Action Is The Hero

Action Is The Hero

In this post, we show you how to transform characters, bring settings to life, and improve plots – all through action. Action is the hero.

Action Is The Hero – How Action Brings More Life To Characters, Setting, and Plot

All good novels and stories have their own unique rhythm, from popular fiction to literary works.

The truth is that readers like the balance between exciting action scenes and peaceful moments. It’s this mix of energy and calm that keeps them hooked.

But you can’t write a story with no action.

Action is the fuel that propels the story forward – for character, setting, and plot

Action keeps readers involved in the narrative, on the edge of their seat or emotionally gripped, turning pages because just have to know what happens next.

Moreover, action is a great way to reveal character. How your characters react in the face of danger or conflict can tell readers a lot about them. Do they crumble under pressure or do they rise to the occasion?

In other words, do they ‘act like the hero’?

And generating more action to your narrative helps you reveal more of your story’s setting. Sometimes, as authors, we tend to place characters and dialogue in an environment that feels detached, almost like a vacuum.

By consistently bringing action onto the page, you almost ‘force’ your characters to engage with their surroundings.

This interaction not only breathes life into your setting but also weaves it seamlessly into your narrative. It offers a more authentic, organic depiction of the story’s backdrop.

Most importantly, action serves as the real force behind your plot, transitioning your characters from one scene to another.

Let’s be honest. Readers don’t like passive characters; they want protagonists who are engaged in action (even if it’s as mundane as attempting to pry open a can of baked beans without a can opener).

Action provides insight into what the character ‘must do’ in order to resolve conflicts or overcome the challenges that you, as a writer, have set for them.

What do we mean by ‘action’?

Let’s start with the word ‘action’.

It can be a pretty heavy-duty noun, implying ‘doing’ or ‘performing’. Or, it can be adjective, indicating something ‘energetic’ or ‘dynamic’.  Why not simplify it to a single word? Act. Basically, get your characters to do stuff.

Let’s look at with three scenes and see how we can bring more action to each.

  1. A visitor at the door

Sure, you can start with a knock and the visitor just waltzes in.

Imagine this: A little girl and her cat spying a car pulling into the driveway from the window. The girl races into the kitchen where her dad’s busy cooking, tugs on his apron and announces the arrival of the visitor.

Dad, a bit flustered, ditches the apron and heads for the door, dodging the cat s weaving around his legs. He hollers for his partner, Greg, to come downstairs, scoops up the cat, takes the girl’s hand and just as they reach the door, the visitor knocks.

The result: In this scene, action intensifies the narrative, adding urgency and suspense. The girl’s race to her dad, the father’s flustered reaction and the dodging of the cat create a sense of anticipation.

The call for Greg and the simultaneous arrival at the door with the visitor’s knock heightens the suspense, leaving readers eager for what comes next.

  1. Two people at a party

Yes a young woman could just walk up to a man at the party, flash a smile and introduce herself. But let’s add some ‘acting’ to this scene.

Imagine this: As they meet, she raises her martini glass and smiles. He, a bit nervy, fiddles with his bowtie. Then, the caterers want to set up where the couple is standing. She steps back, teeters on the edge of the swimming pool, and he grabs her arm – just in time!

The result: In this scene, the action highlights the differences between the characters. The woman’s confident approach, martini glass aloft, contrasts with the man’s nervous fiddling – and creates tension.

The interruption by caterers adds a comic twist, while her near fall into the pool and his timely save injects suspense and physicality, hinting at an immediate romantic connection.

  1. A woman watching paint dry

OK, this scenario is a challenge. How long can you have her just staring at the wall?

Imagine this: How about she squints, blinks, even winks at the wall, willing the paint to dry faster? She stares with such intensity that the act of staring, in fact, becomes the action.

The result: In this scene, the wet wall almost becomes an antagonist. The woman’s intense, almost confrontational gaze on the drying paint is like ‘staring down the enemy’.

Her fierce concentration transforms the act of staring into a compelling action. With the right action, a writer can turn a mundane activity into a riveting experience.

Top Tips

Try these tips to bring more action into your writing.

  1. Before writing a scene, consider the potential actions of the characters. Brainstorm a minimum of five to six possibilities.
  2. Bring more physicality into your characters. Let them perform actions such as driving a car, cleaning out an attic, or chasing a dog down the street.
  3. Allow action to dictate the plot. For instance, if your hero punches the villain, could this lead to his arrest?
  4. For a creative challenge, attempt writing a scene devoid of dialogue, focusing solely on action and movement.
  5. Visualise your story or individual scenes within your novel. This encourages the creation of more action within a scene.

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The Final Word 

Action isn’t just for thrillers or adventures. You can place it into any genre, from romance to drama and beyond. Putting more action into your story brings it to life, gives it a sense of authenticity, and helps move your plot along.

anthony ehlers

By Anthony Ehlers. Anthony Ehlers facilitates courses for Writers Write. He writes awesome blog posts and workbooks too.

More Posts From Anthony:

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  2. 5 Ways To Look At Viewpoint (Slightly Differently)
  3. 5 Fresh Starts To Your Writing
  4. 8 Ways To Uncover Your Character’s Motivations
  5. Which Way North? 5 Methods To Outline A Novel
  6. Writer In Search Of A Novel – Finding Your Genre As A New Novelist
  7. Writing For Tweens & Teens? 8 Insights For Middle Grade & Young Adult Authors
  8. Ready To Save The Cat?
  9. 5 Simple Steps To Writing A Short Story
  10. 2 Questions To Find Your Writing Process

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Posted on: 28th September 2023