Character Development Against Action

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#1
Hello folks. I'm after opinion and suggestion on this one.
As part of writing a few chapters of the story I've been posting on the boards I've come to understand that things work better for me, that is I feel more satisfied in my writing, if there is some action in each chapter.
The problem then comes that if you keep doing action you can't develop characters very easily, since I find that seems to happen through dialogue and introspection. Flimsy characters makes you not invested in the action and... well... cue spiral of frustration. Perhaps I'm answering my own question while typing this and the obvious course is to define them by their reactions to the events/action.

So...
Who likes action in every chapter of whatever they read?
Any tips or examples of developing character against an action backdrop?
Is there a limit for either - e.g. you only like to see 4 chapters of action before needing a few chapters of other stuff?
 

ofer

Journeyed there and back again
#2
I don't see why those two should be mutualy exclusive. I love action, but I found out that unless they are written extremely well, only action without character development tends to wear me out after a while. Of course, the same could be said about the other side of the spectrum - books with no action at all kind of makes me nod off. I don't have a specific limit for either - it's more of a feeling after a while when I think to myself "God, I wish that something will happen already" or, on the other hand "How many monster have to be killed to get the actual story started".

As for examples, Abercrombie's standalone books are good examples of the right balance between action and character development. It is evident in both Best Served Cold and The Heroes. You'll see what I'm talking about when you'll get there.
Another good example is the original Amber series by Roger Zelazny (the first 5 books). The MC there goes through development and changes even though the books have enough action to satisfy even me.
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#3
I don't see why those two should be mutualy exclusive.
Agree.
Best character development is through action. How they react to situations, fail at them, grow from them etc. I don't need no philosophical contemplation spanning 30 pages, where a character magically grows after tinkering around in his head.
Just like in life, people grow most from crisis they overcome. Books are not different, if you want to make it believable.
 

atheling

A Poet of the Khaiem
#4
I think character development, properly speaking, means that the characters (like real people) change in response to the things that happen to them--consciously or unconsciously. I think sometimes people use the phrase to mean "talk scenes" or character background exposition or something. That's not what it is. So, as @ofer and @Alucard said, it's not really incompatible with action.
 

intensegravity

Listens to The Unbeliever whine about life
#5
Hello folks. I'm after opinion and suggestion on this one.
As part of writing a few chapters of the story I've been posting on the boards I've come to understand that things work better for me, that is I feel more satisfied in my writing, if there is some action in each chapter.
The problem then comes that if you keep doing action you can't develop characters very easily, since I find that seems to happen through dialogue and introspection. Flimsy characters makes you not invested in the action and... well... cue spiral of frustration. Perhaps I'm answering my own question while typing this and the obvious course is to define them by their reactions to the events/action.

So...
Who likes action in every chapter of whatever they read?
Any tips or examples of developing character against an action backdrop?
Is there a limit for either - e.g. you only like to see 4 chapters of action before needing a few chapters of other stuff?
I think you've created your post because your instincts are telling you that you're missing the boat a little. It sounds to me like you're making it a point to include a lot of action, maybe because it comes easy to you, or because you like that kind of thing. But you're sensing the flaws that may result from it. You certainly can give depth to a character through action. Depending on how the character approaches a fight, or active conflict scene, can tell readers a lot about who that character is. Does he engage aggressively? Strategically? Passively, letting his foe present his weakness before striking? And you can always mix introspection within your action scenes. Give them a certain amount of action, then giving your reader a break with a short perspective passage.

But the crux of your question, at least to me, is whether or not you feel confident about offering character depth without the action. If this is the case, I suggest you try tackling it. You're growth as a writer will benefit greatly by actively tackling it.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#6
Thanks for the suggestions all. I do think I may be confusing the terms somewhat as @atheling suggested and reading your comments about the two not being mutually exclusive make perfect sense, of course. Perhaps my concern is not so much character development as it is of having a chapter that consist entirely of exposition and dialogue and no action, whether that is as dull to readers as I find it to write.
Like you say @intensegravity it could be that action comes easier, but to be honest I find that it's just without action I don't feel like anything has happened. Certainly I'm going to give it a go.
Another realisation that has come to me as a result of your help is that it might just be the lack of a reversal in my dialogue/expo scenes. There's a great tome on scriptwriting by Robert McKee called Story in which he says that every scene needs a reversal of some kind to count, lost/found, captive/free, sad/triumphant. In retrospect the scenes I don't like tend to move the plot or character along but nothing actually "happens" in them. So in summary, maybe the action isn't the problem, but the lack of an action is.
 

atheling

A Poet of the Khaiem
#7
Well, following up on @intensegravity, there's always the scientific approach. Really, there are two: the experimental approach, which is to try it two ways (say) and see what works better; the other is what I would call the analytical approach, which is to pick one or two books you already know and love that you think do this well, and pick them apart. That is, skim through a few chapters and see how they do it. I think it could be interesting actually.

For instance, on one of my re-reads of Tolkien a while back, I noticed his chapters tend to be centered on stopping places along the journey: they start from wherever they were (or else they start along the road from there), they get somewhere, and then things happen when they get there, so that the main drama is usually towards the end of the chapter. Not every chapter is exactly structured that way, but many are. Since then I've been paying more attention to how other writers structure scenes and chapters, tho not always as closely (it's harder if it's a book you've never read before since you're probably too engrossed in the action to notice such details).

Other writers are different. Terry Pratchett has no chapters at all in his Discworld books (the ones I've read so far anyway), just a stream of scenes. But somehow he manages to have short, never boring stories that nevertheless have characters with real depth. Some of that comes from the comedy aspect (the satirical tone buys a lot), some of that from the serial aspect of it (so he has many books to establish norms and expectations within the world), but I think you could still take it as a model of how to keep it moving with interesting characters.

Just two examples off the top of my head.
 

WOllfen

Is a wondrous friend of modest Kruppe
#8
See here is the thing, writing is a highly subjective art, it matters not what others think if you are writing how you want and you find it fulfilling. Arguments can be made for both lines of thought. And no matter which way you write it, if you are successful in marketing the book you WILL find an audience for it. As long as you write a story that is interesting and well executed (and I'm not simply talking about grammatically) then it will appeal to others.
A case in point is the Skylark Duquesne novels of E.E. Smith. These novels when you read them are simply one page of action after another with no pause. Character development really doesn't come into it. And yet this old series of books has sold for almost a hundred years.
Write how you want, write how you feel, don't get caught up too much on 'methodology' too much.
 

SparklingLu

Philosophizes with Kellhus
#9
I can't give suggestions about writing, but as a reader i wouldn't like action in every chapter (especially if they're short).
I really enjoy moments of introspection, pauses, for many reasons as letting go the breath i was holding during the whole action scene, interiorise the facts (a death, perharps?), making suppositions on what will happen next, gradually being guided toward the next action.
I wouldn't like being always on tension (even worst, i could become used to it and bored!), while, on the other hand, i'd really like being brought to it.
But it also depends from the lenght of the chapters. If they're very long, with enough space to "recover", i might come to like it anyway.

@ofer "I don't see why those two should be mutualy exclusive."
I agree :)

(Sorry, not native speaker :/)
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#10
as letting go the breath i was holding during the whole action
Yep. This sounds like a necessary part of building pace to me. I'm sticking to the action for now as it flows easier at this point, but I doubt I'll want to keep writing it chapter after chapter. I think when I do break from it I shall just ensure that there is still some sort of development in the story, some revelation or reversal of fortune that occurs as a result of the expo/dialogue/introspection. That would be inline with
Write how you want, write how you feel,
and should still be satisfying for me.
As for
if you are successful in marketing the book you WILL find an audience for it
Whilst I love for people to read stuff if I write, I have no time to engage in the sort of effort that requires (at least not at the moment). It is much more important to me to find time to write. I find it almost as relaxing, and certainly more cathartic, than reading.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#11
@WOllfen To be clear, I'm not saying marketing and thinking of an audience is a bad thing, or shouldn't be part of writing. I just see the effort you guys make and discuss in other threads and it makes me feel almost exhausted. Kudos to you for doing it I say. It sounds just as hard as the writing but not even one hundredth as enjoyable.
 

fbones24

Journeyed there and back again
#12
I also think that "action" is completely subjective. What might be action to some could be boring to others. "Fight scenes" to me are not action. By fight scene, I am referring to a character engaging in a sword fight or other such battle with an enemy. Large scale battle scenes I enjoy immensely. I also tend to find political scheming, planning, assassin attempts, etc. very enthralling so for me, this is action.

On the other end of the spectrum, I'm a reader who does not like long winded dialogue between characters. I would rather the character development come from the author's story telling and insight into character thought.

I'm not sure if any of that makes sense. :)