(A table of contents will become available when I return to a computer post volunteer work tonight. It will be kept updated throughout the series, and I will reblog it upon completion of the series. This series will remain open for additional posts.)
Part 3: Ever Versatile Action and Adventure
If statistics could be pulled for each genre from across the world where every book is labeled with every label that could apply to them, I would be willing to stake some amount of money on the opinion that either “action” or “adventure” would be tagged on at least 80% of all books. Despite that these are two separate genres that simply happen to share many similar qualities, they are often paired together, even hyphenated to action-adventure fiction. Not only are they squished together, but they’re often a “given” label in other genres.
Yes, action and adventure are our most prevalent cross-genre perpetrators.
What makes an action story?
This is the easiest genre to understand and the hardest to talk about without sounding silly, because honestly, an action story is exactly what it sounds like: A story that is driven by action. This doesn’t sound like anything special, but consider that narrative can be driven by two forces: external conflict and internal conflict. Much of genres like literary fiction and the classics deal in internal conflict that are character-driven. Action is a more outward show of doing things, rather than thinking about things.
Because of action’s broad definition, the genre can be crossed with nearly any other genre. Action thriller? Absolutely. Action historical? For sure. Action comedy? Have you even seen Guardians of the Galaxy?
Given how prevalent action can be, when trying to decide if your story aligns with this genre, you’ve got to be more careful than you would think. Don’t just slap it on because it probably applies. Consider how much down-time your story has. The more character-focused, the more willing to pause and smell the roses with your characters, the more internal dialogue there is in your tale, the more likely it is that you simply don’t need this label.
Choosing your genre isn’t a mad rush to find all 26 labels that fit your story. You’re looking for 1-3, maybe 4 at the maximum. 2 is the sweet spot. Is action really one of the main 2 or 3 focal points of your story? Did you write this because you were looking for the thrill of the car chase? Really think hard before taking action as one of your carefully-chosen genres.
What makes an adventure story?
Action–external sources of conflict–is often a key feature of an adventure. That’s why these two get linked so often. But there’s more to adventure than just filling your pages with things happening. We’re talking about a mission, a goal to achieve, obstacles to overcome–and these may even be internal! The most often-seen and most often-accepted adventure stories center on the external: Villains and evil antagonists, mountains standing in the way, a battle to wage. Just as important can be the adventures that are more mundane: Moving to a new town, finding new friends, a character overcoming their anxieties to accomplish something. The Lord of the Rings is a quintessential adventure story, but alongside it are The Bridge to Terabithia and Trickster’s Choice.
Just as action is an exceptionally broad genre, adventure also winds up cross-genre-ing with just about everything. Adventure romance? Try Through Fire & Sea. Adventure dystopian? The Fog Diver. Adventure comedy? The Worst Class Trip Ever.
All the same warnings apply to adventure as applied to action. Be discerning about what your key features of your story are. Is your plot couched in a quest? Are your characters making a journey? Do they get into trouble they have to find their way out of? Adventure is probably for you. Add it to your list!
Next up: Alternative History!