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Keep action and response on the page

Showing story beats is like a tennis game.

David Gane
David Gane
1 min read

The dynamic interaction between action and response is the heart of a story. Writing characters struggling to get what they want while other characters struggle to get what they want is where the energy of all dramatic action takes place.

William Packard puts it this way:

It’s a little like a tennis game, in which one character serves and  another returns, the first lobs, the other returns, the first slices, the other returns—and so on, in an easy give and take of dramatic actions that are happening in the play. This means the playwright has to be free and open to this exchange of actions between his characters, and not try to impose any of his own notions or ideas on them.

Ideally, we put it on the page and in the scene. An audience engages with the energy that is generated from it.

But this exchange should never feel forced. If we need something from the scene, like a vital piece of information to be revealed, we need to get to it naturally. If our characters take too big of a leap to the next story beat, there’ll be a missing link in the causal action, and our audience will notice.

And, of course, we want to avoid the cheat or workaround, which is to hide it by telling versus showing or not telling or showing it at all.

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Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.