Integrating Action with Story

Too often movies degenerate into mindless action without any substance behind it. However, action is necessary is nearly every story but you need to know how and when to apply it.

Tell me if this isn’t a generic story. Some nice guy runs into a bad guy and the bad guy tries to kill him. Suddenly, the hero manages to defeat the villain with lots of gunfire, car crashes, and explosions.

Pretty boring, right? Yet this is exactly the same plot used in “Terminator 2.” This was also the same plot from some movie I saw a long time ago but can’t remember anything about it other than the climactic battle took place in a construction site and involved a conveyor belt somehow.

Why did I completely forget about this other movie but still recall the action scenes in “Terminator 2”? The answer is that the action was integrated into the story.

In the bad movie, the hero was some ordinary guy who suddenly at the end of the film, magically seems skilled in using a gun to battle the villain, who has already shown to be pretty good with a gun as well. How did this mild-mannered hero suddenly learn to use a gun as well as the experienced villain?

The movie didn’t explain it, and that’s what made this plot seem contrived and artificial. The action didn’t derive naturally from the story.

Too many stories throw in gunfire and car crashes just for the sake of action without any story behind it that makes sense. Think “Knight and Day” with Tom Cruise. Lots of action, not much of a logical story to hold it together.

To see how bad action and story often deviate, watch any bad karate movie. The plot is usually about somebody who has to redeem himself by battling a villain. While the action itself is comically fake, the action seems to occur for no apparent reason. Characters run into total strangers and start fighting for the sake of fighting.

Now watch a movie like “Ip Man,” a recent martial arts film that’s available on Hulu, the free video site that sometimes offers decent movies. In “Ip Man,” the martial arts action is integrated into the story because the hero is an expert martial artist and he’s caught in World War Two where a Japanese general likes pitting his soldiers against the best the Chinese civilians can muster.

In this case, the action is integrated with the story because the hero is a martial artist and the villain is one too. The entire story takes place in war-torn China so it makes sense to see fighting and violence.

The bottom line is that action only makes sense within the context of your story. If your story is set in an environment that implies fighting (such as a battlefield), then the action will seem logical. If the story is set in a calm environment and suddenly there’s action, then it looks fake.

Action not only has to feel integrated as part of the story, but also realistic as well. That’s why most karate movies are awful because the action is too outlandish to be believable. However, the action in a movie like “Ip Man” is completely believable.

If you want to add action to your stories, make it believable and integral to your story. Then your action will enhance, not detract, from your plot and characters.

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