A is for Action! #atozchallenge

Let’s get started with this month of blogging dangerously! So, since I’m starting with A, I figured, I’ll dig right in and talk a bit about action as a part of writing a novel, and how I’m thinking about it.

I’ve been writing short-novel length attempts yearly as a part of National Novel Writing Month since 2004. I wouldn’t say that they’re all novels, or stories, as many of them were experiments in trying to figure out what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it. Some were also just for complete and silly fun. I’m looking at you Zombocalypse New York City novel of complete ridiculousness.

One thing that was lacking in many of my early efforts was consistent and purposeful action. There were a lot and I mean a LOT of pages of plain dialogue without any action at all. I’m not even talking about action like where people are fighting or running or whatever. I’m talking about action like… someone picks up a cup of water because they’re thirsty, or another person leaves the room and slams the door, or a character has to go grocery shopping but also is having a phone call conversation with their mother to talk about a future visit or why they’re quitting their job. Whatever. I was writing tons of dialogue with occasional chase scenes and sporadic internal monologues.

So how do you get out of doing that when you know that it’s not fun to read? Well, I recently went to a talk by Hank Phillippi Ryan about jumpstarting your writing. One of her tricks when she gets stuck is that she leans back, closes her eyes, and imagines her novel as a movie. She then tries to see if it works as a movie, keeping her entertained and wanting to know what happens next. So, to help myself, I’ve been doing a lot of observation, watching lots of movies and reading lots of books where the creators are REALLY good at just showing what people do while they have conversations, or while they’re trying to save the world. There are quieter scenes, and very exciting scenes, but there’s always something happening, and there’s always a reason for the person doing whatever they’re doing. This is the kind of thing I’m working on, and thinking about. It’s not always easy, but it helps keep my stories from becoming a philosophical treatise on boredom.

If you write, how do you handle making sure that you keep things moving on the page? What are your tips and tricks? If you read, have you noticed this sort of thing and do you have a favorite scene where the actions of the characters worked really well for telling you about the story?

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Megan Morgan says:

    Actions in a story can be very good ways to get something across to the reader without telling them. They’re a good way to show how a character is feeling or what they’re thinking, too.

    I think keeping a story moving is in just telling the story…not making side excursions for the character to do mundane things that really have nothing to do with the story. It’s like the joke about how people never go to the bathroom on TV or in movies–well, why should we see them doing that? What has it got to do with the story?

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    1. Clarice says:

      Totally agree! No meaningless action side-tracking. I suppose I didn’t really get into the whole actions that are on the page should be there for a reason part. I definitely had something I wrote in my belly button contemplating youth that was full of totally mundane and unnecessary bits of action. It was possibly one of the most boring collection of words I’ve ever written. Never again! Everything should be relevant! I feel like that also fits with the whole “pretend it’s a movie” thing. Be your own Margaret Sixel (of Mad Max Fury Road editing fame) and cut out all the unnecessary (even if they are beloved) bits!

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  2. Sue Ranscht says:

    Four words: My Dinner with Andre

    Even so, I agree that relating relevant action helps keep readers awake. I tend to see even characters’ conversations, so if they do anything that shows subtext, I can share it as a hint. lol, must be that theater background.

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    1. Clarice says:

      Nice! And yeah, dialogue doesn’t really need much dressing up. It’s more that it was soooo maaaannnyyy pages. I just wasn’t moving my story ahead very well.

      Also this probably says even more about those stories in general and various other issues besides action, but action was my focus for today. Heh.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Alex says:

    I wouldn’t say I’m bad at including action, but I’m bad at making it very detailed and I do use the movie thing sometimes for that, but since I often (try to) write deep POV I also imagine I’m IN the movie. I’m a highly empathetic person, so it’s not too hard to imagine myself in the shoes of my characters.
    I don’t write very long bits of dialogue, but when I do add dialogue I try to add short action tags rather than dialogue tags. At least when there’s a relevant and not super boring action to be taken. Keeps things interesting.
    Good luck on your journey to be a more serious writer! It’s one I’m trying out too. Liking it so far!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      I love that you imagine that you’re IN the movie. And yeah, dialogue tags are super useful just in terms of being invisible, but it is nice to spice things up when it makes sense to! Woo serious writer journey buddy!

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  4. Alexis says:

    Daydreaming is a big part of my writing process but sometimes I fall asleep!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      Heh. Sometimes I fall asleep, too. Although it’s usually because I’m just super tired rather than because my story was boring. At least, I hope that!

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  5. Can’t wait to read about the rest of the letters. I did NaNoWriMo once, in 2010. Since then, I’ve written nonfiction books. I agree with you about action. I tend to find myself skimming over dialogue. Usually, you can follow the story just as well without it.

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    1. Clarice says:

      That makes me think that that dialogue wasn’t necessary to the story, but I’m also working to be very clear on what is necessary and what’s filler. Although, anytime I run into “As you know, Bob” dialogue in a book… the kind where both characters already know what they’re talking about and just repeating it all for the reader, I definitely start to skim.

      Very cool about writing nonfiction books! I do nonfiction writing for my work, but I haven’t come up with any concrete plans for a full book. Also hey Zentangle! I’ve heard about this from a friend who did it daily for a set amount of time and it seemed fascinating.

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