Events vs. Actions

In the context of story I often speak of EVENTS and ACTIONS.

In essence it’s a very simple and at the same time hugely important concept. Among many other things it can save you from the dreaded ‘passive protagonist’ syndrome.

Simply put, it’s about Action and Re-action. In the context of story however, this will make no sense whatsoever without establishing Point of View first. In other words: WHO witnesses the events and/or performs the actions?

If an action is a meaningful activity performed by a character, let’s look how we can define EVENTS in this context.

It can be:

  • an incident or occurrence happening to the hero: e.g. The hero’s car runs out of fuel.
  • an action by an other character impacting on the hero: e.g. The neighbour calls for help.
  • dialogue by an other character directed to or heard by the hero: e.g.  “You’re fired”.
  • a (sudden) memory, realization or revelation for by the hero: e.g. “He’s the guy who conned me…”

Summarising, we can say:

“An EVENT is a meaningful occurrence that is witnessed by or revealed to the hero.”

To make the distinction between EVENTS and ACTIONS, it is essential to first establish the POV.

Mostly this will (should) be the POV of the hero.

In a story that works, the number of Events and Actions will be roughly in balance. If your screenplay has an abundance of one and a lack of the other, it will suffer from:

  1. an unmotivated hero (too many actions, not enough events); or
  2. a passive hero (too many events, not enough related actions)

A step outline can help you in diagnosing your story with either condition.

3 thoughts on “Events vs. Actions”

  1. Can an event also be an action perfomed by the character ?

    – Jack killed Paul

    This didn’t occured, the character make it happen so can we say it is an event (something that happen) or is it an action (something performed by the character) ? I’m so confused .. Please help : (

    • It’s not confusing if you take a clear POV, say the MC’s.
      From the MC’s perspective, any Action by any other character may be a meaningful Event to which they need to respond.
      If Eve is Paul’s lover, and Jack kills Paul, then this Action is a powerful event from the POV of Eve.

      But an Event (to Eve) can never by an Action BY Eve.
      The whole point is to distinguish what a character does, and what is done to the character, so we can trace the chain of causation and detecting if/where any character becomes passive or non-responsive.
      Does this all make sense?


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