Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Three Paragraphs - Action

Action is the second sort of paragraph necessary to writing fiction.  Unlike description, the moment you start writing action sequences, time is passing in a story.  Action usually comes in after description and shows the changes of status and position of a character.  The reader uses the previously established description and takes that avatar, to use a computer gaming term, through the manipulations described in your paragraph in order to picture the action of the story.


A majority of your paragraphs are likely to be action of some sort or another.

This does not mean the movie-goer's definition of action.  If a character walks across the room to get a glass of milk and yawns half way there, that is action.  Any visible motion or physical event classifies as an action.

Action is typically going to have a faster rhythm than description.  The slowest action paragraph will still likely read as if it moves faster than the fastest description paragraph.  This is to emphasize the fact that things are moving.  If description is a snap-shot of status, action is a video.

Action paragraphs are also likely to be shorter, especially in comparison to descriptions of primary story characters or places.  The lenth of descriptive paragraphs earlier essentially make it unnecessary to be overly wordy in action sequences.

Just like with description, the way you write action will depend heavily on the perspective that is primarily influencing the narration at the moment.

The perspective of a master martial artist on a fight is going to be a lot calmer and more detailed than that of an accomplished doctor.  A narration with the former is likely to involve appropriate terms like "feint", "roundhouse", "riposte" or the like and have a calm, analytical flavor.

A narration influenced by the doctor, meanwhile, is more likely to focus on the injuries induced and be rather vague about what the actual attacks are.  The flavor of the narration will tend to be a bit excited and worried.  The rhythm is likely to be somewhat faster and more jagged than that of the martial artist's.

Action is separated by decisions.

Every time a character makes a significant decision, a new paragraph should be started.  Similar to the situation with description and items, what constitutes a significant decision is very much dependent on how much you want to emphasize that particular decision.

Coming back to the example of the fight.  Unless you want to imply a slow motion feel, you probably don't want to spend a whole paragraph describing each and every move and counter-move of the fight.  Instead, the decisions will be points where the fighters choose to take a new tact on the situation: shifts in tactics and approaches.

However, you can stretch out action to describe each motion in painful detail.  This will present a sort of sense of tension of some sort.  You can describe each foot rising and falling as your character walks to the kitchen and then follow this with a long detailed description of how the character gets out the orange juice and the look of the juice as it pours out of the jug into a clear glass.

Each slowly added detail builds up the tension which you can then release, either slowly or all at once.  This can be an alternate way to introduce a new character, being a case of actions speaking louder than description, or it can be a way of building up suspense (either misleading or real) before some surprising event.

Just like with description, the longer you make your paragraphs, the more significant you make that particular action in the eyes of the reader.

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