Critical Concepts


“Action,” in the sense in which this term is used in literary critical discussions, is not the same thing as the act or the acts of a character.  At the same time, we do have to take into account that it is indeed used, by different writers, and sometimes by the same writer on different occasions, in different senses.  We can adopt any of these, so long as we don't shift back and forth within the same discussion, and so long as what we have chosen to mean by the term becomes clear to the reader before we have gone on very long.

Sometimes this term is to refer to "what happens" in a story -- not some particular event, but something more comprehensive, that embraces the whole collection of happenings that makes up the story (actions of individual characters, happenings that that befall them).  Often, though, the term is used to refer to something more specific than this:  the particular structure that binds all these into a whole.  What sort of thing is this structure?

not exactly synonymous with “plot.”   Rather, the acts of the various characters (personages) in the story), combine in particular ways to constitute the plot of the story.  Let's use the term "the action" to refer to The plot (i.e., the action) is, again, something that the author creates, through his or her decision as to what is going to happen in the story.  Within the plot, though, the acts of the characters that, together, make the plot what it is are expressions of these individuals’ character (in the sense of their personal natures, their individualizing traits).   




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  This page last updated 07 March 2001.