Believe it or not, action scenes can get boring. Like really, really, really boring.
That’s why the rising action segment in your story should involve more than just action scenes.
Despite the “action” part of Tuesday’s Definition, Stage 2 of your story shouldn’t just be one giant struggle, where protagonist fights antagonist at every turn.
Prolonged giant struggles get boring, whether they’re visual struggles in movies or written sections in books. Too much action even gets boring in real life, at least in the sense that it’s physically exhausting.
Our imaginations and very lives are designed to appreciate diversity. In so many ways, we’re attracted to what’s different, drawn to contrasts and changes for the simple reason that they break up an otherwise monotonous existence.
That’s why the ancient Romans were so intrigued by blond hair and blue eyes; not because that combination was inherently better than brown and brown, but because it was a switch-up from the same-old, same-old. It’s why Western society today is so obsessed with the newest electronics, even while we know full-well we’ll be ready for something new all over again 10 months down the road.
And it’s the same with a story. It doesn’t matter how beautiful a setting is, or how boldly the narrative comes through, or how hysterical the dialogue can be. If there’s too much of it, readers are going to lose interest.
When it comes to action scenes specifically, even if you’re writing the most intricate, intense, unique and compelling conflict, it’s going to get old after a certain point.
That’s part of the reason why I give out the worksheet below to all my Novel Writing I continuing education students at the Community College of Baltimore County, or CCBC. It’s a brainstorming exercise for plotters especially to figure out where their story is going – without going overboard.
You’ll notice how there are five lined sections in it. They’re put there so the student can write down what happens in the beginning (the exposition), as well as during the rising action, and so on.
Now, I know there are three terms in that graphic that we haven’t covered yet here at Innovative Editing: climax, falling action and ending. But don’t worry. We’ll get to those soon enough. For the moment, let’s just focus on the rising action part.
As you can see, it’s not a straight climb upward. It’s a journey, complete with potentially painful progress upward and some downward climbs as well in order to advance our protagonists progress once again.
In other words, it’s okay to give your protagonist some downtime. Let them have a break. Give them something different to deal with.
Is she trying to save her mother from the hands of a magical dictator with revenge on his mind? Okay. Maybe have her enjoy the company of a nice, young gentleman in between her bouts of panic and grief (as in Entwined, by Heather Dixon and Mandy Williams).
Is she stuck in an enclosed arena, fighting for her life? Alrighty then. Allow her to form a friendship with an adorable little fellow gladiator – right before you brutally kill that companion off, of course (as in The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins).
Or could they be off on a quest to find a lost prince being held by an evil witch, where they have to escape hungry giants and creepy trips underground? Great! Then, for heaven’s sake, give them some moments of excited discovery or playful interaction in between (as in The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis).
Hey, if it worked for someone like C.S. Lewis, then it should be good enough for you to try too.
The bottom line is this: A well-placed action scene is a great idea, whether it’s in the rising action segment or not. By all means, have your characters yell at each other or actually physically fight. Throw some fisticuffs into the mix, or fencing or gunplay.
But then give your protagonist and readers a break. Actually, give them several.
I know it might feel different writing that way. However, different in this case? It’s a good thing.