Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Action in a work of fiction

The ACTION in a work of fiction is that series of events that constitutes the plot, or what the characters say, do, think or in some cases fail to do. Orderly ACTION differs from aimless or episodic activity; an ACTION customarily has a beginning, middle and end.

So it's not just the entire work that needs a beginning, middle and end, it is the ACTION as well. Or what one might think of as "scenes." And each scene must mean something. There must be a purpose for its existence in the manuscript-- to advance the plot, to explore the characterizations, to set the tone or develop themes. "But this really happened to my uncle Ned" isn't a good enough reason to include meaningless ACTION into your story.

(This post has been inspired by and in some instances, directly quoted from A Handbook to Literature, 8th Edition, by William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman)

70 comments:

  1. This is the thing that worries me most about writing fiction. I suppose one can always go back after the first draft and remove anything that doesn't move the action forward. Thanks, karen
    Karen

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  2. I suppose the movies have spoiled us in this respect. If something's not action packed, we're not likely to stay interested.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day and following. Sorry it's taken me so long to respond!

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  3. This is really cool! I don't know how I'm going to keep up with all the commenting.

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  4. Good post, Karan. Action is what moves the story along. Without it, the story is stagnant. But that doesn't mean your story has to go all Rambo.

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  5. I love action in a book, but it's the hardest thing for me to write. Not good when you write thrillers! lol. Good post.

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  6. Thanks for the writing tip, Karen, and the writing prompt you left me.

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  7. Exactly. This is the second action one I've read, although I can't remember who wrote the first one. A thousand blogs! OK, time for some action in the kitchen.

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  8. Well said Karen. Now I need to put it into Action. LOL! Can't stop over long have blogs to read.......

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  9. This is the first A-Z post I'm reading and I know I will enjoy this so much. What a great subject and the post was direct and to the point, action all the way.--Inger

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  10. who doesn't love action!

    stopping by from the A to Z challenge, nice to meet you!

    http://baygirl32.blogspot.com

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  11. :o) So how's it feel to be a co-host? Daunting? Good luck keeping up! I sure wouldn't be able to. Are you wonder woman? xoxo

    Jessica @ The Alliterative Allomporph

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  12. Great post- I hadn't thought of action needing all three parts- but it makes sense. Happy posting and have a terrific Friday!

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  13. I love the action, and it's gotta be there in a book to keep my attention. Great A word Karen!

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  14. Good point about meaningless action. Gotta keep it relevant or it just bogs down the narrative.

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  15. Hah! I love the bit about Uncle Ned. So true. Every single page should have a purpose.

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  16. Some novels are so full of action it's edge of the seat stuff, others are so lacking in action it's like wading through molasses! I hope my WIP hits the spot action-wise :O)

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  17. How did you know about my Uncle Ned?

    Action is awesome, just hard to write.
    HMG

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  18. Thanks for a great writerly tip beginning with A!!!

    Take care
    x

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  19. Karen, is there a way to link our posts to your blog? I''ll give it a shot here from vacation!...:)JP

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  20. Great points! Action is exciting but it's pointless unless it moves the story forward in some way.

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  21. Great post - straight to the point! Thanks :)

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  22. Happy A2Z - I got to be your 700th "stalker". Sweet!

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  23. Hi Karen .. Action keeps the mind moving doesn't it .. it can't dwell for too long, before the story teller is off again .. we need ACTION for every little thing we do ... Great fun - cheers Hilary

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  24. You have just explained why I will like some stories but just quit reading for some reason. I could never define it, but now I can say to myself "This story is missing ACTION."

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  25. Great reminder.

    Right now, I'm working my way up to the climax of my story, so it feels like I have action coming out of my ears.

    ;-)

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  26. An important part of fiction and life, hence the phrase, 'I want a piece of the ACTION'.

    Great that we're both doing the A to Z but it's going to be exhausting I think.

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  27. Yes. In film, Action is character, Character is action. The scene is at the center of the story in both movie and book.

    You've reached 700 followers. Congratulations!!

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  28. Yay, Karen... 700 followers!


    We all need to remember this when we write.... Thanks for the reminder!

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  29. Yay, giraffes! Thanks for dropping by my blog today. One of the things I like about writing flash fiction is that it gets you to focus on action, makes you cut out all the superfluous parts. Good post!

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  30. I know zip about writing fiction (That's a Z word - oops! Have to remember that for month's end!) This is very helpful information. Get rid of the fluff!

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  31. Oh, and my son served as well, three tours in Iraq. Please thank your son for his service from me, and a big Semper Fi!

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  32. Hi Karen, nice to know you :) Action is so much needed, since I am writing novellas and that too in paranormal! Great post..looking forward to the month ahead :)

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  33. Ooh, good A. :) Agreed that Action is key... Ocean's Eleven anyone? Most boring movie EVER all because there was no action. Oh, and Ocean's Twelve and Thirteen ditto that! :P

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  34. Thanks for visiting today...I have an empty nest (mostly) and it has come with some challenges but there are lots of bright spots too. Best of luck with your move-I'm a bit of an expert on that!

    Thanks for co-hosting...this looks like a fun challenge and I've enjoyed hopping around to some new blogs. I'm a bit of an addict myself : )

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  35. Good start. Gotta have ACTION. Like a certain well-loved shark always asks, "What HAPPENS in your book?"

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  36. The action is definitely the best part :-). But seriously, it does need purpose. Great post.
    ~2

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  37. Thanks for the reminder, too often I like the, "But this really happened", but that isn't enough.

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  38. I love how you say that each scene must mean something. Interconnecting the scenes/actions always feed into the end result :)

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  39. Karen, an excellent way to start the A-Z challenge!

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  40. I've had to learn to add in more action--too much thinking in my scenes.

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  41. Well said!
    I linked you all over my opening A since you're how I found the Challenge.:)
    I don't know how to put the clicky icon in my sidebar though
    (blogger fail)
    Check it out as I've been a lurker of yours for awhile now.
    Aloha
    T
    http://www.tobyneal.net/

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  42. Meaningless action is what I dread to have offered up in a story.

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  43. hURRAH FOR ACTION! Oops. Going a little crazy with the caps there. It's bec I have to keep up with all the blogs I've got to comment on. happy blogging!

    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  44. Great post. I frequently end up in debates over the qualities of "this is engaging and draws the audience in" over "this is how things actually happen."

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  45. Thanks for this post - it is pithy and pointed - a pithy pointy post - yikes - I meant it is accurate and awakening! Yes, it is an accurate awakening account! yippee!
    Jan Morrison

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  46. Don't I just love me some action. Thank you Karen. I'm glad I came by.

    Denise<3

    L'Aussie Travel Blog A - Z Challenge

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  47. I use action scenes to move the plot by introducing conflict. Or inserting a twist or turn in the plot the reader does not expect.

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  48. there needs to be some kind of note pad thingy that will let me slide all the great writerly advice from a post onto it so I can print it off and keep it for later use. how's that for a long sentence?!!

    great advice! thanks :)

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  49. I love action packed books! So why is it so hard to write them! LOL Scenes with purpose! That's what it's all about! ;)

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  50. Whew! You're making my head spin. Thanks for the great advice.


    Visiting from the A to Z Challenge. Looking forward to reading your posts. Happy Friday! :o)

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  51. This is an excellent reminder--it's different in life, when some things just happen. In books, everything has to be more concise.

    (Thanks for visiting my blog, and I look forward to seeing what you do for the rest of the challenges!)

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  52. Very nice tip. Thank you. I'm looking forward to reading more A to Z posts.

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  53. action is key..moving forward in the plot :)

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  54. Yes, the action has to be flowing to keep the reader's interest, I agree! Good luck with the challenge!

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  55. Good reminder, Karen. Do you have suggestions for revising with Action in mind?

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  56. "'But this really happened to my uncle Ned' isn't a good enough reason to include meaningless ACTION into your story."

    Oh I LOVE that bit! Sometimes as writers we need that little reminder that just because something is going on, that doesn't mean that it necessarily makes sense for it to be happening.

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  57. Great action advice; I agree, movement is key or readers get bored. I love what you shared and will take note. I so want to attempt writing YA. I'm trying to read some of the best sellers, so I get a feel for it!~ I do remember those painful junior high years, it could help~

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  58. Great to visit again Karen. I also appreciate your advice,especially writing action in 3 scenes. Thanks!


    ~~Sheila
    Reviewer & Writer
    Book reviews and Author Interviews at my blog at http://whynotbecauseisaidso.blogspot.com/

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  59. Very informative start. I'll be back around to see what the other letters are up to. :-)

    Penned Pebbles

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  61. Sorry about double posting...typing on my iPad in bed is not a good idea.
    Thanks for hosting the A to Z Challenge. I'm a newbie and am enjoying reading a lot of the blogs.

    I agree that action is vital to fiction writing. Without it, it's just strings of words going nowhere.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

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  62. Karen,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I loved hearing your sister is a 15 yr survivor and a runner! (What an encouragement!) Also, great blog site. I plan on coming back in the morning to read more. Thanks again!

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  63. I had never thought about this before! Which seems silly right now, but I HAD only been thinking of the beginning/middle/end of the entire work. Great post!

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  64. Great start to A-Z Challenge. You're right, action does need beg/mid/end. I love the "makes you think" type of post.
    Sue

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  65. Well stated. We all need ACTION.

    Lisa
    InspiredbyLisa

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  66. Love Action - not really a fan of Anecdote, the something funny that happens which people think ought to go in a story of theirs but which doesn't necessarily take it anywhere. Great start to the A-Z challenge month!

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