In the quote above, Martell was speaking about scripts and movies, but the principle applies equally to stories of all kinds. Action without emotion is purposeless movement, the literary equivalent of mindless flailing about.
This is why stories full of action sometimes fall flat. There is no emotion, no human connection driving the characters (and therefore no emotional risk and investment by the readers). Action may grab our attention, but it won’t keep if for long if we don’t care about the characters.
Even some bestselling novels get this horribly wrong. Scene after scene of action is no remedy for lifeless fiction. The only cure is to pump the narrative full of emotional connection.
How to Build Human Connection Into Your Story
- Design the protagonist with an emotional flaw (nearly every good story includes this element). Example: An ex-assasin is plagued with guilt for killing so many people in the war.
- Dramatize this flaw through emotional conflict over the course of the story (introduce flaw in the beginning, show how it hurts the character in the middle and show the character overcoming the flaw at the end).
- Include action scenes only as they grow out of this emotional flaw. This gives action purpose, life, narrative energy. An ex-assassin plagued with guilt for killing so many people in the war is forced to confront the shame of his past when gangsters threaten his family. Now all the the scenes of threat and eventual physical violence connect to the root of emotional conflict.
- Examine each action scene in your story to see if and how it relates to the emotional conflict. If it doesn’t, change it or throw it out (i.e. save it for another story).
Remember, plunking a car chase, fight scene or epic battle will not save a story void of the human element. Car chases don’t buy books, people do.
It’s your turn. Add your voice in the comment section below…