Action-Reaction-Reflection

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about this technique, and I found a great example for it within Stross’ Glasshouse, so I thought now would be a good time for a gentle reminder.

ARR: Action-Reaction-Reflection

A technique, or pattern, used to develop a scene, where an action (or event) occurs, the character then reacts, and reflects on either why, how, or what it means. 

“Another drink?” Kay asks. “I’m buying.”

“Yes, please.” A warning bell rings in my head as I sense Blondie heading toward our table. I pretend not to notice, but I can feel a familiar warmth in my stomach, a tension in my back. Ancient reflexes and not a few modern cheat-codes take over and I surreptitiously loosen my sword in its scabbard. I think I know what Blondie wants, and I’m perfectly happy to give it to her. She’s not the only one around here prone to frequent flashes of murderous rage that takes a while to cool. The counselor told me to embrace it and give in, among consenting fellows. It should burn itself out in time. (Stross 5)

Action: Consider the action happening in this scene, when Blondie heads toward their table. Here is a specific event, which is recognizable through motion-type verbs.

Reaction: These are feelings that the character is experiencing, which usually concerns part of the body or types of emotions. Here, the character feels reactions within their stomach and back, reminiscent of excitement and pre-game tension.

Reflection: This is what the character is thinking in terms to what just happened. Here, the character is reflecting on why Blondie is moving, what he’s going to do next, how he feels about it, how others feel. There’s a lot of questions answered here, and this is usually the meat of a scene.

While action is necessary for readers to develop an image of what’s happening, reflection is most important because it help readers identify the reasoning of the story helping them align with the main character’s thoughts, aiding in immersion. Reaction helps a little bit with this, but it’s the mid-way point action and reflection, and helps more with the reader sympathizing with the character.

Each of these is an important step for a scene, and if one is missing, it does create weaker writing. I would know – I’m still struggling to keep plenty of reflection in mine.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Act, 2006. Print.

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