Thursday, June 30, 2005

Action & the Evil "As"

Warning: Incoming RANT!
ACTION Scenes = Chronological Order

If you visualize the characters doing something in a specific order – you write it in THAT order!

Life is full of random events. FICTION is NOT.

Every element in a story; every character, every situation, and every object, must be there for a REASON, and have a Reason to Be There. In Fiction, NOTHING happens “just because” – especially in Action Sequences.

REALITY = Something random happens - you React.
Action – Reaction - Action – Reaction
- In Chronological order

The Plot happens to the characters - they React.
Action – Reaction - Action – Reaction
- In Chronological order

Stimulus > Physical Reaction > Sensation Perception > Emotional Reaction > Deliberate Reaction

If you want the Reader to SEE the actions that you are trying to portray as a movie in their minds, Chronological Order is the ONLY way to do it. This order is VERY specific. You may SKIP steps, but you may not change the order.

1) Stimulus > Something happens TO the Viewpoint Character. (Action).

The Viewpoint Character has a CHAIN of REACTIONS.

2) Physical Reaction > The character has a knee-jerk Physical Reaction to what has just happened. (Reaction)


3) Sensation Perception & Reaction > The character feels Physical Sensations and physically reacts to the sensations. (Reaction)


4) Emotional Reaction > They have an Emotional Reaction reflected in their thoughts with Internal Narration and/or a Vocal Comment about what had just happened.(Reaction)


5) Deliberate Reaction >
They Respond. They DO something, or SAY something about that action – or both! (Reaction) (When in doubt, Dialogue goes LAST. People ACT faster than they Think.)


NEW Stimulus >
External Reaction of the OTHER person or an Outside event, (Action)

This starts the viewpoint character's CHAIN of REACTIONS again!

In a nutshell:
  • Stimulus - Something happened
  • Physical Reaction - Their body’s immediate physical reaction
  • Sensation & Reaction - The physical sensations & then their Reactions to those sensations
  • Emotional Reaction - What they thought about what was happening – Internal Narration
  • Deliberate Reaction - How they responded -- Physical Action THEN Comment
  • What happened Next
- In that order -- ALWAYS.

What it Looks Like: 

(1-Stimulous) Will lunged, stabbing his sword toward Jack.

(2-Physical Reaction) Jack twisted to intercept the oncoming blade with his blade, rather than his body. (3-Sensation Perception & Reaction) The swords impacted with a bone-jarring slam and a metallic shriek. Jack winced. (4-Emotional - Narrative - Reaction) Apparently Will had forgotten that swordfights made a lot of noise; not to mention other physical damage that might hamper escape. (5-Deliberate Reaction) He slid his sword up Will’s blade and smiled. “Will, fighting right here, right now, isn’t the brightest idea in the world. I don’t know if you noticed, but there are a bunch of cutthroat pirates in the next cave?”

(1-New Stimulous) Will flinched back and scowled. “I don’t care. I want to rescue her now!”

Violating Chronological Order is Bad.

If you write the actions out of order, the Mental Movie STOPS and the Reader has to STOP READING to rearrange what they are reading into the correct order of events to get the movie back.

  • The flash of pain exploded in my cheek [Results of Event] as her hand lashed out at me in a slap. [Event]
  • Her hand lashed out in a slap. [Event]
  • A flash of pain exploded in my cheek. [Results]

"HEY! That one line became Two Sentences?"

Yes it did. THIS is the correct form for FICTION. Two peoples' Actions should NEVER happen in the same sentence - OR the Same Paragraph, for all the same reasons that two differen't peoples' Dialogue does not happen in the same paragraph.

"But, my Grammar Book says it's Okay...?"

Screw your English grammar books! Basic Grammar is Not designed for FICTION. Basic Grammar is designed for NON-FICTION, such as reports, essays, and letters.

(I can already hear the OTHER whining...)

"But with all those little paragraphs, it doesn’t look Neat & Tidy."

YES, written chronological action and dialogue tends to make lots of little paragraphs, and looks very choppy on the page.

Neat & Tidy, be damned!

Who Cares what the words look like on the page? It may look choppy, but the reader has absolutely no doubt as to who is doing what. Making the scene hard for the reader to PICTURE as they read, is a Bad Idea.

The Reader's perceptions are more important than whether or not your type looks tidy. Once the reader has their Mental Movie rolling, they won’t even SEE the words – they're too busy making pictures in their head to even Notice that they are reading!

Anytime the reader has to STOP to reread a passage and rearrange the words to FIT their mental movie, you’ve made a BREAK.

Breaks are Bad – very, very BAD!  

A break creates a moment where the reader can Put the Book Down -- and forget to pick it back up again.

"But now I have page after page of really short sentences!"

If you've separated your paragraphs by character, and discovered that you have reams of paragraphs only a sentence long, (most likely strings of dialogue,) you have just exposed another insidious problem happening in your story:

Not Enough Description

Luckily, this is a fairly easy cure. Just describe the places and actions that go with those lines.

Dialogue Only:
"Himawari-chan, I have your lunch!"

Dialogue + ACTION:
Lunch time found Kimihiro walking around to the back of the school carrying the three lacquered wood bento boxes.

Himawari was already at their chosen spot.

Kimihiro couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. He waved. "Himawari-chan, I have your lunch!"

Dialogue + Action + DESCRIPTION:
Lunch time found Kimihiro walking around to the back of the school carrying the three lacquered wood bento boxes wrapped in a large cloth in one hand, and the thermos of chilled jasmine tea in the other.

Himawari was already at their chosen spot under the tree. She knelt on the small picnic blanket, neat and prim in her stark black skirt and white summer top, while talking cheerfully to her tiny bright yellow bird, Tanpopo, Dandilion. The ultra-feminine black coils of her sumptuous mane spilled down her back and tumbled down around her lap. Two small coiling tails bound with yellow bows framed either side of her impishly sweet face.

Kimihiro couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. So cuuute! Himawari was everything a pretty girl should be, and she was just as sweet as she appeared. He waved. "Himawari-chan, I have your lunch!"

For a more in-depth look at adding actions and description to your text, read:

"What about Literary styles?"

What about them? If you simply MUST have stylish phrasing in your fiction, either keep it in chronological order, or save it for description and dialogue, but keep it out of the Action sequences!

The Evil Nasty ViciousAs 

Remove “As” from your work, Now!

"As" is a RED FLAG word. If you see them, something is Wrong with your writing. If you see a LOT of them, something is Seriously Wrong with your writing.

“As” is supposed to mean: two actions happening simultaneously. Unfortunately nine times out of ten, "As" denotes that the author has written their actions Out of Chronological Sequence. In other words, the sentence is Backwards! The actions are occurring AFTER the Effects of those Actions.


    • The blades rang as Jack parried Will's attack. 
    THINK...! Which came first, really?
    • Jack parried Will's attack?
    • The blades rang?
      • The blades made contact FIRST: Jack parried Will's attack. 
      • THEN: The blades rang.


      • Jack parried Will's attack and the blades rang.

      Another problem “As” flags is when the Actions of TWO characters are in the same paragraph.


      • Will’s grip tightened upon the hilt of his blade as Jack gestured with his sword.
      Bad! Bad! Bad! Characters are selfish creatures, they Do Not SHARE -- EVER! Characters ALWAY get their Own Paragraphs.

      Two Characters Acting = Two paragraphs!

      Each character gets their own paragraph -- ALWAYS! The actions and dialogue of one character, Do Not Happen in the Same Paragraph as the actions and dialogue of another character because the Mental Movie picture become muddied for the Reader.

      However, not only were two characters in the same paragraph, the actions were out of sequence too! In fact, it was backwards.


      • Will’s grip tightened upon the hilt of his blade [Results of Event] as Jack gestured with his sword. [Event
      THINK...! Which really came first?  
      • Will’s grip tightened upon the hilt of his blade?
      • Jack gestured with his sword?

      • Jack gestured with his sword. [Event]
      • Will’s grip tightened upon the hilt of his blade. [Results of Event]

      “As” can also denote Dialogue Tags sneaking in where they aren't needed.


      • "Get a life, Jack." Will growled as he tried to push against Jack's defensive stance.

      You Don’t need DIALOGUE TAGS when you have Actions! 

      You already know, through the action, who is speaking. Dialogue tags are only ever needed when you don’t have any other way of identifying the speaker.

      Oh, AND the Actions are Out of Sequence --
      • "Get a life, Jack," Will growled as he tried to push against Jack's defensive stance.
      AND...! The dialogue is in the Wrong Place too! In fact, the entire sentence is back to front. However, lets deal with the dialogue first.
        Action precedes Dialogue 

        Action goes FIRST and Dialogue goes LAST. Dialogue always happens AFTER Actions, because Speech FREEZES Action in Real Life, not just in fiction. People ACT faster than they THINK. (Ask any martial artist.)

        So, THINK...! In what order did these things really happen?
        • "Get a life, Jack," 
        • He tried to push against Jack's defensive stance.

          • Will pushed against Jack's defensive stance. "Get a life, Jack."

            And while we're at it... Leave the damned Dialogue ATTACHED to the end of the Paragraph, or no one will know who said it!

            Who's idea was it anyway, to separate Dialogue from it's own paragraph? They need to be SLAPPED. Cutting off the dialogue defeats the whole purpose of using Actions to differentiate between speakers, Forcing the author to use Dialogue Tags. 

            KILL the "As"!

            As you can clearly see, the word “As” is a devious sinister monster that should be destroyed on sight.

            should only be used by Trained Professionals. Unfortunately, I have purchased far too many books where the Trained Professionals (multi-published authors,) got it WRONG. (sigh)

            If you discover an infestation of "As", (they tend to sneak in when you least expect them,) use your Search/Replace function, and Replace "As" in your manuscripts with "And". If your action sequences are out of order you'll SEE IT right away.

            I have spoken.

            Morgan Hawke


            1. As with some other writing techniques, I have a less severe vision :-) (though, again, like them, 'as' is one of those things that exist mainly for style, and when striving to create a visceral, video-like experience, one can get of them-- they are "literaturisms', meant to decorate the text) -- but I fully agree on not using 'as' in urgent physical action scenes! "As" is slow, it kills the urgency.

            2. Forgot to add! However, I'm worried that in the hands of less skilled writers than you, dismissing several writing techniques utterly (don't use this, that, etc), can make their prose look poorer -- less decorated, less diverse. Well, you know :)-- I don't agree on exorcising certain elements out of everyone's writing, because I think it is more of a style concern.

            3. But I'm less merciful to the reader than you, LOL. You always care about the reader easily understanding things, easily being able to single out speakers -- I think if they want to read it, they have to work for it ;)

            4. "As" should only be used by Trained Professionals. Unfortunately, I purchased far too many books where the Trained Professionals (published authors,) got it WRONG. (sigh)

              "If you don't know how to use it Properly - don't use it at all."


            5. "If you don't know how to use it Properly - don't use it at all."

              that, I fully agree with!

              and I don't much like 'as' in scenes like sword-fights

              btw -- where are you hiding? I have a confession to make ;)

            6. Everytime I come here I am blown away by all the great insights; thank you, thank you, thank you!

            7. Very interesting. Hmmm, gee, should I make your blog required reading for my students in the fall? lol

            8. You're wlcome to.
              - I have it on very good authority that I am being visited by a number of students – at their teacher’s request. (grin)

              Morgan Hawke

            9. OMG! I confess that I've been reading and lurking. This page you have put together on *as* hits it on the nailhead. It has been driving me nuts - I couldn't put my finger on it exactly - you've cleared it up for me. Thank you so so much. I have a lot of editing to do. *G* Paula