1. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    How long can I run and gun?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by bossfearless, Jan 30, 2014.

    I'm at a point in my novel where the next couple of chapters (at least) will cover a kind of running battle through a city while the main characters are being chased by a nasty creature. The three main characters are all mages, so this chase sequence will serve as a way to showcase all of their individual talents and let them totally go crazy in a variety of progressively more absurd settings like a brothel, a butcher shop, and a few other places yet to be decided, and this will be the culmination of the second big story arc within the novel, setting up the final act.

    My question is this: How long can such a chase sequence really last? I want this to be a long, drawn out affair but I also don't want the reader to get bored with it and start skimming over it to get to the next part. Thinking about some action movies like Die Hard and others where the whole movie is just a long series of action sequences, it seems to me like the trick to it is switching gears from time to time and letting the reader's excitement kind of die down a bit, or inserting something hilarious to give it a different flavor before returning to the action.

    Anyone have any suggestions?
     
  2. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is an aerial action sequence in Battlefield Earth that lasts 59 pages. But it works. Hubbard keeps the action moving forward, makes sudden changes to the environment, introduces complications of ever-increasing challenge level, pits different interesting characters against each other, and breaks it all up with short "meanwhile on the ground" interludes that eventually reconnect with the events in the air. It's possible to do a really long action sequence that works, but it's got to be REALLY special.

    Your thoughts on switching gears, adding humor, changing flavor, all sound good.
     
  3. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    For a book, having too many action sequences can be boring, so I it should be a climax of some sort. Now, you're doing it to set up a final act, so I think that would be fine.

    As for the length, it depends on

    (A) How well it's written; how engaging it is
    (B) Do you have something that can break it up? That is, into smaller section?

    '(A)' pretty much speaks for itself, and you can't truly know how good you are until you give your manuscript to other people - preferably people you don't know, or don't know you that well. But as for '(B)', this depends on your novel. Are all the characters in this chase sequence? If not, consider leaving the chase sequence at a climax and then move to a different point of view, a different person doing a different thing. You could even have the perspective of the 'bad guys', even if it's only for a chapter. People could interpret this as a new and permanent POV, but if you write it well (the answer to everything :p) and make it 'final' if you will, then you should be fine i.e. give the final paragraph of that temporary POV a definite closure, so the readers will know not to expect it again (this could be done by having that particular character die, but there are other ways. Hey, you're the writer!).

    If you still don't know what I mean, take a look at the films you've watched. Say it's a thriller, and it's the climax: one person's story is calmer, but not necessarily safer, and the other person is heavy on the action, with bullets and blood flying everywhere. At this climax, you see both POVs, almost running parallel with each other. It breaks up the action and adds tension to it all.

    I suggest you do that if you fear it's too long. Also, have a look at published action novels, and they should give you a better idea of how long chase sequences and fights should be.

    Hope this post was of some worth. :)
     
  4. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    Thanks for the quick replies! This helps to confirm some of the ideas I already had as well as giving me a few new ideas to work with. I'm writing from a first person perspective for the entire novel, so I probably couldn't get away with breaking POV to the bad guy or anything like that for a chapter, but I like the idea of multiple divergent events suddenly intersecting. I think there's a couple of good characters who have the potential to show up and make things temporarily crazier or more interesting.

    I can't help thinking back to when I watched Pacific Rim. During the (extremely long) action sequence where the two monsters are attacking Hong Kong, the action has been going for so long that the movie "resets" the audience with the scene where the robot punches through the building and bumps the little Newton's cradle on the desk. The humor and the sudden drop in the action puts the viewer into a place where the action is suddenly more powerful once it picks back up.
     
  5. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    I suspect there are some readers that could read a book that was nothing but one long chase scene, but personally I don't have a lot of interest in such scenes unless there is something behind it, such as furthering the concept behind the story, or furthering character development.

    I think that after a certain a mount of "run and gun" the reader begins to realize that there's really no danger because time after time the pursued escape, and the reader knows that whatever follows will not really put the protagonists in danger. Without the feeling that the the pursued are in danger, the effectiveness of such scenes is minimal.
     
  6. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    You seem to have grasp of rhythm that way. The issue I would see with a long chase scene is that they are the ones being chased. If their goal for the entire scene is merely survival, I might get bored with the passiveness of it all. If they were chasing this 'nasty creature' because it had a jewel they needed to transport to another realm to save one of their girlfriends, I can root for them to achieve something through their motivation and daring, while worrying what will happen if they don't get the jewel. Then, they DON'T actually catch the creature, and I HAVE to see what happens next.

    Of course, any scene of any type and any length can be great depending on how well it's written. I suggest going ahead and writing it, then taking a long step back and examining how well it fits into your story.
     
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  7. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    That's a very good point about the passiveness of the characters being pursued. There are actually other elements at work and a sub-plot involving a small pig that has to be kept alive at all costs and a constant need to seek out and gobble down food in order to recharge the MC's magic powers, leading to some really odd moments. But now that you mention it, I'm wondering what else I could do with this sequence. I know that at some point the creature will chase them into a brothel (there's a street that's just lousy with hookers) and, while hiding, the rather lecherous MC will try to cop a feel or two with little success, but that doesn't really constitute another objective. The creature honestly doesn't have anything they could conceivably need, and I can't think of any way to reasonably change that.
     
  8. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was only giving a very random example of them having a goal. I think knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel would make me feel that the scene I'm reading has some purpose to it; something they will advance the plot by attempting to achieve something while/after avoiding the threat of the monster. I suggest writing your chase sequence the way it's brewing in your mind right now, because it's demanding it of you (I can tell since you've mentioned details of it that aren't pertinent). Come back to it after you've finished your first draft, then decide if it fits or not or how to change it so it does:). Either way it's writing experience, and that's never a waste.

    I'm new to writing, and a few times now I've had to scrap beloved scenes that were awesome in concept but pointless to the plot overall. I'm not saying yours is, as only you can know that, but that it does happen and it's pretty normal.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2014
  9. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Blink and teleportation spells could give the mages the benefit of extra time to rest.
     
  10. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The reader isn't looking for such demonstrations. They're looking to be entertained by someone resolving a problem as their avatar.

    As for how long you can continue it, several things apply:

    Each scene needs to have fewer option and greater risk than the one before. In a fight that means that the tension is steadily rising and there's uncertainty as to what will happen next. One way to stretch this out would be to have several parallel battles. But even there, if we're with character #1 and the tension is at three, jumping to #character #2 with the same level of tension may feel redundant, especially if the reader perceives that you're just driving the characters around and killing time as you say, "Ain't these guys neat?

    The reader came to experience the story in real time so focus on what matters to the protagonist. Anything you show should move the plot, set the scene meaningfully, or develop character,
     
  11. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    I would also recommend watching a clip of the shootout scene for the movie "Heat" really lets you know how long these last.
     
  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think your mistake is mixing movies and books. Die Hard works because it's VISUAL entertainment. A book is not. You cannot do the same things in these two very different mediums. Sure, there can be and are some overlaps. The handling of action sequences, however, is not one of them.

    On screen, all that explosion looks awesome - or since you're talking mages, let's think about anime - I love all that visual effect. In writing? You can only write random spell words or phrases like "He gestured in the air" so many times before it looks, sounds, and FEELS extremely stupid, not to mention boring and rather hard to follow.

    Trust me, I've tried, because I originally came from being heavily influenced by anime. Mix them at your own peril.
     
  13. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your running fight can actually be journey. They make discoveries about their powers, about each other, about their environment. They can also come across other people/creatures who either help or hinder, or even lead them off on an entirely different sub-quests, all the while under the threat and time pressure of the the pursuing monsters.
     
  14. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    I've gone to some lengths to hurt the main character up to this point and lock down a lot of his abilities, including his ability to move around magically. Trying to write a chase scene where the quarry can teleport and the other guy can't is just no fun for anyone lol.

    I've actually taken a bit of a departure from traditional depictions of spellcasters to make mine a bit more action-oriented. So you have a lot of physicality to their magical abilities, often in the form of having to leverage themselves against the physical resistance of the "ether," which is a background energy field that I treat in many ways like Einstein's explanation of space, kind of a rubber sheet that warps in response to force. So, for example, the MC is a very large and fat individual whose style involves throwing his weight around, grabbing hold of the ether and hauling the magic out kicking and screaming. It gives you a lot of opportunities to avoid stepping into the "waving and gesturing" trap.

    Still, you've got a really good point. This long sequence is the first time the story has devolved into pure action, and I'm going to have to work to keep it fresh. That being said, there's a definite end point to the chase. The group needs to get across town to a place where they will be safe from the creature, which they just can't seem to kill using magic. So there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but their options of getting there have been greatly reduced, necessitating this running spell battle through unlikely environments.
     
  15. Mckk
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    It sounds very anime, but it is a good idea to make the spellcasting action interesting. Sounds like fun :) I think another thing to keep in mind is this - originally you seem to want to make it as long as possible to show your characters off - basically, don't do that. Write the scene only for as long as it is necessary or natural - don't drag it out for the sake of showing off. I've written magical fights too (not the spellcasting sort but rather shapeshifter and element wielding sort) and so far no one's complained - the key is pretty much to keep it short and sweet I think. Repeated action, even with slight variations, is not interesting to read usually. They're interesting to look at, where there's a camera to zoom in on the difference and lighting to cast a more dramatic glow and sound to make a startling bang and the speed to go with everything. Reading it isn't the same.
     
  16. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    Oh I didn't mean it like that lol. The chase isn't supposed to be drawn out just to show the characters off; I meant that the long action sequence would finally give me a chance to show off what the characters can do, whereas up until now they've been acting like a group of scientists doing research. You have a very good point though, that repeating the action over and over will get stale very quickly. I need to draw out a good map of the neighborhoods they'll be running through. That should give me a few ideas of how they might escape or buy time or some silliness for them to get up to in the meantime. I suppose these kinds of things are easier to write in a contemporary setting like what you see in Anita Blake, the Dresden Files, or any of the other series where they use a real city as a basis for their fantasy setting. If I were to have the whole thing set in Tampa I could run around the back alleys downtown with a friend chasing me and we'd know the exact name and layout of the butcher shop and all that.
     
  17. Morbius
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    The real world battle for the city of Fallujah, Iraq, took like four days or so, as I recall from the news.

    Such a tale of a running, ongoing battle would obviously have to be broken up into segments, that daisy chain into each other, creating the entire long scene. The fighting of the apartment building, with its room to room combat, plays out, with the characters exiting the apartment building directly into more bad guys and whole new segment of a parking lot fight, using bullet riddled cars and dumpsters as cover. This fight leads directly into blasting the front of a shopping center with a tank round to create an opening to the building, which daisy chains into the fight down the mall concourse, shop to shop. Once the mall battle is over, the subway running gunfight ensues, followed by the segment of fighting through a warehouse...and four days later, the city has been secured.

    Long drawn out battles would probably be best is it is a series of fight scenes, against different backdrops, with changing enemies, over a duration of time, to show how it actually is one long running firefight.
     
  18. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    So how large is each mage's mana pool? [​IMG]
     
  19. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As others have pointed out, a lot comes down to pacing. In my and KaTrian's current WIP, we have two longer action sequences, one is around 12k words (one character chased in a large space station by several antagonists), the other 10k words (several characters chased by an antagonist with superior numbers in a war zone setting, kinda like the aforementioned battle of Fallujah), but they're all divided into all-out action and moments where the character(s) get some respite in one way or another (like finding a place to hide for a moment / killing their current pursuers to grant themselves a short break before more pursuers reach or find them / managing to lose the pursuers for a moment).

    Another thing we've found beneficial is to show how the situation affects the characters, be it physically (possible injuries and deaths in their party, the effects of adrenaline, sleep deprivation, dehydration, infected wounds etc) or physchologically (fear, anger, grief over a fallen comrade, worry over whether they will be able to complete & survive the mission etc). In the 10k sequence, it's a group that's being chased, including two POV characters, so we switch POVs at one point and show how the situation affects the group socially.

    So far we've had several betas read the 12k sequence which has only one character being chased by multiple antagonists, and while most of the betas who read that don't generally read sci-fi or action-rich novels, we received very positive feedback from the whole part, which shows to us that it's possible to have a long run and gun part in a story without boring your reader (even readers who generally don't like that sort of a thing) as long as you've paced it well enough.

    That being said, your premise sounds interesting and yes, it definitely can be done well, so go ahead, write it, and perhaps post it in the forum's workshop section for critique.
     
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  20. novemberjuliet
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    novemberjuliet Member

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    I tend to switch character perspectives in my stories so when I have a prolonged chase or battle seen, I usually take the time to break it up at appropriates lulls in action to switch and either use is to provide outside insight from another character or to further a subplot related to the chase (or overall plot in general). I tend to lose focus if a prolonged chase or battle scene is solely focused on the immediate action.
     
  21. TLK
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    It might not apply to your novel, but I've come across similar problems in writing of my own. My way of solving it is by switching momentarily to something else that's going on in the story, then switching back between the two. Of course, you have to have something else meaningful and interesting going on elsewhere. Think of the Helm's Deep scene in the Two Towers film. There's a lot of Helm's Deep footage, but it's broken up by the entmoot, which makes it all easier to digest and prevents the viewer growing bored of the scene.
     
  22. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    A lot of these solutions focus on the idea of switching perspectives and going somewhere else entirely. But what if you're only using one character's point of view?
    That would make it just a little bit more difficult since you can't artificially break up the scene using other characters' perspectives. I find myself thinking a bit about the Hunger Games. Essentially, the whole book is a big chase sequence, told from a single perspective, but there's enough of an ebb and flow to it that it can last several days and not get all that boring.
     
  23. bossfearless
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    I kind of fell off the earth for a little while, but I wanted to come back to this thread and thank the people who chimed in on the discussion. I was eventually able to get that whole sequence written, and it ended up being absolutely epic. I laughed, I cried, I wrote about a mob of hookers with shotguns. Very good times indeed.
     

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