Action points are bits of new information that spur further actions in a story — actions that cause reactions.
Linda Seger, in her book, Writing Screenplays that Sell, provides the following example: In Tootsie, Michael is told by Sandy about the availability of a female role in a soap opera. Desperate for a job, the luckless Michael masquerades as a woman (Dorothy) and takes the interview.
Sandy’s action has caused Michael’s reaction.
He gets the part (action), meets Julie and is instantly attracted to her (reaction). The mutual attraction results in Julie inviting “Dorothy” for dinner (action), which causes Dorothy/Michael to begin falling in love with her (reaction).
Each action here is strong, visual, and dramatic, and demands a response of some kind. Different actions will demand different sorts of responses, but in all cases, the scenes will be driven by actions that are strongly linked.
One of the structural weaknesses in stories is that they sometimes contract the episodic malaise — one scene related to another by chronology alone, rather than physical, emotional and psychological causality. This makes for a tenuous connection between scenes. Action points avoid the pitfall by linking the scenes together through cause and effect.
Although action points may occur in any act, they are indispensable in act two, the longest of the three, which is in most need of momentum.
Action points link scenes together through cause and effect and help to add momentum to your stories.
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I am about to start editing a first draft, and I will definitely be focusing on this during the first round of revisions. Thanks for the post!
You’re welcome, Victoria. Good luck with the edit!
Good points about structural weakness in stories.
Thanks, Artemis. Sometimes, looking at a story from a structural perspective helps to fix a myriad of problems.