The first time I met Sue to begin my ASA mentorship, we had this conversation…
Sue: Now, let’s talk about your first chapter.
Me: Sure. *thinking about how cinematic my opener is: a foot chase through the jungle ending in the murder of the point of view character*
Sue: You can’t have that.
Sue: You just killed off a character that I don’t know anything about. I don’t care about them, so it doesn’t affect me that they are dead.
Now, I love action scenes. I will watch a bad film for an awesome car chase and sometimes I skip through a film to watch the fight scenes. But there are plenty of action films I should have loved but felt completely detached from the story. This is what Sue was teaching me. A vital component in action scenes are the characters and their relationship to each other.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself about action scenes in your story:
How are the character’s relationships being tested through this action scene?
Who does the reader care for and who are they cheering for in this struggle?
How does this action scene move the plot of the story?
It’s not to say you can’t kill off minor or insignificant characters in your books. (I still do and I have a few friends that still like that original opening scene.) As long as you realise that if the reader doesn’t care about the characters, then they won’t be moved by that particular sequence.
There are plenty of film makers and novelists who produce stories with a main course of action and a garnish of character emotion and growth. These people are successful and really love what they do. Hey, many of them still make money out of me.
I just prefer to be more grounded and connected with characters, both when I write and when I read. When I really love or really despise a character, I am invested in every moment that that character struggles, whether it’s an awkward moment in the elevator or a duel to the death.