We're at the second to last stage in the Stages of Change, and that would be Action. We've covered Precontemplation, Contemplation, and Preparation already.
During the Action stage, your characters are actively engaged in the change that has eluded or haunted them for most of the book. This is where the rubber hits the road. The character has gone from not even contemplating some drastic, needed change to not only contemplating it, but preparing for it. These characters are dating the guy they know they should have avoided or have crossed the line at work and done something drastic like committed fraud. It's like the point of no return.
Behaviorists, who focus solely on behavior modification, have produced research that indicates the previous stages are vital for success during this stage. Let's return to our heroine from last week who decided she needed to lose weight and get healthier. If she made this decision on December 31st, ran to the store that night and bought all her health foods, threw out her unhealthy snacks in her pantry, and managed to find a gym open on January 1st to join, likely all her efforts will come to a crashing halt because not enough time and energy was given to the previous stages.
We don't want this for our characters (or perhaps some of you devious author-types do)! So while we want to start with an exciting, inciting event, which often includes action of some type, this is not the real action that the main character(s) will ultimately take by the end of the book. (Just don't get caught up in semantics.) We have to bring our characters through all the stages to help the reader be more invested and help the character's Action decision come with the highest stakes possible.
Your character is trying to overcome their problems or start a new way of life, so they seek to modify their behavior, their experiences, of their environment in order to do so. This stage will require the most emotional, mental, and physical effort of your character. They might have thought preparation was rough, but you'll show them!
For many of those writing suspense or action thrillers, the Action stage will be the culmination of all the action up until that point. For mysteries, the Action stage is finally figuring out who-dun-it. For all novels, the Action stage is going to be the climax. It's the reason why people stuck with your book for 200+ pages. It's finding out what exactly happens to this character they've come to care about.
It's okay during the Action stage to periodically look back and question what got them there. This would be your character who is trying to lose weight who sees a pair of old jeans hanging in the back of her closet and realizes she never wants to fit into them again. She might emote over how wearing them made her feel, and it might energize her to push harder during her next workout or forgo that mocha latte with extra whip cream she was tempted to indulge in.
Keeping your character grounded in a support network that they likely surrounded themselves with during their Preparation, as well as finding ways to reinforce their current decision (like the above heroine splurging on a new pair of jeans when the goal weight is acquired), will be crucial during the Action stage.
I want to go back to Edward from Twilight. I like to think of his Action stage beginning not after the aggressive vampire moves in the meadow, but when he slings his arm around Bella in the school parking lot and says, "I'm breaking all the rules now anyway...since I'm going to hell."
For anyone who has ever live through high school relationships to tell about them, this is a very drastic step. They arrive to school in the same car, he walks around the car to open the door for her....they are immediately stared at and labeled a couple. When he says the above quote, he essentially is saying, "Might as well take this all the way and make the most of it." He's made his decision and is acting on it, and this is a climax for the romantic part of the book.
Q4U: Do you agree with my assessment of Twilight's romantic climax?