Knowing the Purpose of Action in a Scene

Action acts like visual eye candy to keep us entertained. Unfortunately, action by itself is ultimately pointless. After you see the fifth car crash or helicopter explode, more action is never the answer.

Action is important only when it has meaning, and that meaning is how does it affect your hero?

Examine a pointless scene in a James Bond movie that has action just for the sake of action. While this can be amusing initially, nobody wants to watch the same scene of James Bond killing another villain without breaking a sweat while wearing a tuxedo.

Now consider the action in “Titanic” where the ocean liner is starting to sink and the hero, Rose, has just gotten in a life boat. As the life boat is being lowered and people are panicking, Rose makes the conscious choice to jump out of the life boat and get back on the Titanic.

This action isn’t as dramatic as the ocean liner sinking, but it has far more meaning to the hero, Rose, because it demonstrates her change as a person. Not only has she decided to take control of her life, but she’s also determined to save Jack, who is locked up in a room.

Action doesn’t have to be over the top, car crashes, gunfire, and explosions to be interesting. Actions just needs to be interesting enough to show how it affects your hero.

If you have action that doesn’t affect your hero emotionally in any way, you probably have pointless action. Ask yourself what’s the purpose of the action and how does it affect the hero? If you can’t answer those questions, you can probably safely omit the action without affecting the rest of your screenplay.

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