1. The Despondent Mind
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    The Despondent Mind Member

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    About writing action or character interaction.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by The Despondent Mind, Apr 16, 2014.

    So far I have written two stories (that I hope to publish on this forum one day) and in the both I had the same problem.

    In a scene where a lot of characters move and interact I am having trouble explaining that. I mean had some pretty neat action sequences in my had but just can't bring portray them without getting into tedious explanation.

    That especially bugs me when I want to write a hand to hand combat between characters. When is to detailed and tedious, how not to break the momentum of the sequence, those are my woes.

    And then you have simple character interaction, I admit that it was incredibly difficult (at least more then I expected) for me to simply describe :
    Where the characters are, in what kind of confined space are they and where are the other objects in the room.

    So any thoughts ?
     
  2. The Despondent Mind
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    The Despondent Mind Member

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    Uhm why can't I edit the OP post ? There are some embarrassing and confusing grammatical errors.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    How do some of your favorite writers handle the same problem? When I'm stuck, I always draw from what I've learned from others.

    There's a time limit for newer members because we've had problems with spammers in the past. If it really bothers you, just ask one of the mods to make the necessary changes.
     
  4. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Think of it this way. Are you playing D&D or Hackmaster? If D&D, the exact nuances of the fight really don't matter that much. What matters is that you did 8 points of damage slaying the orc and allowing the narrative to proceed and got a little role playing experience for your half elf bard by singing a jaunty slaying tune. If you are playing Hackmaster, maybe you'd be better off writing lyrics for a death metal band?
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suspect that this is a question that will require an example in the review room, to clarify what's going wrong. Before you go to the review room, note that there will be a delay in days/number of posts/number of constructive reviews written.

    But to speculate on what's wrong, is it possible that you're worrying too much about offering all the details? For example, if six friends are sitting around a table, it may not matter exactly who is sitting next to or across from who. Or it may matter for one couple who are going to be annoyingly cuddly, but then you can leave the positions of the other four to the imagination.
     
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  6. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I still have that problem, although not nearly as much as I did even a few months ago. What you need to ask yourself is this: are the characters' gestures actually important to the story?

    Don't skim over that sentence.

    Are the gestures important to the story?

    ARE THEY?

    Okay, enough of the interrogation. :p But it's an important question; that was my mistake in my first novel. I wrote down every move they made, and it was atrocious. You only need to write down what matters to the story, to keep it moving along. So if you are writing a murder mystery and the detective is interrogating someone (just like I did to you just now :cool:), then of course facial signals are going to be far more important, and possible even some body gestures. But for a thriller, is it as important? The answer is no. Thrillers rely more on great pacing, and you would ruin that if you described every move the character made.

    So, then, you merely give an indication of their movements. Just one or two now and again are fine, even if they don't truly move the story along, because it keeps the reader aware that these are human beings, not emotionless, lifeless robots. It's all about balance, and the best way to find it is to:

    1.) Read novels, short stories, scripts, etc. and pay attention to how gestures are used. Scripts will generally have a lot of gestures, along with screenplays. Why is that? Does it work? Ask questions - take nothing for granted.
    2.) Keep writing. Along with your current projects, write a short story (or whatever you want) and make sure you again pay attention to gestures. The story doesn't have to be good, and it doesn't even have to make sense; just start writing and keep an eye out for too many body motions and such. Every time your character makes one, stop writing and ask yourself whether it's needed. If it isn't, then scrap it. If it is, then ask yourself whether it's exciting to the reader, and if it isn't, then make it so.

    The writer's craft is a long road, but it's such a great one. Persevere, my friend! :)
     
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  7. sarkans
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    sarkans New Member

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    Not every tale is appropriate for being laid out as a short story. In your case, since there is so much description of places and fighting, it would be better as a comic or manga, or maybe even a script for a cartoon or movie. You can consider trying those other types of writing. It could also help you with audience - people who are into fighting aren't into reading short stories and novels.
     
  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What's your point of view? That often helps. If it's first person or 3rd person limited, you can just show the things the POV character notices. You can provide a few glimpses of what others are doing, but if your POV character is busy grappling the enemy. It won't get tedious if you focus on the most essential movements, like eye-gauging or groin-kicking. No need to explain how exactly the kick lands between the legs or where your MC learned the move etc., you could write something like, "Bob kicked him in the nuts, and the bastard doubled over, groaning. Served him right; shouldn't have started any sh*t with us. A sweaty arm curled around Bob's neck, tightened like a boa, set on choking him out. Way to pay attention, idiot, Bob thought and monkey-gripped the arm, tucked his chin to his chest, and dropped down in one explosive motion. His head slipped free and fist sunk into the man's groin. Pushing off the man, Bob regained his feet and raised his hands, ready to dish out more. No need, the man was still gathering himself from the tarmac. A few yards from them, one of his pals was upon Mary, throttling her off balance. They landed hard, the guy on top. Bob rushed over and aimed a soccer kick at the bastard's face..." It also helps to give nicknames to the assailants. I didn't do it just now, but if your POV characters notices things about them that really stand out, he might give them nicknames like Pigface and Barrelbelly etc. Helps the reader to "see" who's who.

    You might have to sacrifice some cool moves 'cause you might not be able to cram it all in, but, hey, you can put them into another fight scene later ;)

    Although, the fight scenes I've dabbled with have also been called confusing, but at least then you can ask what was confusing about it and how to make it clearer. Plus some readers just visualize stuff differently.
     
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  9. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'll focus on the action stuff:

    First, do you have experience with martial arts / combat sports, real fights (self-defense situations, bar fights and the like), or do you know anyone who does? It helps a lot if you have first-hand experience of the stuff you're writing about, but second-hand accounts provide plenty of help as well.

    Then again, even though I've trained different styles for years and have some IRL experience, I'm no pro, so sometimes I ask the real experts (mostly professional soldiers, cops, bouncers etc. who I know).
    The last scene I ran by them involved the use of a telescopic baton and since neither I or @KaTrian (I write with her) had any experienced with it, we figured it'd help to ask folks who have not only trained with it, but used it for real.
    Lo and behold, the scene turned out great (at least much better than it would've without their help).

    Are you trying to keep things realistic or are you going for a flashier, more complex feel (kinda like many Asian martial arts movies)?

    There are pros and cons to both styles.

    Realistic scenes, pros:
    -realistic scenes are simpler, so they're easier (and take less space / time) to describe
    -since they take up less space, it leaves room for descriptions of the ever-important psychological / emotional descriptions / reactions

    Cons:
    -since they're simpler, the physical stuff isn't as impressive (unless you go for something really gory)
    -you don't have as many options (when it comes to the repertoire of physical actions)

    Flashier scenes, pros:
    -the physical maneuvers are more impressive, i.e. flashier
    -you have more options

    Cons:
    -descriptions of the physical stuff takes up more space because the movements are generally more complex (and often the fights are longer too; compare Jet Li's fight scenes to those of, say, Green Street Hooligans or Eastern Promises)
    -because the physical descriptions take more space, you have less room for the important emotional / psychological stuff
    -more complex fight coreographies are more difficult to execute well


    That's about all that springs to mind without knowing more about the scene(s) in question.
     
  10. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just like a dance, hand to hand combat is extremely complex if you try to describe each action. Focus instead upon the intention of the offensive or defensive move - which part of the body's vulnerable parts is the target, with a minimal description of the motion, usually of the striking surface i.e. knuckles, edge of the hand, finger tips, elbow etc.

    As T. Trian said, practical or at least theoretical knowledge if some kind of fighting style helps, because there is a very precise logic to trained combat, as opposed to mad flailing.
     
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  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Whenever I want to write something like a fight scene I usually check out a video of a fight to get some inspiration. KaTrian is right though - discover your pov and angle it accordingly. Think of the goal, too. I've been in a few physical fights ( when I was younger. ) and depending on your anger level you're more anxious to get in a good hit than protecting yourself. The adrenalin is running so high you often don't feel the pain ( not all of it at least ) till after the fight is over.

    You don't want to just go blow by blow as sometimes that's too much and it kills tension and believability. Learn to highlight the important hits, and struggles, but also take a step back to allow emotions, thoughts and worries to interrupt the action to increase the tension.

    Also reading up on some combat moves might be good.
     
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  12. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @peachalulu, good point. Watching videos is actually a great idea and a good resource, be it watching instructional videos or real fights. If you don't have much experience of street tussles, you get a pretty good idea of how fast, abrupt, simple, brutal, and short (average street fight lasts around 3 seconds according to statistics) real fights are in comparison to the fancier, less realistic ones.

    I also highly recommend reading up on the effects of adrenaline on the human body and what kinds of methods of adrenaline release there are and how their effects differ (e.g. slow release over a longer period of time vs. an adrenaline dump). Geoff Thompson's material is great for this (e.g. the books 'Dead or Alive: The Choice is Yours' or 'Fear, the Friend of Exceptional People').
    Understanding the psychological and physical effects of adrenaline gives you the ability to delve much deeper into the fight scene, i.e. how it feels to be in a fight, and it will just come off far more authentic than without that stuff.

    ETA: Also, for most people, fighting is not all that instinctive; something like 99% of untrained people and only a little less of those who have some training suck horribly at fighting because a lot of it is so counter-instinctive: most of the time your mind is telling you to either run away or freeze (even when you're the instigator) or to do irrational / stupid things, like the hockey thing (grab the other guy's shirt / jacket, and start flailing) etc. Likewise, not all fighting styles are created equal when it comes to equipping you for real fights. I'm not looking to start a style war, but look at the purpose of the style: is it designed for (relatively) safe competition settings (e.g. point karate, ITF taekwondo etc.), for full-contact sport settings (e.g. kickboxing, wrestling etc), or self-defense (e.g. krav maga, senshido etc).

    All styles give you some tools, but usually it's the ones that have been developed for street situations give you the tools with which to overcome the effects of adrenaline and use them to your advantage. Then again, I've heard that (at least in the States) there are some krav maga schools that are more like point karate than km, so it also depends somewhat on the instructor as well as the organization to which the school belongs (most IKMF schools have strictly regulated curriculums, but the quality of teaching still varies a lot).
    Most styles focus on the physical aspect alone whereas ones like KM and senshido also take into consideration the psychological side as well as local self-defense laws (what you can or can't do from a legal standpoint, what to do afterwards in regards to the police etc).

    That being said, the way your characters behave in a fight depends largely on any possible training they might have. Mind you, not all training helps; if it's a style focusing on light contact and point competitions, it might even hinder your performance in some situations.
    Just a few things to consider.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2014
  13. The Despondent Mind
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    The Despondent Mind Member

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    Please forgive me for not quoting every single post but I'm going to hand out one big general thanks for everybody that posted in this thread, but special cudos go to the Trian duo and Thomas Kitchen.

    I would really like to add something or ask a sub question but this is an overkill of useful posts.
     
  14. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Ask as many questions as you like! We're a community of writers seeking to help each other out. :)
     
  15. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Didn't realize you'd be playing favorites...
     
  16. The Despondent Mind
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    The Despondent Mind Member

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    It's a club open for everybody, but it's not easy to enter it.

    The thing is I would prefer my stories to have some good action AMONG other things, I find genre limitations rather unnecessary. Therefore I constantly have worries that I will break the flow of action with to much detail for those who do not need it, or the reader has no idea what the hell is happening.

    I guess I'm to much wanna be George J.R.R. Martin (which is not rare these days).
     
  17. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Glad if we could help.

    Since you mentioned Martin, am I correct in assuming you're writing medieval fantasy, i.e. most fights include swords / other melee weapons?

    I'm more of an empty hands / knives / firearms guy, so my knowhow of historical European martial arts is very limited, but I've had some sword / dagger training, so if you got questions about specific scenarios, I'll answer to the best of my ability, but don't expect too much (esp.about specific techniques).

    When it comes to keeping the action fast but clear without bogging it down with details, one trick to accomplish that is to tie the description to the action. It's kinda hard to explain clearly with my limited literary skills, so I'll just give a quick example (I'll use a medieval fantasy setting, but you can translate this to empty hands, a gun fight, or any other fight scenario using the same principles).

    If I want to let the reader know that X is wielding a longsword, he has some solid training under his belt, but no experience of real fights yet, while his antagonist, Y, has an axe with a long beard, no training, but some real world experience, I'd do something like this:

    X drew his longsword and circled Y. The rush of fear shook the sword held high in the window guard, betraying his inexperience, but he willed the tip to point straight at Y's heart. Grinning like a lunatic, Y swung his axe from side to side, as if testing it, and attacked.
    A quick diagonal swing broke Y's charge. X had to maintain his distance; if Y got too close, his short axe would give him the upper hand.
    X took the initiative and went for a stab to keep Y at bay. A steely clang rung in the clearing as Y hooked X's blade with the beard of his axe, yanking it aside, but X countered the parry just like he had been taught, moving on instinct. He dove in and smashed the pommel into Y's face. Y stumbled back, spitting blood and bits of his teeth.
    They squared off again. X had won the first exchange, but Y's bloodied grin chilled his heart; this could still go either way.

    Now, that bit is full of clich├ęs, it's unrefined, unedited, and unimaginative, and many here could've done a better job, but the snippet illustrates what I'm talking about, the things I paid attention to:

    1. Instead of telling the reader X has a longsword, I showed it through action, making him draw the longsword. I didn't want to tell that he took the window guard, so I showed how the sword trembled in his hands while he held it high in the window guard, pointing the tip at Y's heart. That description did triple duty by showing the effects of adrenaline (I called it "fear" in the example because people didn't know about adrenaline back then) on the human body and explaining a bit what kind of a guard the window guard is, i.e. the sword is held up high and horizontally, the tip pointed at the opponent's heart.
    2. Mentioning the danger of letting Y get too close in the middle of the scene and that it could go either way in the end helps give the scene a sense of continuity, even suspense, something for the reader to look forward to in order to motivate them to keep reading.
    3. Since the scene was written in 3rd person limited, I couldn't tell what Y was feeling (X was the POV character), so I tried to show it through his behavior (he attacks first, showing his aggression, the way he grins at X even after getting his teeth knocked in, showing his devil-may-care attitude as well as his level of confidence / experience etc).

    You probably get the picture: don't tell what they have or what they're doing, show it through their actions. That way you don't need to tell about their gear or actions separately, but you can still sneak in most of the details you want without slowing down the action too much. Leaving out too many details will just make the action confusing and the reader won't know what they're doing, with what, to whom etc.
    This is just basic stuff, and the more experienced writers here can probably give you more in-depth advice, but this is just to help pick a basic direction and move into more advanced things from there.
     
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  18. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only thing I would add is that more often than not, if you are not fighting with a pole arm or spear, and do not have a shield, you go for the hands/wrists and legs first. Hands are obvious, and legs because even minor wounds can affect the opponent's mobility and speed.
     
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