Monday, January 24, 2011


Real people move - they act. They talk with their hands, turn around, walk forward, step sideways, reach for a glass, toss this, toss that, squat down, duck, run, and . . . ACTION!

The characters I write must do the same. They can't just stand immobile throughout the course of the book.

But . . .

Action is a tricky thing. Too much action = confusion. Case in point . . .

Katherine stood up and walked across the room. She stood in front of the bay window that overlooked the expansive acreage of her Belle Meade property. The house itself, a massive Tudor was impressive enough, but magnificent when combined with the forested property. “My son was out and proud, as out and proud as you could get, much to the detriment of our family name, and much to the glee of my society friends. Oh, how, they loved it when they found out the high and mighty Katherine Deluca, she of the wickedest tongue in Nashville, had a gay son. They delighted in my shame and horror.” She turned around. “I delighted in becoming the proudest PFLAG member ever. You should have seen the horror on my society friends’ faces when I invited every drag queen in town to the charity lunch.” She laughed softly. “Yes, a bit petty on my part, but I am the Bitch of Belle Meade, after all. I do need to live up to my horrible reputation.” She turned back around. “My son was quite vocal in his activism. He outed more than one prominent member of Nashville society. He has a blog, the address is in the folder. Check it out. You’ll understand my son far better by reading his blog than by anything I can tell you.” She turned around again, her hands clasped in front of her. “Is this a typical hate crime? Was my son attacked for being gay?” She shrugged. “I don’t know. I do know, the word faggot etched on his forehead was intentional. That, dear detectives, make this a hate crime in my book. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Question: without looking back at the passage, which direction is Katherine facing - toward Peter or out the window?

Yeah, I guessed it - you have no clue. Neither do I and I wrote the passage. I made a very - at least in my opinion - common error: too much action in too little space. Yes, Katherine, for all intents and purposes, needed to turn around once or twice . . . just not so many times that dear brilliant - ha - author here is confused and, ultimately, so are the readers.

So, lesson learned: too much action isn't a good thing. Less is more! Okay, I didn't come up with that gem of brilliance on my own, but it is a good one and something that I will pay much more attention to in future writing endeavors and in the editing process.

How about you? Too much action in one scene? Are you and your characters confused about their position? Forward? Backwards? Sideways? How many times can one character turn around in one paragraph? Ha!

So, words of advice from yours truly: don't confuse yourself or potential readers with two much action in one paragraph/scene. Limit the action to the necessary and delete the unnecessary!



Tess said...

great advice, Scott. and, yes, I do this sometimes though I tend to put to little action in more often. it is a fine balance but something worth paying attention to!

Anonymous said...

Great example, Scott. And sometimes, beyond confusing the reader, an abundance of detailed actions serves to slow down the story. The mundane overpowers the scene. Readers can imagine without being led by the proverbial hand. For instance, if Katherine was sitting in the previous paragraph and you said, "Katherine walked across the room to the bay window..." or even, "Katherine walked over to the bay window..." I would know that she had left her chair. Our scenes can get tangled in trivia, and when the trivia isn't important to the overall story, our storytelling is missing the mark, isn't it?

Happy Monday writing.