Welcome to the 2013 A to Z Challenge!
This year, I’m focusing on two themes: Emotions and grammar,
depending on which letter we’re on each day.
I’ll be sharing mostly what I’ve learned about writing emotion into a novel, but I’ll also be throwing in a few key grammar lessons, pet peeves I’ve picked up while working as an editor.
Today’s a grammar day...well, sorta.
I is for incidental action: in fiction, an action happening in connection with or resulting from something more important;
While every novel should be filled with action, what often makes the story come alive and feel real—like we’re watching a movie in our heads—is the incidental action. If there is no incidental action, the story feels flat and jerky as the narration moves from one big sequence to another.
Incidental action is the small movements typically shown between lines of dialogue. Take this short clip from a scene in my novel, The Mistaken, for example:
“You stay of it, Nick. I mean it. This is none of your business or your concern,”
Nick pushed his brother’s hand away. “I’d be careful if I were you, brother. I’m no longer that weak boy who followed you around like a lost puppy.”
Tyler reacted swiftly, surging forward and pushing Nick back against the wall. His lips were pressed together in an angry line and he spoke through clenched teeth.
“You stay the hell out of my affairs, you hear me? And stay away from my wife! She doesn’t need your kind of help.”
They stood facing each other, nose-to-nose. Ty’s face twisted in anger, but Nick looked unfazed, even amused, a smirk pulling up along one side of his mouth.
The staring, the pointing, the pushing, along with all the facial expressions, bring the scene to life. If all you had was the dialogue, it would feel rather bland and passive. The reader needs all the small movements to see the story progress physically in their mind.
If there were no incidental action, the progression within and between each scene would feel abrupt and jarring without any way to visualize what the characters are doing as they speak or how they move from place to place.
Incidental action also helps the reader keep track of who’s speaking without a boat load of dialogue tags to slow it all down. BUT—and this is big but—do NOT use incidental action as a dialogue tag. That is, each action must be a complete sentence with the first word capped and punctuation at the end—a period, exclamation point, or question mark. No exceptions. Dialogue tags are he said, she replied, they screamed, we moaned, etc., and are also meant to help the reader keep track of who’s speaking, but they are not incidental action.