Writing Action Scenes

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Writing Action Scenes

Post by Garmar on Mon Apr 20, 2009 3:02 pm

I thought I would start a few topics for discussion to eventually add to our on-site link library. Eventually, members will ask these questions and we can link to relevant discussions.

When writing a scene with intense action, how do you handle these elements of the story?


  • How do you use pacing to affect the scene?
  • What role does the environment have? Also, discuss using it to your MC advantage (or disadvantage), and how do you handle its description?
  • How does different POV and tense affect the scene?
  • Does dialogue add or detract from an intense fight/action scene?

These are just a few elements I could think of. Feel free to add any relevant to the subject. I'm looking for individual opinions here on how each of you handle action scenes because everyone has their own style.

Thanks,

Garmar.

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A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.  ~Italo Calvino
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Re: Writing Action Scenes

Post by ebyss on Tue Apr 21, 2009 9:25 pm

I have fighting scenes in my ms and what I did to resolve the flow is I wrote everything that happened in a simple sentences then I elaborated on that and joined them together.

ie: Not a great example, but one for the purpose.

He made a fist. I would change to: His hand tightened into a fist.

He swung. I might change to: His arm drew back then shot forward like a piston connecting with the jaw of Mr. Yakkity Man. Mr. Yakkity Man's head jerked back and droplets of blood flew through the air.

I continue to rewrite, adding stuff in and taking stuff out, till the flow is there. It is a long drawn out process, but it works for me.

Environment is a huge factor in the scene. Is it dark out? Is it cold out? Maybe the day is sunny? The environment affects how my characters react. Maybe if it is dark out, then one of my characters can make a hasty escape or maybe, they can reach down and withdraw the knife hidden in their boot without the enemy seeing?

My ms has POV switches. I have alot of characters or I might slip into my narrative voice.

As far as the dialogue, it depends. If two men are fighting, I imagine that there is dialogue before the the fists fly, and maybe after one of the men are down and the other one is kicking him in the ribs making sure he stays down.
During the fighting, I have a harder time believing because fighting exerts a lot of energy.

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Re: Writing Action Scenes

Post by SarahP on Thu Apr 23, 2009 12:54 pm

Garmar wrote:How do you use pacing to affect the scene?

-One tool I find helpful in pacing a scene is eliminating as many "to be" verbs as possible.
ex:
"He was a fighter by nature, and stalked his opponent like a cat."

I'd say "A natural fighter, he stalked his pray like a cat."


-I also replace as many adverbs as possible with action verbs.

"She quickly backed out of the line of his punch, blocking his arm as she pivoted"

I'd say something like "In a blur, she pivoted out of the line of his punch. Her palm popped against his forearm as she blocked."

Garmar wrote:

  • What role does the environment have? Also, discuss using it to your MC advantage (or disadvantage), and how do you handle its description?
I think environment is extremely important for action. All of your action tools are there. What might my MC be thrown into? How does light or lack there of affect the fighting, or car chase, etc? I think it's important to at least set a basic idea before the action starts. If all of the action is occuring in one place, I try to lay out any "interactive objects" I'll be using before the action starts. I hate for my readers to be pulled out of the story wondering "Where'd that come from?"
However, there certain environmental factors that might crop up during the action and I typically try to describe them in a short, concise way. My experience in reading (*cough*StephenKingDeanKoontz*cough*) is that too much description draws from the action.

Garmar wrote:

  • How does different POV and tense affect the scene?
I'm not as experienced in a variety of POV's. I tend toward 3rd Omniscient, or 3rd Limited. Of course, Omniscient allows easier access to the MC's mind, but limited naturally uses action to give us insight.

3rd person omniscint: " He spotted a crowbar on the desk just past the zombie. If he could just get past, he'd finally have a weapon. As the zombie closed in, the shop clerk dove past him to grab the iron bar."

3rd person limited: " The zombie trudged forward and the empty handed shop clerks face whitened. His frantic glance laid on a crowbar just behind his attacker. As the zombie closed in, the clerk dove past him to grab the iron bar."

I really think it's a matter of taste on this one. I have to rewrite some limited scenes over and over again to get the MC's thoughts to cross over coherently through action.

Garmar wrote:

  • Does dialogue add or detract from an intense fight/action scene?
I think dialogue can serve to make or break action. Too much dialogue is killer for me. I also prefer not to use a lot of "he said/she said" during an action scene. I like to place dialogue with an action, usually between exchanges (this relates primarily to fight action). My preference is short quips of dialogue followed by movement.

ex:
"Gretchen tumbled backward, blood spraying from her broken nose. 'That all you got?' She lurched forward.

Her big blond rival swung the bat again, but this time Gretchen lunged low and her down with a crack on the cement. With the smaller vampire scrambling up her body, Tanya grabbed hold of hair and flesh. The pair jerked against each other, clawing like fanged school girls until Tanya thrust herself upon Gretchen's writhing body.

"Not even close" Her fists pounded again and again with wet crunches."

((I see problems with my example, but it illustrates my point well enough))
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Re: Writing Action Scenes

Post by NaClmine on Thu Apr 23, 2009 1:56 pm

Sarah P said, "...I tend toward 3rd Omniscient, or 3rd Limited. Of course, Omniscient allows easier access to the MC's mind, but limited naturally uses action to give us insight."

I love changing the POV during an action scene. Here’s an example:

In The Last Human War, Shilgar is in hand to hand combat with several Heptari soldiers. After dispatching the last one, a formidable Heptari officer enters the room. Shilgar holds his own against this alien who is highly skilled in martial arts until the Heptari stabs him in the shoulder with a dagger coated in a strong narcotic. Shilgar passes out and the POV shifts.

Earlier in the story, Kelly (Shilgar’s friend) discovers that she has a psychic connection with Shilgar's hicay companion, Kerl-ga. During the fight with the Heptari's, Kelly, who is in another part of the space ship, can see the action through Kerl-ga’s eyes until the beast is badly wounded and passes out. Just as Shilgar succumbs to the drug, Kelly regains her severed contact with the giant cat-like preditor. She watches in horror through Kerl-ga as the Heptari officer prepares to take Shilgar's head for a souvenir. Then, she experiences a kill from the perspective of the animal. Here’s that final moment:

Shilgar could not resist the powerful drug any longer and slumped to the cabin floor, unconscious.

“Simon, I can see Shilgar again!” Kelly’s mind visions returned.

“What’s he doing? Is he okay?”

“He’s lying on the floor. There’s a Heptari standing over him. Simon! He’s going to kill Shilgar!”

Kelly watched in her mind as the Heptari stood over the limp human, lifting Shilgar’s head off the floor by his hair. The enemy soldier studied the head, much the same as a hunter might look over a trophy kill.

“Kerl-ga, get up, girl! Shilgar needs you!”

Kelly commanded the hicay while Simon listened, bewildered. Her view of the impending carnage began to change. Movement was slow and wavering at first. It became steadier as it got closer to the Heptari.

The enemy soldier positioned the ceremonial knife to the side of Shilgar’s throat, raised his head toward the ceiling and let out a primal hiss.

In that instant, a golden paw of razor sharp claws wrapped around the Heptari’s neck, yanking him backward off his feet.

Kelly’s vision moved wildly as she witnessed a kill through the eyes and ears of a hicay. There were no adequate words to describe the scene to Simon.

Kerl-ga dragged the Heptari corpse away from her lifelong friend before she collapsed and Kelly’s mind vision went black.
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Re: Writing Action Scenes

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