Artificial action occurs when there is action described in scene description — which creates the illusion action is happening in a script — but it’s not real action. This includes “looking.” Which is just eyes in a character’s head being pointed in some direction and maybe then pointing in another, without a character moving from a stationary position. Or can just be scene description attempting to create an emotion or visual by saying a character “looks” this way. Turning. Which, if overused, is merely a stationary character shifting the direction his or her body is facing. Pausing. Which is just a character sitting stationary with no motion. “Pausing” includes beats, and “moments.” Also, be aware, words like “notice” “survey” and “watch” are looking.
Another form of artificial action occurs when action is negated by being preceded with terms like “appears” or “looks like” or “starts” or “tries” or “begins.” If a character appears to be doing something (or “looks like” he or she is doing something) the implication is the character is not actually doing it, the character merely appears to be doing it. If a character starts/begins/tries to do something, then the action doesn’t really take place, it is just the intention to act in play – so no real action happening on the screen.
Want to know if your script is a victim of artificial action? It is not too hard to find out. Do a search for the word “look.” That is the biggest bar non first indicator. Then do a search for “appears” and “begins.” You’ll know pretty quick if one or all of those words are littered all over script pages.
Want to know how to fix artificial action? Non-Static Writing begins May 15th.
*where that image comes from: spoonfed design