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.