(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“Not just action, but action that depicts a state of mind.” Leonardo da Vinci

“Excitement is simple: excitement is a situation, a single event. It mustn’t be wrapped up in thoughts, similes, metaphors. A simile is a form of reflection, but excitement is of the moment and there is no time to reflect. Action can only be expressed by a subject, a verb, and an object, perhaps a rhythm—little else. Even an adjective slows the pace or tranquilizes the nerve.” Graham Greene

“By action we’ve come to mean physical doings in a tense situation, not the goings on in a Noel Coward drawing room farce.” Barnaby Conrad

“Action sequences always require the straight line in the presentation, the most solid, sequential phrases, and the punchiest, most telling Anglo-Saxon sentences. Action brims and stirs.” Pat Conroy

“You can never count primarily on your narrative to convey characterization. To show a man of genius, you have to show by his actions and words that that is what he is; to show a brave man, you have to give him some actions displaying courage.” Ayn Rand

“There is simply no substitute for action to characterize.” Barnaby Conrad

“Great stories have great characters who solve problems through great action.” Othello Bach

“The fiction writer doesn’t state, he shows, renders. It’s the nature of fiction and it can’t be helped. If you’re writing about the vulgar, you have to prove they’re vulgar by showing them at it.” Flannery O’Connor

“Truth, Goodness and Beauty are abstractions and abstractions lead to thinness and allegory whereas in good fiction and drama you need to go through the concrete situation to some experience of mystery. However again, I am no good at theory. Like Greene or any other writer, when I write I do what I have to with what I can. You are always bounded by what you can make live.” Flannery O’Connor [my italics—UW]

“The actions that a writer shows must be integrated to his understanding of the characters’ motives—which the reader then grasps by means of these actions.” Ayn Rand

“A silent action—an escape, say, from a burning building, with no dialogue—is dramatized if it is described in detail. Predominantly, however, the dramatized scenes of a novel are those in which dialogue is reproduced.” Ayn Rand

“While it is true that character makes the action, in a good novel the action also changes and makes the character.” William Sloane

“You can sustain interest in a short story with only mental action, dialogue, and narration, but novels need physical action—and lots of it.” Othello Bach

“Keep in mind that your readers want action, not monotonous details of walking, opening doors, riding buses, and climbing stairs.” Othello Bach

“Plain language and dramatic restraint will allow the action to claim its own importance—not because the adjectives and adverbs are shouting for attention, but because what is going on in the piece is profound and moving. You are removing the narrative personality and the high-profile language that might obstruct the reader’s view of the story.” Philip Gerard