50 Shades of Action

50 Shades of Action

It breaks my heart to announce that I have reached the end of the Fifty Shades trilogy.

JK – I’m more like

It was tough going. There were times when I thought I might fail. But, I pushed on and saw this through til the stupid, stupid end. Yes, this is what I choose to do with my life.

It was entertaining while it lasted, but all bad things must come to an end. I laughed, I rolled my eyes, I groaned, I ranted, I raved, I daydreamed, I dozed, I felt my brain getting dumber and dumber.

In fact –

Let’s talk about actions.

By actions, I don’t mean car chases (you better believe there’s a car chase in Fifty Shades!). I mean what the characters are doing in each scene. I talked a bit about this (and butt plugs) when I discussed showing vs telling, but let’s go deeper (#buttplugs).

See, I noticed when reading that the characters are constantly murmuring. And giggling. And smiling. And his eyes are always darkening. (Can eyes do that?) Christian is always glaring. Ana is always gasping. So, I did what a lot of people before me have done, and I counted some of these simple, repetitive actions. Throughout the entire trilogy, this is what I found:

Smile 1,058
Kiss 853
Whisper 843
Murmur 827
Grin 576
Looks 539
Frown 413
Mutter 352
Blink 303
Gazes 301
Smirk 223
Gasp 211
Laugh 209
Nod 208
Shrug 189
Glare 113
Scowl 113
Shake my head 110
Moan 108
Stroke 95
Giggle 91
Sighs 85
Gape 84
Clench 67
Squirm 60
Inhale 55

Some of these actions are necessary. They help the reader understand the character and how she handles situations. But did we need to know Ana and Christian blinked 303 times?

For example.

Take this scene from Fifty Shades of Grey:

“Open your mouth,” he commands and thrusts his thumb in my mouth. My eyes fly open, blinking wildly.

“See how you taste,” he breathes against my ear. “Suck me, baby.”

I know it’s very erotic, but try to contain yourself.

Christian is inviting Ana to suck his thumb. He shoves it in her mouth, and then her eyes fly open and blink wildly. Eyes tend to blink. I don’t know if they really blink wildly. I guess I blink wildly when I have an eyelash under my contact lens. But that doesn’t really add anything to Ana’s reaction to getting a…um…sticky thumb shoved into her mouth. All it gets us is an adverb.

Here’s another from Fifty Shades Darker:

“She managed to obtain a concealed weapons permit yesterday.”

Oh shit. I gaze at him, blinking, and feel the blood draining from my face as I absorb this news. I may faint. Suppose she wants to kill him? No.

Eyes gaze and blink. Yup. On a second draft, she probably would’ve cut everything except: Blood drains from my face. That says everything about Ana’s thoughts about the unbelievable development of Christian’s crazy ex-sub getting a concealed weapons permit.

What can we learn from Fifty Shades?

Know your characters. I’ve said this before, but everything comes down to character! Let’s say your character kicks a puppy and smiles. If he’s stereotypical evil, readers might already guess he smiles. If he’s the hero, readers might need to know he smiles when he kicks puppies. For help developing characters, check out The Positive Trait Thesaurus.

Get away from the face. Look at the word count above. A lot of those actions are centered on the face. Smiling, blinking, gazing, smirking, frowning. The entire body does things! Bad news can make a stomach turn and a pulse race and toes go numb. Pick up a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus to get ideas of how to describe fear other than, I frown.

Revise! In your quick and dirty first draft, look at these simple, repetitive actions as notes to yourself. Then, decide if mentioning a character blinking wildly adds anything to your scene, or tells the reader something he doesn’t know about the character. Or, you know, if it even makes sense. Try Self-Editing for Fiction Writers for more tips.

Until next time, Laters baby!