Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by glorybee » Fri Nov 14, 2014 3:10 pm

Action/Adventure stories are easily enough defined, and it’s really quite obvious: they’re stories in which the protagonist has an adventure, or in which lots of action happens. The following tips will work for most action/adventure stories, but not every story will be absolutely true to each of these characteristics.

1. Often the adventure takes the form of a quest, a journey, or a goal for the protagonist to reach. She may have to travel a great distance, or complete a number of tasks, or solve several problems on her way toward achieving that goal.

2. There will be obstacles. These may be physical obstacles (mountains, oceans, deserts), obstacles of her own body (pain, injury), mental obstacles (problems or puzzles posed by the antagonist), obstacles of the spirit (fear, difficult decisions, temptation), or any combination of those. These are the things that the main character will have to overcome or defeat in the course of the story and to reach her goal. The literary term for this is conflict, and here are the most common types:

• Man vs. Man. Two people in direct opposition to each other. Examples: Dorothy vs. the Wicked Witch of the West, Sherlock Holmes vs. Moriarity, Jean Valjean vs. Inspector Javert (Les Miserables)

• Man vs. Nature. Conflict with forces of nature (weather, geography, the body). Examples: Tom Hanks in Castaway, Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, Doodle in The Scarlet Ibis

• Man vs. Society. Conflict of one person against a whole group of others. Examples: Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Atticus Finch (and Tom Robinson) in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jonas in The Giver

• Man vs. Self. One person who has to work through the difficulties or consequences of her own emotions, decisions, or behaviors. Examples: Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Hamlet, the narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart

• Man vs. Supernatural. Not just “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night,” but anything without an earthly or scientific explanation, and also things of the spirit (fate, luck, destiny, God, demons and angels, etc.). Examples: Mr. White in The Monkey’s Paw, every character on the TV show Lost

(Note that these aren’t necessarily action/adventure stories, but they can teach you the concept of conflict.)

Any of these conflicts would work in an action/adventure story. The important thing is that there definitely should be some sort of conflict encountered during the adventure. An adventure in which the main character simply has a marvelous journey through fields of pretty flowers and slow-flowing brooks wouldn’t really fit into this genre.

3. The main character should encounter the unexpected, and ideally should be in some sort of danger. I’ll refer you to the recent lesson on suspense/thrillers for more about this point.

4. The main character should demonstrate courage or bravery, and should, during the course of her adventure, escape or master or overcome the obstacles/conflicts. Again, this bravery can take several forms—physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual courage. Alternatively, your main character may show bravery or courage, yet still fail in the end.

5. Since part of this genre is action, you should choose your verbs carefully.

Stella headed toward the rapidly closing gate.

But how did she go? Take a look at the examples below to see how a well-chosen verb can add color and meaning to a sentence. Each of these sentences should paint a slightly different picture in your mind:

Stella sprinted toward the rapidly closing gate.
Stella stumbled toward the rapidly closing gate.
Stella snuck
Stella darted
Stella crawled
Stella wriggled

Obviously, that’s just one example. Make sure all your action words effectively show action.

6. Did you notice that almost all of my examples in this lesson have featured women? Action/Adventure is often thought of as a man’s genre, but that doesn’t have to be the case. You may certainly write about men, but it’s not necessary. Note: I have nothing against men, nor against stories that feature men. But if you’re one of those people who’s trying to write out of the box yet still stay in the genre, using a woman protagonist might be one way to go.

7. War writing, crime writing, and spy writing are all sub-genres of the action/adventure genre, and would also be considered on topic. I’m sure there are other sub-genres, too—you can probably figure some of those out.

Here are a few short stories by well-known authors that would qualify as action/adventure stories—you don’t have to read them all (they’re longer than Writing Challenge entries), but they should give you an idea of what this genre of fiction looks like:

To Build a Fire, by Jack London

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce

The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell

These three stories all feature male protagonists, and all were written many decades ago. If you know examples of more recent action/adventure stories or ones that feature women, be sure to tell us the titles—better still, give us links.

HOMEWORK:

Ask a question or make a comment about something in this lesson. OR

Link to an action/adventure story you have written. If you do this, please also tell us something about your writing process. OR

Tell us about an action/adventure story you’ve read (link, if you can) by another writer. Comment about it, if you wish. OR

Comment about one or more of the short stories that I linked to in the lesson.


A final note: my good friend Ann Grover has revived her once-inactive forum, Ann’s Grammar Basics. Ann knows the answers to everything you might want to ask about grammar, and I highly encourage you to scoot over there with all of your grammar, punctuation, usage, and writing mechanics questions. She’s awesome!
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by helen1975 » Sat Nov 15, 2014 4:22 am

Hello Jan,

Thanks again for the insights; I am learning so much from these lessons.

I haven't written, nor read, many action/adventure stories. I think my entry for the Checkout topic might be my closest attempt: "Life in the 'Centre of Death'"

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=40033

Having reread this piece, I can see SO many things that I would now change; that's a good thing :lol: For example, the POV is very jumpy and needed to be from one MC or other, given it was such a limited word count.

I would also work on the element of surprise. There are quite a number of sentences that I would remove now, as they seem to lessen the suspense. Oh, and this sentence made me cringe. . . might just be me, though: "With all my heart, I promise to fight for them, for everyone. Guide my steps, Father, and give me your strength and wisdom to stand." Too . . . preachy?? sappy??

I think the intent of the story is evident, and it was surprisingly well received, but I do recall the ethics of the MCs being called into question. Although they were doing good for some, and ultimately serving God, did it justify their "doing their job" in a rather nasty environment?

What I do know is that I am suddenly enjoying writing fiction very much. :-)

Blessings, Helen

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by alanrkane » Sat Nov 15, 2014 6:04 am

Personally you'r nicer than I am.

Stella ..... toward the rapidly closing gate. with a click she knew the electronic seals initiated, baring escape from that direction. Panic, fear and bitterness she knew well. Why are they playing with me?
Leave! That was the last command given.

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by glorybee » Sat Nov 15, 2014 8:58 am

helen1975 wrote:Hello Jan,

I haven't written, nor read, many action/adventure stories. I think my entry for the Checkout topic might be my closest attempt: "Life in the 'Centre of Death'"

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=40033
Helen, thanks for the link!

There is quite a bit of overlap in the categories of Action/Adventure and Suspense/Thriller, and to me this has more of a suspenseful feeling to it. However, there's also a good deal of action and danger, so it wouldn't be off topic if something like this were to be submitted this week.

What an interesting idea this story was!

j
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by glorybee » Sat Nov 15, 2014 9:02 am

alanrkane wrote:Personally you'r nicer than I am.

Stella ..... toward the rapidly closing gate. with a click she knew the electronic seals initiated, baring escape from that direction. Panic, fear and bitterness she knew well. Why are they playing with me?
Leave! That was the last command given.
Alan, I'm not nicer--just trying to keep the lesson shorter! :D

Looks like you've got the beginning (or maybe the middle) of a great adventure story there. Watch your run-on sentences, though--there should be a period or a semicolon after 'gate.'
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by Cinnamon Bear » Sat Nov 15, 2014 9:53 am

I think the Challenge entry of mine that most closely fits the Action/Adventure genre is the one I wrote for the topic "Light At the End of the Tunnel." This entry placed 3rd in Advanced and 15th overall.

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=47645

Poland seems to have provided more than its share of settings for harrowing adventures--at least until 1989. The setting of my entry is the Warsaw Rising of 1944. Many of the participants in the Rising escaped from Nazi-occupied areas of the city to free areas by going through the sewers. The trip through the sewers fits the topic "Light At the End of the Tunnel" quite literally.

While the MC and her friends survived the Rising and the trip through the sewers, they failed in their goal to establish a free Poland. Therefore "Light At the End of the Tunnel" is also a metaphor for the fact that Poland did not truly see the light at the end of the tunnel until it won its freedom in 1989.

Cinnamon Bear

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by glorybee » Sat Nov 15, 2014 10:35 am

Virginia, thanks for posting this link to a fantastic action/adventure story! Thanks also for your insight into both this week's topic and the Poland of several decades ago. Much appreciated!
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by alanrkane » Sat Nov 15, 2014 11:02 am

I wrote mine on Thursday/Friday but your right it could make an interesting story. Might keep on back burner.also yes I should have used ( ; ) thanks Alan

Maybe I should find a proof reader

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by Anja » Sat Nov 15, 2014 11:42 am

I think a number of my stories may qualify as Action/Adventure, although they are usually hiding behind Historical Fiction in my mind. But this one stands out as truly action. Its inspiration was another Action/Adventure classic, Rambo 4, where Rambo says something in essence to, "The old men start it, the young men fight it, and everyone else dies." Something like that, but enough to launch the idea of a soldier-journalist's quandary when writing about what he sees while involved in "the thick of it."

No Man's Land
Last edited by Anja on Sat Nov 15, 2014 1:52 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by glorybee » Sat Nov 15, 2014 1:37 pm

Ann, that's a truly beautiful piece of writing. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by TracePezzali » Sun Nov 16, 2014 3:51 am

Hi Jan, I wasnt sure where to ask this question, so I apologise for going off track: in the action story im contemplating, I'd ideally like to reveal inner dialogue of several characters and wondered if this can be successfully done, eg:

Chris realised someone was following, and from the corner of his eye caught movement.

Lying in wait, Jeffrey plotted the best plan of attack. He was determined Chris would pay for the death of his family.

Those three sentences I just made up then, to try to explain what I mean - that you are privy to motivations and turmoil from both sides.

Can this option be done well from your experience of stories where this has been attempted?
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by glorybee » Sun Nov 16, 2014 10:04 am

TracePezzali wrote:Hi Jan, I wasnt sure where to ask this question, so I apologise for going off track: in the action story im contemplating, I'd ideally like to reveal inner dialogue of several characters and wondered if this can be successfully done, eg:

Chris realised someone was following, and from the corner of his eye caught movement.

Lying in wait, Jeffrey plotted the best plan of attack. He was determined Chris would pay for the death of his family.

Those three sentences I just made up then, to try to explain what I mean - that you are privy to motivations and turmoil from both sides.

Can this option be done well from your experience of stories where this has been attempted?
Glad you asked, Trace!

Generally, stories as short as those in the Writing Challenge are written from the POV of only one character. However, that's not a rule; it just works best most often when the word count is limited. Most writers don't have the space within a challenge entry to hop back and forth between the heads of several characters.

However--it can certainly be done. You may want to give your readers some sort of visual cue that you're switching POV--perhaps a little row of three asterisks to mark the switch between characters. Even that's not a rule...if your writing is crisp enough, say, that the switch back and forth between characters has the feel of a quickly changing slide show, or if you feel that the asterisks interfere with the pace, then omit them.

Be prepared for a commenter or two to complain that you switched POV. Some feel that limited POV is gospel, and it's true that an incorrect hop into the head of Character B in a piece that otherwise stays in the head of Character A can be discombobulating. But what you're proposing can be done, and if that's what works best for your action/adventure, go for it.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by TracePezzali » Wed Nov 19, 2014 2:53 am

I'm soooo full of questions this time around! In my action piece, which I think fulfils all of the requirements you mentioned, it is a very unusual character that is the protagonist, to the point it could fit in the scifi/fantasy genre. I'm desperately wanting to post it under action though (cause I've worked so hard on it, teehee), but I'm wondering if that will rate me hard against the 'suitability to genre' component.... eekk. Please give me the answer I seek! :lol:
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by glorybee » Wed Nov 19, 2014 9:30 am

TracePezzali wrote:I'm soooo full of questions this time around! In my action piece, which I think fulfils all of the requirements you mentioned, it is a very unusual character that is the protagonist, to the point it could fit in the scifi/fantasy genre. I'm desperately wanting to post it under action though (cause I've worked so hard on it, teehee), but I'm wondering if that will rate me hard against the 'suitability to genre' component.... eekk. Please give me the answer I seek! :lol:
Go for it, Trace. I'm sure it will be fine!
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- ACTION/ADVENTURE

Post by helen1975 » Thu Nov 20, 2014 8:38 pm

Trace, I have to ask . . . did you submit your story?!

Don't tell me the title though; I'll see if I can track it down :-)

Blessings,

Helen.

(PS: I finally entered one, why does my brain function best under pressure, usually at ridiculously early hours of the morning?! Gahh!!).

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