Thursday, April 21, 2011

Aspiring Advice: The Focus of Action

Welcome back to Action April! In previous weeks, we've covered a formula for the basic action scene and how to learn about action oriented activities from the source.

Now, I'd like to draw your attention to an unconscious element of action writing that we may not think about while we're writing it. Focus--good action has a focus. What does that mean? If you follow gaming like I do (on occasion), you may have seen this mind-blowing trailer for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. If not, check this action out (this could be a little intense for the kids)!

What is the focus of our antihero? Does he enjoy being a lightsaber-wielding wrecking ball, or does it go deeper than that? While we don't know what is "worth fighting for" or who is "worth dying for," we understand that his focus is strong enough to vanquish the obstacles before him. Opposition leads to action, but the one who has the greater purpose will have the stronger focus. It would show. What a character is to achieve ought to balance the weight of what he/she has to overcome. This focus makes for fun writing and page-turning sequences.

In other words, senseless action, or action that exists just for the sake of it, will certainly look cool, but it will outweigh your story unless you establish character goals and ambitions before charging in. Give us a reason to root for their victory or gasp if they are struck down.

Isn't it good to start in the middle of the action?

Beginning a story in the middle of the action isn't always a bad thing, but unless you invent some characters with a clear and strong focus (Star Trek), the action can be senseless or devoid of purpose (Transformers 2).

This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. Whatever the focus may be for your characters, you'll want to take time to consider and choose wisely before writing them into battle with their guns blazing.

Do you give your characters a focus or have them charge Rambo style? What's a good example of focus that you've seen in an action scene?

I'm David, and spackle is fun stuff!


  1. I agree 100% - action needs to have focus. I get easily irritated by movies (or books) that seem to have action just to show off without any underlying purpose. But a great scene with a hero trying to overcome the odds - not much is better than that!

  2. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding here. To me, focus is something the character has, not the action itself. And I agree that a character must have that focus if he/she is to come out on top.

    I think what the action itself needs is purpose. There has to be a legitimate reason for what's happening. Otherwise, it's just something shiny to add to your story, like Sierra said.

  3. Sierra - Thank you. You're on the money. :)

    Reece - You have it right. I didn't mean to say that action IS the focus, but that action is centered or focused around the character(s). I can see how you misunderstood, and that's due to human error (me). Sorry for that.

  4. Very well said, too many films contain senseless action, or action that exists just for the sake of it, but when you can identify with the motivation then it makes more sense. :O)

  5. That trailer was sick. I hadn't seen that. I do get a little tired of hearing "Duel of the Fates" in just about every lightsaber ass-kicking scene put to C.G.I in some form or another but, one always enjoys seeing Jedi kill stuff. Poor stormtroopers...they never stood a chance. BTW...if you haven't checked out Star Wars: The Clone Wars series on Cartoon Network, I think you'd really enjoy it based off of what I've seen on your site. I bought seasons one and two on blu-ray and have been highly impressed.

  6. Commenting again =) David - wanted to let you know that I am passing along the Stylish Blogger and Irresistibly Sweet Blog award to your blog! You can see my post here: Although, looks like I'm not the first to recognize you have a sweet blog going here =) Thanks!

  7. Sierra - Again, thank you for the award! This will make for a great post tomorrow. Will I have the time to post it--that's the question?

    Michael - Thanks, and I'm also a Blu ray owner of the series, impatient for the third season. I was skeptical at first, but it's a great way for them to show us the expanded universe.