Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing - Lesson 3 of 6: Dramatic Action

Lesson Three - Dramatic Action

"Dramatic action which the writer expresses in words, having that action as the purpose and goal of his words, and which the actor performs, or acts, as the word actor itself implies." (55) Acting, The First Six Lessons, Richard Boleslavsky

"I: Yes. But my action was prompted by you.  The Creature:  By me?  I:  Yes.  By your character rather.  To convince you in anything one must approach you through emotion.  Cold reasoning is inaccessible to your type of mind- the mind of an artist who deals mostly with his or other people's imaginations.  If, instead of you, I had a bearded Professor of History as a companion, I wouldn't have acted sorrowful at all.  I would have tempted him enthusiastically with a picture of the past - a weak spot of all historians - and he would have yielded to my statement.  The Creature:  I see.  So one must choose his actions in accordance with the character of the part that opposes him.  I:  Always.  Not only the character of the part, but also the individuality of the actor who plays the part."  (63) Acting, The First Six Lessons, Richard Boleslavsky

Firstly, these are direct quote from the book, he refers to the young actress as "the creature" which is not unusual for the time this was written.  It's an older book but the lessons in it are no less useful for all that.

Now Dramatic Action in theater, whether on a stage performed or in the script written is not so different from what other types of Authors must achieve.  Each was written at some point, each had to have action considered at some point.  The biggest difference is that the Actor performs what the script-writer wrote visually for the audience to see.  They may never see the script that inspires the performance but they will likely not feel less for that lack.

Writers of novels however have a bigger job.  They must describe not only the words of each character that will inspire action as the script-writer must, but they must then also describe the actions that the characters perform and the reactions that those actions inspire in others.  Dramatic action is often thought of as conflicts but I think we should take this cue to look at dramatic action a little closer.  Yes, a conflict is often filled with Dramatic actions.  People argue, they throw things perhaps, or there's a great deal of tension in it. But conflict and dramatic actions do not have to be massive, huge things that are so overt the reader feels like they're being hit over the head.

What if two people were arguing in silence?  How would you describe that?  The conflict would be there, but the focus would be as much on what they were doing, what their expressions were, the tension of their bodies as it would be anything else.  So where do we go with this?  Look at a scene you wrote that you're not happy with it.  Is it missing dramatic action?  Is it missing actions on the character's parts?  Or are they all talking heads standing still in the room?  Who would lose by adding in a little detail about the actions and reactions of the characters setting the scene?

Lesson Four on Friday:  Characterization