Realisation, Decision, Action in Stories

Realisation, Decision, Action In You can count on me
Realisation, Decision, Action in You Can Count On Me.

A character decision in stories usually follows a realisation of some hidden truth. A pivotal action springs from that very decision, forming a realisation-decision-action unit. Although the timing varies, these three nodes are tightly integrated.

In her book, Advanced Screenwriting, Linda Seger cautions that if a relisation leads directly to an action without first showing its motivation, what follows can appear fake. Sandwiching a pivotal action in between realisation and action avoids this error: 

In Unforgiven, William Munny (Clint Eastwood) decides to accept the Schofield Kid’s (Jaimz Woolvette) job offer, before embarking on a journey to fulfill the contract. In The Matrix, Neo decides to swallow the red pill, then confronts the Machine World and Agent Smith. Decision Scenes typically show a character observing, noticing – checking things out, before deciding to act as a result of new information and insight garnered by the Realisation Scene.

“Realisation, decision, action: Realisation leads to decision. Decision leads to action. Action defines character. Character creates plot.”

Action Scenes propel the story forward by showing a character engaging in a range of actions: chasing a criminal, climbing a mountain, caring for a family member. In The Matrix, Neo learns how to fight by allowing Morpheus to download a kung-fu program directly into his brain. But in a character-driven film such as You Can Count On Me, the action may be as subdued as showing Samantha (Laura Linney) allowing her brother to stay with her, or having an affair. In each case, however, we notice that character action is a direct result of the decision to act.


Realisation, Decision, and Action Scenes form a tight dramatic unit that explains, motivates, and directs character action. A character realises a truth about his or her situation, decides to act on it, and does so. Understanding and utilising such patterns in your own writing is a useful way of weaving a tight and cohesive story.

2 thoughts on “Realisation, Decision, Action in Stories

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Every character’s quest starts out with a goal. For Ragnar Lothbrok it’s to sail West and discover untold riches . For Walter White it’s to capitalize on his chemistry skills to make enough money to leave for his family. Goals are very personal to the lead character. A Goal oriented quest is perhaps why the hero’s journey is the most common narrative structure of all forms of story telling.

    The goal for Harry Potter is to defeat Lord Voldemort which can only be accomplished if all Voldemort’s horcrux’s are destroyed. Harry Potter became a Horcrux when the love from his mother protected him from Lord Voldemort’s curse. Which means if Harry is to be successful he will have no choice but to commit the ultimate self sacrifice .

    In short
    Realization, Decision, and Action Scenes are born from a main goal and the protagonist persistence and determination to achieve this goal despite the cost . Just how far will Walter White / Ragnar Lothbrok /Harry Potter go to finish what they started.


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