay close attention to the dialogue.
Each word should be chosen carefully to reflect the characters involved and the severity of the bullying.
Again, make sure to portray the impact on the victim in the story, and possibly on bystanders, to give the scene depth and gravity.
Digital bullying or cyberbullying has become increasingly common.
This type of bullying occurs through digital platforms like social media, email, or messaging apps.
Digital bullying scenes often involve public humiliation, spread of rumors, or direct harassment through messages.
Writing a digital bullying scene may require a different approach, as much of the action happens behind screens.
You may choose to include screenshots, texts, or even describe video content to convey the action.
However, it’s essential to capture the emotional toll on the victim through internal dialogue or by showing the real-world consequences of the online harassment.
Group bullying involves multiple people targeting a single victim.
This form amplifies the sense of isolation and powerlessness for the victim.
Often, group dynamics and peer pressure can make this form of bullying particularly intense.
When portraying group bullying, make sure to differentiate between the individuals in the group.
Not everyone will have the same motivations or levels of involvement, and some might be participating due to peer pressure or fear of becoming the next target.
The complexity of group dynamics can add layers to your scene and story.
13 Expert Tips for Crafting a Compelling Bullying Scene
Here is the crux, the meat and potatoes, the brass tacks of the guide.
This is where you learn the techniques of bestselling authors for how to write bullying scenes.
1. “The Gut Punch”: Create Immediate Emotional Impact
You want readers to feel the emotional weight of the scene right from the start.
Use vivid language and strong verbs to give the bullying action a visceral quality that strikes the reader’s emotions immediately.
Example: Instead of saying “He was scared,” show his trembling hands and stuttering speech to make the reader feel his fear.
2. “The Mirror Effect”: Reflect Real-world Dynamics
Base your scene on real-world bullying dynamics, considering factors like age, setting, and societal norms.
This adds an authentic touch, making your scene more relatable and impactful.
Example: If your scene is set in a school, research typical schoolyard bullying tactics or language for that age group.
3. “The Domino Effect”: Show Consequences
Bullying doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Show the ripple effects on the victim, the bully, and even bystanders.
This makes your scene multi-dimensional and realistic.
Example: After the bullying incident, show how the victim becomes withdrawn and how bystanders who didn’t intervene wrestle with guilt.
4. “Dialogue Dynamics”: Master the Art of Conversation
Pay special attention to the dialogue.
Natural, realistic dialogue can make or break your scene. Make sure it’s age-appropriate and fits the setting.
Example: Teenage bullies will use different slang or phrases than adult bullies in a workplace.
5. “The Hidden Hand”: Subtlety is Key
Not all bullying is overt.
Sometimes it’s subtle digs, backhanded compliments, or passive-aggressive actions.
Capture these nuances to add depth.
Example: Instead of a physical shove, a bully might deliberately call the victim by a derogatory nickname in front of others.
6. “The Perspective Pivot”: Use Multiple Points of View
Consider switching perspectives to get inside the heads of both the victim and the bully.
This adds complexity and can provide insight into the motivations and consequences for both characters.
Example: One paragraph from the victim’s viewpoint might be followed by a paragraph from the bully’s perspective, revealing insecurities that drive their actions.
7. “The Unspoken Word”: Leverage Body Language
Communicate volumes through facial expressions, posture, or even lack of eye contact.
Describing these can create a vivid and emotional scene without a word being spoken.
Example: The victim may avoid eye contact, signaling their submission or fear, while the bully could stand tall and imposing, trying to dominate the space.
8. “Chronicle of a Scene Foretold”: Foreshadowing
Plant subtle hints or symbols earlier in the story that pay off during the bullying scene.
This builds tension and makes the scene feel more integral to the narrative.
Example: Mention earlier that the victim dreads gym class, then have the bullying incident occur in the gym.
9. “The Echo Chamber”: Revisit the Scene Later
Refer back to the bullying scene later in the story to show its lasting effects.
This could be through character development or as a pivotal point in the plot.
Example: The victim could confront the bully in a later scene, showing growth and resolution.
10. “The Spectator’s Gaze”: Include Bystanders
Don’t forget about bystanders—they can serve as a moral compass, showing the wider societal reaction to bullying.
Example: Describe a bystander who chooses to walk away, and later shows regret for not intervening.
11. “The Reality Check”: Consult Real Experiences
There’s no substitute for real-world experience.
Trust me. I know the terrible trauma of bullying and how the damage can linger long into adulthood.
Consult firsthand accounts or experts to portray bullying authentically.
Example: Read interviews or articles by bullying victims to understand the emotional toll.
12. “The Ethical Compass”: Handle with Care
Bullying is a sensitive issue.
Make sure your scene serves a purpose in your narrative and isn’t just gratuitous drama.
Example: If you include a bullying scene to develop a character’s backstory, make sure to show the long-term effects on their personality or behavior.
13. “The Balanced Scale”: Be Fair but Firm
While it’s crucial to handle the subject with sensitivity, don’t dilute the severity of bullying.
Strive for a balance between realism and narrative need.
Example: While it may be tempting to resolve everything neatly, remember that real-life bullying often has messy, unresolved outcomes. Your story could reflect this complexity.
Here is a video about research that will help you understand how to write bullying scenes:
Crafting a Believable Bully Character
Creating a compelling bully character involves more than just making them mean or aggressive.
A well-written bully is multidimensional and serves a purpose in the narrative.
That purpose can be either as a catalyst for the victim’s growth, a mirror reflecting societal issues, or even as a character capable of change and redemption.
In fiction, a bully can be anyone: the high school jock, the jealous coworker, or even a controlling family member.
The key is to make the character believable, not a caricature.
Give them motivations, however flawed, and consider how their backstory contributes to their bullying behavior.
This adds depth and can make your story more engaging and thought-provoking.
Traits of a Bully Character
- Dominating Personality: They like to be in control and will use various methods to maintain power.
- Lack of Empathy: They have difficulty understanding or sharing the feelings of others.
- Insecure: Many bullies have insecurities that they project onto their victims.
- Manipulative: They’re skilled at influencing people to do what they want, often for their own benefit.
- Short-Tempered: Quick to anger, especially when things don’t go their way.
- Jealous or Envious: They often target those who have something—physical, emotional, or material—that they covet.
- Attention-Seeking: Desires to be the center of attention and will act out to achieve this.
- Intelligent but Cunning: They might be smart, but they use their intelligence to deceive or control others rather than help.
- Narcissistic: Possesses an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for excessive attention and admiration.
- Unapologetic: Rarely feels remorse or guilt for their actions, often rationalizing them instead.
- Cruel Sense of Humor: Takes pleasure in others’ pain or discomfort and often uses humor as a weapon.
- Isolationist: May isolate themselves or their victims from a larger social group to exert control.
- Deceptive: Capable of lying or distorting the truth to suit their needs.
- Ruthless Ambition: Willing to step on others to achieve their own goals.
- Poor Coping Skills: Often resorts to bullying as a way to cope with their own stress or emotional upheaval.
Bullying Scene Example
Consider this example of how to write a bullying scene:
In a dimly lit school hallway, Maria clutched her books to her chest as Mark and his friends cornered her.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” Mark sneered, snatching a textbook from her arms and tossing it to one of his buddies.
“I need that back, please,” Maria stammered, her eyes darting to the scattered bystanders who pretended not to notice.
“Oh, she needs it back,” Mark mimicked, laughing as his friend threw the book into a nearby trash can. “Guess you’ll have to get it yourself.”
Tears welled up in Maria’s eyes as she made her way to the trash can.
Her hands trembled as she retrieved her soiled textbook, acutely aware of the eyes burning into her back. When she finally walked away, her footsteps were heavy with the weight of humiliation, and her mind raced with questions that had no answers.
Final Thoughts: How to Write Bullying Scenes
To bring this guide full-circle, it’s important to treat bullying scenes with additional care and diplomacy.
As a storyteller, you want to create a visceral but not triggering experience for your readers.
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