action (narration) The term action indicates what is relevant and essential to the narration of a story: story action. This stems from the understanding that a story will be narrated with a unity of action, the events of the narrative being connected to a plot that progresses with a coherent sense of story development, rather than including superfluous and unnecessary events which strays or digress from the plot, or even fails to establish story action. Action in this sense is not just physical action; running, jumping, travelling, but also the story events that show character and setting, which for character can be movement, gestures or spoken words, and for setting can be static shots without any action in terms of character action, but the setting does represent story action, because the setting establishes a plot progression in the story, showing where the action is taking place, and developing the place and time in the narrative.
The issue for screenwriting is that in the creation of a story there will be many details and events that could be recounted in the actions of the imagined characters, but not all of these will be necessary to present a coherent narrative. When a screenplay is first drafted it is typically too long, and in the redrafting and editing to produce a concise script this serves three purposes: to narrate the story in a successful dramatic form, to ensure that the telling of the story is coherent, and to remove unnecessary scenes that repeat story action that has already been established. This rewriting and editing is the work of creating unity of action. The aim of the screenplay is to produce a script that has a clarity of story in terms of dialogue and physical action, so that this can be directed for the screen. The novel and especially the literary novel may have many digressions, commentary and the enjoyment of the novel can often be in the writing, its style and expression rather than the plot. So, the form of the novel is distinct from the form of drama.
The issue for filming is that in the staging of scenes, characters arriving, walking, sitting, dressing, driving, shopping, eating, which might be understood as part of the setting for the scene, these become dominant factors in the on screen action, and pertinent story action is lost. The purpose of direction is to film scenes to show story action, but the challenge of maintaining continuity and a lack of understanding staging for ellipsis and how to reveal story beats, can result in the blocking and direction of the scene being subsumed by action which is not related to the story. The challenge for directing action is for the director to be clear what the story action is, which requires knowledge, understanding and analysis of the screenplay: sometimes it is necessary to show the character arriving at the scene, to establish story action and sometimes the character is at the scene, and the director in preparing a script needs to clarify what needs to be filmed, and after this there are the choice for staging and camera angles, which if well done will focus on story action, and if badly done will produce shots which are redundant to the story. The editing of filmed scenes is the process of ensuring that story action is clearly narrated. This is the process of creating unity of action: making sure that all the elements of the film contribute to the narration of the story.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019