Ciao, SEers. Today is part nine of the series: writing action. While this is important for the thriller genre, I mean the more general term, which all stories need. Action is what drives the story. It can mean shoot-outs, it can mean physical brawls, it can mean nasty arguments. On the other hand, it can mean proposals, love scenes, births. If you’ve got an emotionally charged activity, you have action. If you’re looking for tips on the “traditional” action scene, Mae has written a great post on the topic. I’m going to address “action” in the broader sense of the word.
When we think “action” scenes, we often think short and fast. That works. It’s excellent for pacing and creating a sense of urgency. But there’s an alternative that can be quite effective. Consider slowing the pace. Let the reader experience every infinitesimal thought, feeling, action, and response to what’s going on. This method increases tension. Both ways are powerful techniques. They just have different results.
Use action to convey information. Based on what a character is doing, we can learn a lot about him, about the setting, about the people he’s dealing with. Don’t miss the opportunity to reveal character through action. A man who continues to ruthlessly beat an opponent after he’s down is a very different person from a man who pulls his punches so he doesn’t hurt his opponent too badly. Work in internalization so readers understand motive. Show how observers react so we can understand the community in which the characters live or work. Actions and reactions can go a long way toward revealing character and societal norms.
Going back to The Wizard of Oz, consider the scene where Dorothy smacks the Cowardly Lion upon meeting him. On the surface, this is a traditional action scene. Our heroes meet a predator, they cower in fear, our heroine puts him in his place, then he’s revealed to be the opposite of what they expected. But dig deeper. What did we learn about Dorothy? She’s brave. She’s willing to risk her safety to defend her friends. And she’s generous. She offers to take the Cowardly Lion with her and request help from the Wizard. Action can always reveal character and/or setting if it’s more than a surface act.
Take the time to choreograph your physical actions. Make sure it’s possible to do the things you have your characters doing. Both of my kids have black belts in taekwondo. I used to have them act out my fight scenes to make sure they were accurate. I’ve even heard of romance writers using dolls to make sure their love scenes worked. Whatever the action is, choreographing every step guarantees accuracy and believability.
Make sure your actions are grounded in reality. After the action, the characters will have responses. If a man breaks an ankle in a fall, he’s not going to be able to run to his brother’s aid if he’s in danger. A sprain, maybe. A break? No. Think through the consequences of the actions with the same attention to detail as the actions themselves.
- Play with pacing.
- Reveal character through action and reaction.
- Choreograph the physical.
- Make sure actions and reactions can really happen.
We’ve now covered the pre-writing process and the during-writing process. Next time, we’ll delve into the post-writing process and discuss self-editing on the macro level. Until then, I’d love to know more about how you use action in your stories. Please leave a comment below. Grazie!
Links to the Whole Series:
January 7: Idea Generation
February 2: Story Bible
February 28: Character
March 25: Dialogue
April 20: Plot
May 16: Constructing Chapters
June 10: Pacing/Tension/Suspense
July 6: Writing Suspense
August 1: Writing Action
August 26: Macro-Level Self-Editing
September 21: Mid-Level Self-Editing
October 17: Micro-Level Self-Editing
December 7: Planning a Series
Note: Links will only work on and after the date the post goes live.