I’m sorry about the confusion yesterday when I took this off my site. I completely forgot to reschedule it’s posting date/time. I’ve also been parked in the procrastination station for most of the week, which doesn’t help matters. Anywho, I’ve made the changes that I wanted to make.
As we all know, we’re (finally) talking about incorporating action into our stories. I’m going to be looking at the literary side of action and why it’s integral to our stories before we look at the
The Literary Side
Action not only helps move the story forward, but it makes things interesting and exciting for our readers. It’s an integral part of our story’s narrative. It’s in the basic plot chart that we all know and love.
Rising Action: a series of relevant incidents that create suspense, interest, and tension in a narrative. In literary works, a rising action includes all decisions, characters’ flaws, and background circumstances that together create turns and twists leading to a climax.
Falling Action: wraps up the narrative, resolves its loose ends and leads toward the closure.
As we all know, the rising action is where all of our character development happens as well as most of the plot. Our characters push through the difficulties they must face before the biggest problem in their life is resolved. After that, we get to wrap up the story for them. Or leave our readers with a bit of a cliffhanger so they’ll want to read the next story, book, etc.
In a nutshell, action is anything that happens in a story. It can be an event, dialogue, the reaction to an event or dialogue or another character’s reaction. It could even be a fight scene. Either way, it happens throughout your entire story.
On the Editor’s Blog, they advise writers to open up their stories with something that’s going to grab attention quickly. We still need to have all the action that leads up to the climax of the tale, but first impressions also matter.
This doesn’t mean that you need to kill someone in the opening paragraph to grab the attention of the reader. You can still catch the attention of your readers with a slow pace or start. You just have to make the beginning enticing in some way, shape or form.
How do you be compelling? Well, you introduce an unusual character, an eye-catching setting or present a shocking action or dialogue rife with conflict. After you set the scene and hook your readers with something out-of-the-ordinary and fabulous, you’re going to have to keep the action up with events.
According to the Editor’s blog, there are two types of action: major events and common actions.
Major Events: are the plot twists or events that change where your story is heading.
These are the big moments in the story. This is the climax and/or the inciting incident. These are the events that make our story go. They get it off the ground, and they finish it. This is finding a dead body in your house and then catching the killer before they kill again. This is when we found out that the character might not have the strength to go on. You know, the big moments in any story.
Common Actions: are the gestures, physical movements and everyday actions that move the characters from one scene to the next.
These actions help us understand who our characters are. Remember the saying “actions speak louder than words”? This is how we can reveal who our characters are. These are going to be their habits. Think, nail-biting when nervous, chuckles when they feel awkward. These are where they react to the world around them and act within that world.
Now, I won’t go into all the details, but the Editor’s Blog’s post on action is fantastic, and you should definitely check it out!
Getting Your Characters Moving
Like I’ve said before, action drives your story forward. It helps to move your story forward and sets its pace. You should use it to break up long passages of dialogue. No one really just sits there and talks. We smile, we shift in our seats, we roll our eyes when someone does something stupid. Hell, I laugh at myself when I think I’m writing something funny and my partner smirks when I do it around him.
We’re always moving and fidgeting. For instance, while writing the previous paragraph, I shift in my chair at least eight times. (I’m working on my posture and am trying to stay awake.) This needs to translate into your characters. We don’t need a blow by blow of what they’re doing, that’s going to get tedious very quickly, but some movement is definitely going to keep your audience engaged.
Here are some tips to help you pace out your story and add some action:
- Use active voice. This one I think is a little self-explanatory, and you should try to write in the active voice regardless of it being an action scene or not. Active voice gives what’s going on in the scene immediacy. It also cuts down on the unnecessary bulk in your sentences that can detract from the pace.
- Speaking of cutting bulky sentences, use shorter sentences to increase the pace. This means that you need to cut out filler words and to make sure the sentences are crisp and clear. The shorter the sentences, the faster the reader reads. If you want to slow something down in the scene, you use shorter sentences. For example (from my unedited works):
He followed her outside while still hurling more questions at her.
Keys. Car door. Unlocked. Toss bags inside. Get inside car. Shut door. Lock door as Terrence is trying to open the door. Keys find ignition and fit. Turn the key in ignition. Ignition catches. Terrence pounds on the window with his fist. Put car in reverse. Need to get away.
Need to get away.
Need to get away.
Getting away. Driving. Where do I go?
Night is closing in. Need gas. Need destination.
Julia pulls up in front of a gas station pump. Digs out her wallet and the cell phone that she forgot that she had. She jumped out of her Chevrolet Cavalier to fill the tank up and checked her phone for any messages.
- Describe deeds, movements, and gestures. This will help with showing the reader what type of mental state your character is in without you going into their head. It also keeps the story from getting static.
- Focus on the characters’ goals. Remember, our characters, like ourselves, don’t do anything without some sort of reason. If your character needs to climb the mountain to save his family, you should focus on that. Let there be distractions and obstacles for them to overcome, but make sure that they know why they’re doing this. In the movie Stardust, Tristan is determined to get his fallen star to the woman he loves. That’s why he chains her up, drags her across the magical realm and protects her.
- Keep setting and other description relevant to the action taking place. Your setting can help play a part in the action that takes place. Think about a robber going in for the prize. He’s going to be noting the exit routes, the security cameras, etc. as he sneaks around the dark building.
I enlisted some help for this one:
(I know she’s really weird, but I like her.)
The dos and don’t’s:
- Don’t make people roll their eyes. Your character isn’t going to become a ninja warrior in a day and with three hours of instruction time. If they come across someone with way more experience, they’re going to get their ass kicked. Same goes for healing too quickly. Unless there is some sort of magic involved, your character isn’t going to be able to get off the ground in five seconds after shattering his femur. The only time this worked was in Venom after Eddy Brock gets hit by a truck and his “parasite” heals him so they can get away from the bad guys.
- Do your research. I know, I know. I harp on this way too much. Just do it. It saves lives. 😛
- Imitate the movies. Thinking about the best angles, distance from the scene, the point of view, etc. and how they affect the action taking place. It can help make your scene more impactful.
- Don’t forget the emotion in fight scenes. Getting into a fight is emotional, on all sides. If you don’t believe me go watch any World War I/II movie out there. It’s going to have an impact. Even with my example above, the little things like realizing you have a phone can be important to a character’s well-being.
- Make sure these action/fight scenes have a point. To the story, to the scene, your plot. Make sure it fits and that you’re not trying to make things interesting because you’ve lost your story’s direction or things have gotten boring.
- Use strong verbs. This will help our readers understand who our characters are. They can show us through their actions. Using strong verbs also cuts out the clutter and allows us to set a quick pace when it’s needed.
Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Action?
Unfortunately, there is. If all your character does is throw punches, then they’re not going to be a well-rounded character. They will be flat because you’re not spending any time on character development or letting your audience get to know them.
There are ways for you to have a lot of action and plot twists within a story; look at the Maltese Falcon or George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. It’s plot twist after plot twist in each of those stories. However, there is an equal amount of character development being done in each, which balances out the story changing moments.
Overall, the saying “actions speak louder than words” is apt. Action can say a lot about your story and your characters and their emotions. Choose the right verbs to make those actions mean something and stand on their own. There are also big actions and little actions, and having too many major actions can detract from character development.
That’s it for me today! I hope the post was worth the wait! This week we’ll be talking about suspense. Tune in for that on Thursday!