Internal versus External Action

Every story needs action in it. Reading a story about a chair is usually not that thrilling because absolutely nothing happens, there is no mental process(at least I hope not because if chairs have thought processes then I am going to feel very strange about sitting on them for the rest of my life) and there is no action. It’s a chair in a room.

COMING SOON TO A BOOKSTORE NEAR YOU! The Chair In The Room- A Novel by Andrea Judy

Now, that’s not to say a story can’t consist of a setting made up of this chair in a room. Take the picture above, that’s actually a pretty cool setting, looks like an interrogation room, or maybe a prison of some sort. That sounds like the beginning of a story.

Alright, let’s take this idea in two directions: 1) The entire story is about a man alone in this room. 2) The story is about a man who breaks out of the room. Now, here we’ve already found two of many possible options.

In our first option we are probably not going to see very much movement or action. Certainly no bloodshed, fighting or arguments between several people. This story will primarily focus entirely on internal action. Perhaps this man is a prisoner and has been here for years. Perhaps he is composing an epic novel in his mind, maybe he’s meditating and discovering a truth about the world. The action of this story will take place internally.

Now, the second option we have all kinds of potential for action outside of the main character’s head. He is actively and physically pursuing a goal. Odds are there will be fights, struggles, bloodshed and probably a confrontation with whatever force is trying to keep him in this room.

Now these examples are very simplified and dumbed down to be as bare bones basic as possible to really just create a simple explanation. The main thing that all action needs is to help create tension and move the story forward. Not that I doubt people to understand the difference but I think it’s nice to boil things down to their simplest level to better understand them. How would you best describe the differences between internal and external action?

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2 Comments »

  1. Laura Said:

    You know, I think either of those stories would be very interesting to read. You should write them both!

    Or better yet, get a group of bloggers to chose one option and write a short story for their blogs … see what people come up with. 🙂

  2. randallweiss Said:

    “A diet wouldn’t hurt,” the chair thought as the man shifted his weight.


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