A is for Action

(cross-posted from Fairbetty’s World)

A stands for Action

Action is the main vehicle for getting your characters from “Once Upon a Time,” to “The End.” Without action, your MC would never learn that he is a wizard, find that golden ticket, stand up against the oppressive regime that forces children to fight children to the death, or fall in love with his best friend. Your MC wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed in the morning!

One of the main pitfalls of the beginning writer is the tendency to want to describe everything, to tell the reader about the details of setting and characters, even down to the brand of jeans or what cars are driving by on the street. We spend hours crafting the perfect sentence that will describe exactly what everything in our head (or in front of our eyes) looks like. While nothing is more important that setting the scene, when it comes to details (or the overuse of them), less is more! They call this concept “Show, don’t Tell.” If the detail is important, somehow it will fit into the action.

This is not to say that a manuscript should be all action, but action moves the plot forward while description puts the plot in neutral… it’s not moving backward, but it’s not really going anywhere. Finding the balance that fits your plot is the key. If we’re having a thrilling car chase or a heated argument, the rest of the details will naturally fall in the background (into that less is more category). If the MC is pondering the meaning of life while sitting on the edge of Santa Monica Pier, it’s possible that the details will be more relevant to what you’re trying to convey.

While some readers are philosophers, and some texts need accurate description to be understood, most readers are just looking for the action and they’ll skim right over that detailed description of what the ceremonial knife set looked like. Even if they read it word for word, there’s no guarantee that what they see is what you see. There are some things that have to be let go.

I know it’s hard, but take a look at your WIP (work in progress). Locate those chunks of descriptive prose. Yes, you were poetic, an artist unparalleled. Now decide if that description really adds to the theme/symbolism/plot/character in a way that the reader will connect with. Can’t decide? Ask an honest friend or a crit partner. If the answer is no, consider cutting it out of the action and squirrel it away for the supplemental materials they’ll want to print after your book has made you famous.

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