cover image Action: The Art of Excitement for Screen, Page, and Game

Action: The Art of Excitement for Screen, Page, and Game

Robert McKee and Bassim El-Wakil. Twelve, $30 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2691-4

McKee (Character: The Art of Role and Cast Design for Page, Stage, and Screen) and El-Wakil, former cohost of the podcast The Story Toolkit, lay out the essential elements for writing action in this granular guide. Here, action is defined as involving “a self-sacrificing hero against a self-obsessed villain in a story-long fight to thwart malevolence and rescue a hapless victim” or, more succinctly, as “the master metaphor for humanity’s never-ending struggle of life versus death.” The authors explain excitement as “the core emotion” of action (caused by the “simultaneity of risk and glee”), and enumerate the genre’s components, such as an inciting incident (which “launches a story by shattering that sense of sovereignty”) and the MacGuffin (“the thing that both hero and villain want”). They offer plenty of examples from pop culture: in dissecting the “mercy scene,” for example, where a protagonist is seemingly at his weakest before turning the tables on his adversary, they invoke protagonist John McClane’s use of humor and deception at the climax of Die Hard. While at times the book reads like a padded outline, it’s a fine account of what beats writers ought to hit and which clichés to avoid. Newbies to the genre will welcome this straightforward introduction. (Sept.)