1. BeepBoop

    BeepBoop New Member

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    Introducing Action

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by BeepBoop, Dec 29, 2017.

    I'm unsure how much time I need to spend introducing the characters and establishing the relationship. I don't want to end up being boring but I also don't want to just leap into the action straight away. What details do I need to introduce before I can move on with the story?
     
  2. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    A lot depends on the specifics of your story (what exactly is "the action"?), but I think what you need to do is give the audience a reason to care about the characters and how the "action" will turn out. Say it's a fight--who's fighting who? Why are they fighting, and why are they fighting each other? What are the stakes if one or the other loses? What does this fight mean in the setting as a whole?
     
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  3. Privateer

    Privateer Senior Member

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    I tend to begin things in media res and introduce people through their part in the action.

    The kind of action they're engaged in and their respective activities in the course of that action can tell you a fair amount about who they are and their relationships with each other. Not super-deep personal stuff but things like 'do they know each other? Trust each other? Like each other? Is one the leader? Are they a group or just a bunch of random folk who happen to be in the same place? Are they brave, cowardly, 'snarky' or taciturn?
     
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  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Be careful not to write your way into the story. I think that's something a lot of writers struggle with. Start the story with the story. Actions don't need introductions. It sounds a little like you want to do certain things at certain times, but characters can get brought in at anytime and a story can open with action. Of course, it doesn't have to, but what if you started with both character and action at the same time? That's probably what I would do.
     
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  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Do you mean "action" like fighting a monster, or "action" like something is happening?

    I think you should absolutely start with something happening. Doesn't have to be fighting a monster, though. Start your story where your story starts.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'd like some examples, especially of what you mean by "action", but I think that it's rarely a good idea to have just introduction, with no plot.
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    As a reader, I do NOT enjoy 'in media res' story beginnings unless the writer is skilled enough to ensure that I not only know what is happening, but who it's happening to. I need more than just a character's name. I also need some idea of what this character is like, what situation they're in, and how they feel about the action taking place. And I also need to know why the action is important to the story. Otherwise, I just skim the 'action' till I get to the meat. It's not a good way to start, at least in my view. Heat and no light, so to speak. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    The other thing people sometimes forget when they become too fond of always starting with 'action' is that the action will drop after the first scene or chapter. Then what? It can be a letdown.

    It's something I've read agents and editors mention. Instead of starting with something intriguing and building to a bang, authors sometimes start with the bang ...and then it all drops off while they backtrack to set up the story and craft the intrigue.

    I'm not saying it can't be done, and done well. But it's something a writer needs to be aware of. Yes, they'll 'grab' attention with an 'exciting action-filled beginning—if the reader understands what's going on and what the stakes are. But if the action then drops off to deal with what underpins the action, there's a loss of momentum. That doesn't always work well.
     
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that here there may be some difference in definition of "action". I agree that if the book starts with the alien invasion, there's a letdown. But if there's a choice between starting with, say, a day of Jane Xeroxing files and eating lunch, versus Jane being called into the boss's office to deal with a complaint about her work, I feel that the second is action.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I'd say that Jane being called into the office about a complaint is a good start to a story. That action introduces the characters and the story problem, doesn't it? Don't get me wrong. I don't advocate the Xerox start either.

    However, what I really DON'T advocate is a emerald-eyed, flame-haired woman dressed in a grey business suit with a azure scarf, charcoal handbag and raven Jimmy Choos charging down a corridor, turning the corner, dashing out into a tiled lobby, crashing through heavy oaken double doors, tripping on the rubber lattice mat, catching herself on the second set of brass door handles on the outer door, turning these to open the door, then clattering down three sets of concrete steps and dashing across the sidewalk into traffic where she is nearly knocked down by a speeding red Porsche. Exciting, right? But there is no story problem, no conflict, and not much of a character either. It's all action that doesn't mean a thing.

    It's not till the next scene that we discover her name is Jane and her mean boss has just told her that if she doesn't pull her socks up and finish the stocktaking before he dies of old age, she'll be sacked—so she screamed back at him, "I quit, you bastard!" and stormed out of the building—madder than a wet hen—and forgot to look both ways before crossing the street.

    As a reader, I will be skimming that first scene wondering what the heck is going on and what's the point. Not in a 'gee I'm so intrigued' way, but a WTF way. I won't start getting interested in the story till I discover who the woman is and what's actually prompted all this media res.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Just because it's hard to pull off, I still think starting in scene is the best bet for a writer. I'm almost calculated in my fiction to not fizzle out as the story goes on. About every 1,000 words I take things in a new direction. I will say from my experience both as a reader and a writer, something should always be happening. You never want to have talking heads in a blank room and you never want to write a mini-essay to set up your story, in my opinion. Of course, there are aways execeptions, but it's even harder to be the exception, I think.
     
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  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    It sounds like we're not all that far apart on this issue, though I would probably start in the middle of the conversation with the boss, while you might(?) start with a sentence or two of job reality before the "Hey, Jane, the boss wants to talk to you," mention?

    Purely guessing here.
     
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  12. Kalisto

    Kalisto Senior Member

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    There's no magic formula to answer that question, but typically action scenes work when they accomplish one of two things: Tell something about the character (ie the opening battle of the movie "Gladiator" told us that Maximus commands the respect of his men and his ability as a strategist, which are both very important for the film) or create tension.

    If the fight scene could tell something about the character, then an early fight scene would work. If its to create tension, then characters have to be developed.
     
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  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I didn't mean to imply that stories can't begin with action. However, the characters and the action should have some story meaning that the reader is aware of. Just watching people we don't know running around and whacking each other is NOT a good story start, in my opinion.
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    No, as long as the chat with the boss reveals the character and the story's problem, I'm good to go, even from the middle of it. In fact, it's a really good way to start a story. It's mindless action stuff that I'm wary of. Where we don't know the characters at all, and don't know why any of the 'action' is happening, and we don't find out anything till the next scene where the action drops and the explanations start.
     
  15. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think we're both thinking that the story needs to feel grounded in some way very quickly, which can mean putting a little more on the page than just an action. Beginnings can be tough. Sometimes I have to go back and look and actually figure out if anything is going on. I wrote one story where I had about four pages leading up to the first sign of any action. It wasn't a big action, but it was the first time I had a character doing anything even if it was only reaching across the table. I realized I didn't need anything I had written up to that point.
     

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