effective editing: A is for Action

Last week I mentioned my own method for editing: The ABCs and 123s. A is for Action and I’ll explore this in today’s continuation of effective editing. Action is not only for your writing, it is for you, the writer: whether you create nonfiction, fiction, poetry, or any combination of works.

The main thing I want to focus on is organization. Remember those five paragraph papers we wrote in high school and college? Well, they’re back! If you purposefully wiped them from your memory, let me help:

introduction: one paragraph

body: three paragraphs

conclusion: one paragraph

What does all this have to do with Action? An organized writer has the goal in mind as the writing unfolds.

Without the goal in sight, the Action may be useless fluff, cluttering space.

Here’s how I figure the five paragraph method applies to writers:

introduction  = opening action/exposition

body = main points with topic sentences, supporting details, and transition sentences aka rising action, climax, falling action

conclusion = denouement

Yes, Freytag’s Pyramid. See history here…(Somebody help me, I’m fixated on geometry again!)

The pyramid will help you see the goal. If it’s fiction, you’re telling a story. Every Action should push the story forward: the characters, settings, dialogue, etc. For nonfiction, your goal may be to persuade or share facts. The work should progress in a semi-methodical way, the Action: first this, then that, and lastly thus and such. Songs, poems, and skits have similar objectives, dish out the information in bite-sized Action morsels, and deliver in a particular narrative voice.

Back to the pyramid. Notice how there’s Action in the beginning, the middle, and the end. One great way to begin a story is with dialogue, directly immersing the reader into the Action. A side note: the climax is not necessarily in the middle of a piece; more often than not it is two-thirds of the way through, with small obstacles along the way. Think romance novels. Boy meets girl, boy can’t be with girl, it almost happens yet something devastating keeps them apart, then voilà they marry!  

All require Action to move.

So, how does someone edit for Action? Oh, you betcha, another blast from the past: the dreaded outline. Before you pull out those lovely locks, let me reassure you it will not hurt nearly as bad to buckle your seatbelt to your chair and do it. For your love of words, for the love of a finished project, for the love of a byline, for the love of whatever bribe is necessary: you’ll yield a better piece from this step.

The outline helps before you begin your text, guiding your creative juices. Brainstorm ideas, then whittle them down to the best ones that carve out a story/work. After you finish your first draft, according to your outline, you may need to adjust it or tweak it as things progress. That’s more common than not. Remember, this is your idea, your outline, and you drive this vehicle unless your characters have taken over. Then slide to the passenger seat and hang on. And don’t get upset when they ask you to come up with a second outline.

Already finished a manuscript? Are you thinking, “I’m a pantser, someone who flies by the seat of the pants without a plot-plan.” No worries, the outline is still your best bud. The method is simple, use Freytag’s Pyramid, not something hokey from elementary school. Or rich in details that the Type-A folks use. Create one that fits your needs, and keeps the goal of your writing in mind.

Next, take those five steps (your pyramid) and expand them into short, complete sentences; no fragments here. There’s your map. Stretch yourself a bit further, by filling in landscape details, dialogue and transitions, yielding you a beautiful picture, via a custom outline.

Oh, too easy? If you’re a real plotter, number and letter freak, then dig deeper and add mini pyramids into your larger one. Make it one giant puzzle that only you have the picture for, and be sure you’re not confusing your reader.

You have your roadmap, your outline. Now go forth and edit accordingly. If the piece is written, you may apply this as Substantive/Structural Editing. Perhaps there are a lot of rewrites to get it whipped into the confines of your just-produced outline. Then you’re dealing with Developmental Editing/ Rewriting.  (See effective editing: it’s not terminal, or is it?)

The big picture: Action is what you’re taking as a writer/editor. Action also determines whether your writing is moving in the write right direction. 😉

How do you know, if you haven’t looked at your map? Go ahead, I dare you…take some Action! Chisel out your next draft.

Have you entered the editing packages contest? Read the rules here.

Next week, the Bs have it.


The series:

effective editing intro

effective editing: it’s not terminal, or is it?

effective editing: ABCs and 123s

effective editing: The Bs have it

effective editing: What do you C?

effective editing: One Disguise

effective editing: Two – Rhythm and Reason

effective editing: Three – challenge, compare, and contain



  1. Ah yes, action. I recently learned from my daughter, that it’s going to be my best friend in my writing, in more ways than one. And I realized from this post how much I’ve always outlined, even when it was all in my head. Yay! 🙂

    1. Oh yay Sparks!! So cool to realize how organized you’ve been! Great description: Action is your best friend in writing 😉 thanks for reading the series, really appreciate it!

  2. what i don’t like about the graphic is the proportion. it visually suggests that the climax is at the midpoint of the writing instead of well towards the end.

      1. but you didn’t make that, did you? i see it that way constantly, so i thought you didn’t make your own. if so, and that was taken as an insult, i’m sorry.

        1. no, didn’t make that one, kept the design…originally Freytag’s Pyramid was a tool to use with classic literature, so I thought it was a good graphic and explanation. Maybe it was a bad choice on my part? and no worries, not insulted at all…

  3. Good ideas, Roxie. I’m liking outlining more as I expand my writing. The Pantser approach worked well to get me into writing, but to keep going, the plotting helps more. I can’t keep waiting for my story to just appear in a dream, can I?

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