This week: Fight the Power, Not the Genre. Edited by: Jayne
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|We're still working on nailing down the answer to "is action a genre?". It remains elusive and is often intertwined among stronger genres that can take center stage. What you may end up with is an unintended genre lapse with a bunch of action scenes thrown into the mix. |
Today, we'll try to tease apart epic action and a societal story.
|In my last issue, we discussed Man vs. Nature as a central action subgenre. We touched on how the message of your action story can get swept up into a greater societal discussion than you may have intended it to. While you will never (and I mean never) prevent every reader from developing their own theories about your underlying message, one of the ways to avoid the major misinterpretation pitfall is to know how to stay in your genre lane.|
More importantly, if you're going to cut into a parallel genre, do so with purpose and let your reader enjoy the ride.
The Action Epic: Person Against the State
Like all good epic stories, your action epic should have a high level of detail, immersive experiences, high stakes, serious consequences, and a big backstory. This is not some simple tale peppered with fight scenes; this is generally a cerebral and nuanced build up to the action scene.
Heroics are paramount in the action epic, and your protagonist's success or failure will seal the fate of a small group of very important people or a large group of people (often defined by geography or background). At its most intense, the outcome could be disastrous for the entire world.
Does Person Against the State Stand Alone?
Again, not really. Action becomes more of a supporting prop, although in some cases it can take a leading role. You'll usually find action epics tied in with thrillers and mysteries. When these interlace properly, action jumps forward throughout the story, ensuring it isn't an afterthought. The types of person against the state you'll generally encounter are:
One of the more difficult stories to craft, due to the ever-growing web of persons or organizations involved. Clear characters and motivations are essential to making sure the story lands. Confusion and misdirection are inevitable, but it should be intentional. With person against the state, the conspiracy usually revolves around a core of people with immense power.
Your protagonist takes the law into their own hands. They can be an anti-hero, or a sympathetic protagonist. With person against the state, your vigilante is often up against a crime syndicate or other corrupt organization.
With person against the state, your story relies more heavily on your antagonist. I know what you're thinking - don't all action stories rely on the antagonist? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is this antagonist is a special creature: one so bent on social destruction, they are often willing to destroy themselves in the process.
Similar to conspiracy, except the powers that be are not simply corrupt, they are tyrannical. The protagonist cannot go it alone; they may be accompanied by a motley crew or a highly organized group of fighters. In either case, they intend to end the tyranny.
What's the Difference Between Epic Action and Society Story?
Society stories are often political or economic in nature, and generally resolve themselves with a revolutionary event. This shifts the power structure of social order, much like the outcome of any of the epic action plots.
While society stories may have action or pseudo-action elements, they rely more heavily on intimate social judgements and power divides, as opposed to the vastness of the epic adventure.
The biggest difference between person against the state and a society story lies in the ending: society stories are paradoxical, where the protagonist wins by losing, or loses by winning. One of the clearest examples of this type of paradoxical ending is found in Thelma and Louise. By driving off the cliff, they don't lose their freedom - figuratively or literally. It's their freedom to choose, their freedom to remain free and a resounding final 'get bent' directed at the patriarchy.
With person against the state, you may have intimate moments, but your pacing will be faster, your challenges can be more outlandish, and your characters can be kicked up a notch. Your protagonist can win or lose, but instead of it being a paradox, it's either a prescriptive or cautionary tale. Your character can and should learn and grow, but their change will be demonstrably different in tone than a protagonist in a society story.
Remember to think about what you want the reader to experience and take away from your work when you sit down to write. You may find you lean more one way than the other, and that's okay. Playing with genre blends is what keeps writing fresh, but make sure it works on paper, and not just in theory.
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