1. Mr DC
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    Mr DC Member

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    My action scenes suck

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mr DC, Apr 21, 2016.

    Like the title says, I'm bad at writing action scenes. Doesn't matter if it's gunfights or fistfights, I'll either plow through them or let them wait for the mythical "later".

    I boil most fight scenes down to one-on-one because those go better than groups but the plot has to pay the bill if I do it like that.
    Any advice in describing action scenes? :)
     
  2. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Oh man, I struggled with this too. In the end I wrote it word-vomit style, sent it to betas, and they all said it was fine. So... that's not very helpful from an advice perspective.

    I guess I used a lot of sentence fragments and short, snappy sentences to describe the action parts:

    Brown was coming at him again, all raw fury and base instinct. Untrained fodder, just manpower. No soldier. Alex inched back almost imperceptibly and waited until the very last moment to dodge properly, prepared as the blade grazed his chest. Brown’s hand was fully extended, his body off balance. Alex grasped his wrist and pulled his soft stomach onto the Ka-Bar. He jerked the knife and felt something warm and slippery spilling onto his hand.

    The sound of a wounded animal.

    Two down. Two to go.


    --mixed in with longer sentences (to mimic panic) when describing emotions and horrific sights, and focusing on smells and sounds and the little things that your mind latches onto when it's in panic mode. I also added some humour--this was my agent's idea and I was dubious at first, but I think it really worked:

    In an instant he was in front of her. He clamped a hand over her mouth and pressed her back against his chest. Not solid and comforting, like Alex’s. Bony and burning, the hand repulsively moist and stinking of garlic and nicotine.

    Time slowed down as the killer raised the knife. It seemed to snag on the atoms in the air. Blood rushed in her ears, distorting all other sounds, and her legs numbed.

    She didn’t want to die. She wanted a family, and a happily ever after.

    And, oh god, Alex hadn’t packed her matching underwear. Constance had always warned her to match, in case she got run over and the doctors had to undress her. Now she was going to die in blue panties and a pink bra and they would think she was some kind of delinquent who hadn’t been raised properly. Constance would be furious.

    The world came rushing back as the killer grunted in her ear. It turned into a wheeze, the air being let out of a balloon, and the knife dropped into the pile of boxes in front of them.
     
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  4. SadStories
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    SadStories Member

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    Just an amateur writer here, lol, but I feel like action is one of the things I'm best at!

    The most important thing, imo, is to remember that books are not movies. Following a close, physical description of something (like the exchange of fists or bullets) is one of the most demanding things you can ask of a reader, and this runs detriment to the nature of action - which is supposed to be fast and exciting. The following goes for description in general (action scene or not), but you should try to stick to poignant, little observations that keep your reader's imagination running. For example mention a puddle shaking after someone sidesteps into it, avoiding a sword slash, and leave the reader to imagine the boring specifics.

    Now since you can't put too much weight on the physicality of the action, like movies, you have to find some other ways to add substance to your action. There are many approaches, but a personal favorite is theory. Instead of trying to meticulously describe how your character runs from one cover to the next while shooting, spend a paragraph having them carefully weigh and consider their options. Only then give the run itself a single, stunning line. The ultimate version of this approach, of course, is developing a very complex magic system. I don't think it's accidental that fantasy books that have those usually have the best action scenes. Another approach is to psychologize. Explore how the characters are feeling fighting their childhood sweethearts, or consider deeply the anxiety they are feeling dancing around the precipice of death as they just barely avoid bullets.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2016
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  5. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    I am currently in the super beginning stages of a sci-fi action adventure. There will be fighting, and it does intimidate me a bit, because I've never written action scenes. Well, last night while watching tv, there was an action scene, and I decided to study how they portray it in live action, and how I could translate that to written word. I think I will continue doing that for a while, until my confidence grows. I feel like I can even plan out an entire action sequence, just by mimicking what I see on tv and translating it to fit my story. I don't care if someone says that's cheating, I call it research.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It's not cheating ...nothing really is, when it comes to writing. The danger is by just describing what you see in a movie, you're missing a huge vital ingredient. What does the character you're writing about think and feel. If you only tell us what he or she does, that's not very engaging.

    If you want to use movie action scenes, and why not, the trick is to imagine yourself as one of the characters. Put yourself in their shoes. When you see that huge barbarian hurtling down on you, axe raised to split you in half, you think and feel ...what? It's the inner life of your character that separates writing from film.

    You could write:
    I sidestepped and he ran directly past me into a tree trunk. His axe got stuck, and I sliced his head off. Then I screamed.

    Or you could write:
    My gut reaction was just to get out of his way, and that is what saved me. I leaped sideways and his momentum carried him straight past me. He'd meant to bury his axe in my skull, but he buried it in the trunk of the oak tree instead, and as he struggled to yank his weapon free my courage returned. I charged at him, slashed his head off with a single stroke—and finally found my scream.

    As long as you put yourself into the head and heart of one of the characters you're watching, you're right ...it's good research. However, if you just copy what you see, it will read like a screenplay, not a novel.
     
  7. Mr DC
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    Mr DC Member

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    I didn't expect to many comments nor for all of them to be of this much use.

    Big thanks at @SadStories because it seems I have a blind point for what you suggested. I'll shift to that mode for a bit just to check if I can make it work. Great advice, I can see myself writing in such a way in the future :)

    Also @Tenderiser you write fights almost the same way I do. The almost part is where yours is good and mine isn't ;)
    Thanks for the great example, I will probably take some bits from yours, work them until exhaustion and make something half as good.
     
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  8. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    I second this.

    And here's a link to another interesting article (it's about writing a chase, but there's a lot of good stuff that'll generalize to action): let's steal from this!
     
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  9. Mr DC
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    Mr DC Member

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    An interesting read, thanks :)
     
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