Creative Series III: Action in our stories. Too Much or Too Little?
Action is an important part of many stories.
Normally, this scene is what many people envision as action.
A majority of readers and often new writers, envision action involving war, death or some kind of danger. The description of action does not need to employ such techniques.
Action is often used as a kind of fulcrum. Imagine a story like a rollercoaster. Writers can learn a lot from rollercoaster rides. If you have ever been on a rollercoaster, the feeling of going up, is a small comparison to the feeling of dropping down. As your rollercoaster car moves up, to the very apex of your climb, the movement is slow. As your rollercoaster car moves down, gravity takes over as your car picks up speed, faster and faster, until you reach the bottom of your ride, leading to another ascent (often a bit faster), back up on the steep hills of your ride. Perhaps in between your drop, you also experience twists and turns. The best stories are often compared to rollercoaster rides, due to literary twists and turns that the writer employed (or deployed) to make the story not only interesting, but compelling.
How do we visualize action in our story?
How does a painter or photographer evoke action as an image? Action can take on many shapes, colors, dimensions or sizes. When I mention the word shapes, what are you thinking of in your mind? Are you thinking of a square, triangle, hexagon or some other shape? What about color? When you think of color, are you thinking of color you might see in a painting, photograph or as part of a more solid object? Speaking of objects, what about dimensions? When an object has 2 dimensions, what do you see opposed to an object with 3 dimensions? What would a 4-dimensional object look like to you? Can you picture 4 dimensions in your mind? Which brings size to mind? How large would your object be in your mind? Is your object small, medium or large? What is large to you? What is small to you? My point in this entire exercise, is to point out that what you see in your mind, needs to be transferred to what you are writing in a way that your reader is seeing something similar to what you are seeing.
As a writer, does your action have to follow a particular pattern?
Looking at the image above, how would you describe this action, so that it moves up and down? Perhaps even adding twists and turns to it, to offer changes that can occur within an action? Many beginning writers tend to follow action almost mechanically, like steps leading up to or down from a stairway. What would you add to the action above, to make it more pliable, or less predictable? Unpredictability is something a writer can add to their story which makes it more appealing.
Action in free fall.
Here is an action you can play with. As you are falling, what is happening? How can you describe this action, yet give it appeal? At this point in time, you are working in different dimensions, are you not? What kinds of shapes does free fall offer a writer? How many dimensions does free fall give to a writer? How predictable is this image that you are looking at now? What can this person do differently, while they are in free fall that could change their path of descent? Think about what people do in free fall. Do they become unconscious? Not likely. They might, due to atmosphere or lack of protective gear. But more often than not, they are perfectly conscious, all the way to the end of their free fall.
Watch this video about free fall.
Describe what you see. Paint a picture with this action. Work on showing the colors and feeling that you get, as you paint this picture with your words.
Here is another video, without a parachute.
And here is one more video of a person free falling with no parachute or protective gear.
And here is one more video of a person free falling with no parachute, into a net. This jump is now in the history books.
Now that you know what free fall is like, describe what you have seen as an action. Don’t forget to include the colors that you are seeing. There is shape to these videos, is there not? There is spatial dimension in these videos. How can you tell what is up and what is down? Describe what up looks like and what down looks like in your action. Don’t forget how important color is, as you describe what is happening. How is the person feeling? How are you feeling as you watch these videos? That feeling is an important dimension in describing your action. What about the twists and turns of what you are seeing? Could the possibility of failure enter in as a twist or turn? There is so much that you can do as a writer, just describing action in free fall.
Listen to how these surfers describe their sport and how their interpretation of their sport is more of an art form, than an action. Describe the action of surfing, based on what you see in the video and how the surfers describe the difficulty of what they are doing. It is the level of difficulty of what they love to do, that affords this action a certain kind of appeal to many people.
Is surfing a sport that is only appealing to the young? How would you describe this?
Notice the difference in styles that surfers employ. Describe the differences that you can see, employing the use of shape, color, dimension and size.
Different booksellers offer fiction in different categories: Fiction & Literature, Fiction, Graphic Novels & Comics, Literature, Manga, Mystery, & Crime, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Thrillers, Westerns. Another bookseller separates their books into more general categories: Classics, Contemporary, Essays, Genre fiction, Historical fiction, Humor and satire. Stories laden with action are often referred to as action thrillers or thrillers. The author is normally the person who determines what category their book will be listed as, but distributors or publishers often have a hand in determining in what genre the book will be offered for sale.
There are some readers and authors who claim that too much action in a book can give it the feel of a B-rated movie.
How would you improve this video?
Here is an example of action that you can’t buy.
Next in our series: How research can make a story.