Monday, March 17, 2008

Finish your action

Going to try to keep this short for once--

Came across this in a couple submissions. You know how you sometimes use action instead of "he said"? You know:

Tammy rose. "You're a fool, Tommy. Bear Stearns is NOT a great investment!"

That's a good way to help the reader keep track of who's saying what, without repeating "she said" ad nauseum (or that immortal pre-war quote tag-- "Wow!" he ejaculated), and it injects some movement into what might be a static scene.

However, the action isn't JUST a quote tag. The astute reader is subconsciously keeping track, and if you have Tammy rising, and then standing up, and then pulling herself to her feet, well, the reader's going to wonder if the chair is following her around and repeatedly implanting itself on her bottom.

So block your action. Yeah, just like they do in the theatre. Make sure if there's an opening action, there's a closing one too. If she rises, she either sits down again or starts moving. If he pulls his cell phone out of his pocket, he should either answer it, make a call, or pocket it again.

In fact, it wouldn't hurt-- well, yeah, it'll probably hurt :)-- to actually write these "internal actions" down separately and make sure they make sense.

Says Alicia, who once had a cowboy hero remove his hat three times without putting it back on. Well, maybe he was a hydra-headed cowboy!!


Ian said...

"Says Alicia, who once had a cowboy hero remove his hat three times without putting it back on. Well, maybe he was a hydra-headed cowboy!!"

That's nothin'. In an early draft of Deep Six I had a character involved in a long conversation whom I'd killed off three chapters earlier. Ever since then, I've gotten in the habit of keeping a separate file of character actions. Any time I change something major, I change the file entry.

When I was a GM (that's Game Master for the uninitiated), I'd keep master charts of every character's actions so I'd know who was doing what when in case timing became crucial. It's a worthwhile effort to use something like it in fiction as well.

I've been guilty of the "he said/yelled/cried/gestured/gesticulated wildly/screamed/shouted/whispered" plenty of times myself. I'm trying to be more aware of it nowadays, but it's a fine line, especially when juggling three characters are talking in a scene and it's crucial to understand WHO is saying WHAT to WHOM.

Anyway, I'm all bagpiped out after a concert, which is why I'm blathering on here. Hope your St. Patrick's Day was Epic!


Dave Shaw said...

Interesting. I visualize my scenes while I'm drafting them, so I rarely have this problem until I start making changes and lose track of the flow. For example: "Wait a minute, does Roxy have the concussion in this version, or is she in a coma now? Did I change that back? And is this the version with Mr. Green and the lead pipe, or Miss Scarlet and the candlestick? Aiyee!"

Ian, maybe your subconscious really wanted to write a ghost story. ;-)

Edittorrent said...

My characters sit down and never stand up again, except that suddenly they're walking out the door.

How much do you narrate of this action? I mean, so she rises. She takes one step. And then another. And then another... or just "she walked to the door?"

It can get a bit too busy, I think.