What counts as character action?

Marie Parks/ June 12, 2018/ Writing Process/ 2 comments

Every Monday, Marie attends a fiction writing critique group, where she reads aloud a section of The Grigori and receives feedback from the other writers. Yesterday’s meeting raised an interesting question: “What counts as character action?”

This came up because the section she read didn’t have much happening… at least, not externally. Bridget walked from the rainy street into her hotel room. The end. Yawn?

It really could’ve been a snoozer of a section, except for one saving grace: There was plenty of action going on inside Bridget’s head. One of the critiquers said, “This chapter shows the process of Bridget shoring up her resolve. That is the action.” Hello, light bulb moment for us!

See, we’re pretty intuitive writers; we’ve been avid readers for as long as we can remember, we consume high-quality stories at every turn, and we write every chance we get. So we had a hunch the scene worked, but we weren’t really sure why. When we were faced with that question yesterday — “What counts as character action?” — it was like discovering the mechanics behind breathing. It’s like figuring out why a major chord sounds so pleasant. (The answer is more than just “Because it does, duh.”)

While some writers and storytellers may disagree with us, we’ve landed in the camp that believes internal thoughts and processing for a character are a type of action. And now we’ve done our own internal processing to be able to articulate that. Readers want to see forward momentum, but sometimes that has to happen inside a character before it can translate into meaningful external action.

Thoughts? Agree, disagree?

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2 Comments

  1. Agreed! I love it when authors take the time to develop the inner workings of the characters. I feel as though I can connect with them more fully and have a better grasp of the reasoning behind their actions. I want to know why they are doing something and what led them to that moment. A book can be packed with action but still feel flat if I can’t connect to those in the story. Cheers!

    1. So true! I (Marie here!) was at a writers conference recently where Melinda Snodgrass was talking about this idea for the opening scene of a movie that flopped because it was all action and no character development. No matter how amazing the special effects or the wow-factor of the writing, if readers don’t feel a connection, they won’t care.

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