What Is Dramatic Action?

Is dramatic action more than action? More than simply doing? What qualifies action as dramatic action?

What is Dramatic Action?

I just read the following feedback from a writer watching Video #5 of the 27-Step Tutorial: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay.

“Note to self – Running and in character’s head is NOT action! Yup, got it! I guess I just needed to be hit a few more times in the head to get it! Thanks Martha! Love these How To Plot videos!”

What is Dramatic Action?

Running is action. It’s just not Dramatic Action. Dramatic action means there is plenty of conflict, tension, suspense, uncertainty, fear in the scene = in other words, drama.

  • Without drama, your protagonist running is simply movement 
  • Without the sense of the unknown, action is simply movement
  • Without great doubt about the character’s ability to succeed ~ will she or won’t she?, action is simply movement
  • Without something or someone other than the protagonist in control of the action, action is simply movement

Movement versus Dramatic Action

Movement does qualify as dramatic action. Movement without conflict, tension, suspense is passive action with no drama.

A good test to determine whether the scene has dramatic action is by putting your scenes above or below the Plot Planner line. 

Protagonist in Control

If the protagonist is in control of the action in the scene, the scene goes below the Plot Planner line

  • Without drama, your protagonist running is simply movement 
  • Without the sense of the unknown, action is simply movement
  • Without great doubt about the character’s ability to succeed ~ will she or won’t she?, action is passive action
  • Without something or someone other than the protagonist in control of the action, action is simply movement

Protagonist Not in Control

If the protagonist is not in control of the action in the scene, the scene goes above the Plot Planner line. 

  • With a sense of the unknown, action is dramatic
  • With great doubt about the character’s ability to succeed ~ will she or won’t she?, action is dramatic
  • With something or someone other than the protagonist in control of the action, action is dramatic

Page-turnability

What is dramatic action? Scenes above the line where the protagonist is not in control are more exciting and create more page-turnability than do scenes below the line. 

Start your story with above-the-line scenes that show the protagonist not in control of the action taking her toward what she wants. You immediately introduce the dramatic question: “Will she or won’t she get what she wants?”