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Film 210 - Action & Response
6 min read

Film 210 - Action & Response

Week 5

Weekly Updates

Audio Version

  • Hemingway app - I am making another recommendation for grammar. This one focuses on style, which means it catches meandering sentences, weak phrasing, and passive voice.
  • Remember to provide location and character descriptions. Focus on essence, not on clothing and jobs. Think in terms of taking images and jamming them together. For example: the office building loomed like Frankenstein's castle on a cliff.
  • Don't be shy with your feedback. You can give critical feedback without being a jerk.

Week 5: Actions and Response

Audio Version

Actions

When I first introduced WOARO to you, I said that actions are the things a character does or says (or doesn't do or say) to get what they want.

They are active verbs that can be done to someone else (transitive verbs): Tom hits Bill, or Sally kisses Greg.

These can physical actions written into the script, but they can also be the way characters take action within the story.

A character may want to express love, but how do they express it? Do they admire, embrace, envelop, idolize, kiss, pamper, protect, tease, romance, woo, or worship?

Or if they want to discourage someone, how would they do that? Do they abandon, dodge, leave, ignore, refuse, reject, revoke, scorn, or suppress?

And if this is the actions they take, then how would you represent it in the story? How does one romance a character? How does one reject someone?

Action/Response

Actions don't stand on their own. There is always consequences. There is always a response.

The dynamics of action and response are the source of all story. They are the representation of the struggle your characters make to get what they want against their obstacle.

It is the dynamic interaction between these two elements that creates conflict, struggle, and an interesting story.

  • Action and responses—like want and obstacle—are really two sides of the same coin.
  • One character’s action is often the response to another character's action.

When I tell you to "show, don't tell," this is what I am talking about. Every step along the way, you need to show me the action and responses of your characters moving through the story. The moment you quit showing action and response, you quit showing the dramatic nature of story.

Beats

We will discuss two versions of beats in screenwriting.

The first is the momentary pause indicated with a paranthetical written into a script.

The second version, the one I'll be talking about the most, is a unit of action, either in a scene or story, that represents an event, plot point, or step that moves your character towards their outcome.

Action/Response as Story Beats

The interaction between action and response is a story beat. A character wants something and takes an action to get it, which leads to a response, which leads to another action.

Sometimes character will try an action only once to get what they want before trying something new, or they'll repeatedly try different approaches.

For example, think of when you try to convince someone to do something. They may do it easily or it may take a lot of convincing and you may have to change tactics multiple times. This attempt forms a story beat.

Like want/obstacle, action isn't always the thing that happens first. Sometimes external stimulus occurs, forcing your characters to respond.

Action/Response

A character takes an action and an internal or external force responds to it.

Stimulus/Response

An internal or external force takes an action and the character responds to it.

Action is Dynamic

This interaction between action and response is dynamic.

Characters (as well as each of us in real life) are constantly in a dynamic interaction with external stimulus (especially people), and internal stimulus (our thoughts and emotions).

Example: The natural response sequence

An external stimulus occurs, leading to internal emotional response. This leads to thought (how will you respond?), which then we choose to act (and/or vocalize.

This is why we rarely have lengthy monologues, or singular interactions. There is always internal or external stimulus acting upon us, and then we are reacting upon it.

You'll again, notice the similarities between action/response and want/obstacle. Either can occur first to move the story forward, but it will always lead to a counteraction.

This dynamic is the heart of all story and what creates limitless possibilities for your stories.

Story beats act in progression.

As a character moves towards their want, they will take actions that lead to responses. This will lead to further actions and further responses until the character gets what they want or they don't.

As the old, cliched saying goes, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." Well, it is also boring, so your characters need to do something different and progress through story, or else your story stalls and quits proceeding.

It is this progression that moves us through the moment (the beat), the scene, the sequence, the act, the series.

It is connected by logical or causal relationships from a previous beat, in either a linear or non-linear way, creating tangents and side-chains. But if you miss a step, you confuse the audience and you break the connection they have to your story.

  • Always think of action/response beats as stepping stones from Point A to Point B, beginning in the very first moments of your story. What actions do we take to get there? These are the beats of your story.
  • They can operate across the story or in individual scenes. What actions does your character take to get what they want in a scene?
  • Think of actions beats across a scene (or story) like the game where you start with one word and need to end up with another word, by changing one letter at a time: HEAD>BEAD>BEAT>BOAT>BOOT>FOOT
  • Or think of it as a chess game. Move by move, always proceeding to the goal of winning.

Change and the Character Arc

Most stories are about change: either trying to make a change in oneself or the world, or resisting that change.

Often we hear talk about a character's arc. This is their personal change (or growth or backslide).

The way we show change in a story is through a character's wants, actions, and responses. With all three, there is an opportunity to choose differently, and this change will reflect a character's possible growth.

Final thoughts:

  • Like Want vs. Obstacle, Action and Response are two sides of the same coin.
  • They must be shown on the page, not hidden or told to us.
  • The dynamic interaction between action and response is the engine that progresses us through the story.

Week 5 : Action & Response

Write a 2-3 page script of any type, that is only one location/scene and show the back and forth action and response of two characters struggling with opposing wants.

There must be at least three different action beats. This means that as your characters face resistance, they must take new and different actions to get what they want. Avoid repeating the same action over and over (i.e. the angry guy can't only threaten the other character the entire script. He may have to cajole, bribe, compliment, or lie).

This is about a single scene of dramatic writing of a character taking progressive actions to get what they want but someone opposing and blocking them. Therefore, your character must take a new action or tactic to get what they want, and this will progress until the outcome or solution. This is about the dramatic struggle occurring in the moment.

No montages, flashbacks, no jump cuts, no easy outs. Most importantly, no one can be hit, shot, or die.

Marking Criteria:

  • Does it achieve the purpose of this week’s assignment?
  • Proper screenplay format (including active, present tense; sluglines; character introductions) (3 mistakes allowed per script).
  • One character must drive the action with a want, that faces an obstacle, takes actions, faces responses, and leads to an outcome.
  • Proper spelling, punctuation, grammar (5 mistakes allowed in the whole script).
  • Proper page count of assignment.

Due: Sunday, October 2 at midnight (Saskatchewan time).


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