Action Writing

Writing action in your story doesn’t mean car chases, fights or shootouts. At least not in this blog. No, in this blog I’m going to talk about writing what your character is doing. You don’t want a lot of talking heads in your writing. We talk and do things. We speak with people and wash dishes. We walk and talk. We drink coffee while talking. Your characters should do that as well. Have them do things. Show how they feel through action rather than words.

We don’t drop everything to talk or even to argue. We do things as we talk. Action makes a story move along. It might not seem like much but it is important to add little bits of action.

How boring it would be to read:

Beth was angry with Tom. He should have told John the truth. She picked up the plates and put them in the sink. She washed them. Tom drank his coffee. Beth took his cup and washed it.

That scene is flat and while it gives us information, it does so in an uninteresting manner. The words we use make our stories vibrant and shiny. How much more interesting would it be to read this:

Beth glared at Tom as she gathered up the dinner plates. He frowned. That wasn’t good.

  “You should have told him.” She dumped the plates into the sink and began filling it with water. “He has the right to know.” She squirted soap into the filling sink.

  “It’s not the right time.” Tom set his coffee cup down. Beth grabbed it and all but threw it into the sink. “I wasn’t done with that.”

“Yes, you are.” She scrubbed at a plate as though she wanted to bore a hole in it. “You need to tell John the truth. You won’t get any more of my coffee until you do.”

That scene is an action scene. We know Tom is likely still sitting at the table after dinner. Beth is cleaning up. She is also angry. We might not know what the truth is in this scene, but that’s OK. We know it’s important to Beth that John learns it. We also know that Tom doesn’t want to tell John the truth, whatever it is. He’s procrastinating. People do that in real life. They should in fiction too.

Shootouts, car chases and fights are great in fiction. They make the story exciting. Everyday action like washing dishes can also create tension and conflict. Use action to punctuate the dialog in a way that drives the story forward. Don’t just say, Mike and Suzie argued. Show them yelling and, yes, even throwing things. Action breathes life into the story. That’s what we want.

Read every scene you have written and see if your characters are talking heads or if they have bodies that are doing something. There’s a reason for the adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” How we move can either belie what we say or emphasize it. So practice having your characters do things. Your writing will be the better for it.


I am not one who is comfortable talking about myself but here goes. I enjoy writing, family history, and reading. I decided to do this blog because I wanted to try something new. I decided to make it a weekly blog because I wasn't sure that I could keep up with a daily one, and monthly seemed like I was writing a magazine. I think I did ok with my choices. You'll notice that there are not a lot of graphics on my site. That's because there are graphics plastered everywhere on the Internet and those sites sometimes take forever to load. This blog is a place where you can kick back, relax and be ready to be amused. At least I hope I willbamuse you. This blog is on a variety of subjects from my ficitional cat agency, the FFL, which is monthly, to instructional blogs to editorials, which are my opinions only. I admit that I don't know everything and could be wrong -- I frequently am. Now, stop reading about me and read what I have to say!

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Posted in General Opinion, Writing Techniques

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© Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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