1. Lewis shepherd
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    Lewis shepherd Member

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    The trouble with action!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lewis shepherd, Feb 16, 2016.

    I don't want to blow my own trumpet but I certainly know where my strengths lie and it is generally in character development and interactions, the hardest part of writing for me is writing action and I don't know how to remedy that.

    For instance I'm currently writing a chapter when the main character is forced to fight a Roman gladiator to prove he is worthy to take on this quest, but I don't know where to begin with the actual fight.

    Everything I write seems incredibly generic, "he swung his sword, he swung his axe, he dodged his axe" it just sounds boaring, I would like to know how others deal with writing action, any hints or tips would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Best thing you can do is read some writers who handle that sort of thing well. One author who comes to mind, since you mention Roman gladiators, is David Gemmell. His Rigante novels have a portion that take place in that environment, though the story as a whole doesn't. In any event, he handles action sequences well so he's worth taking a look at. I found looking at how people who are widely regarded to do it well improved the way I handled action sequences.
     
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  3. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    This sounds dorky, but act out all your action scenes, especially hand-to-hand fights. Something that sounds cool on paper may end up being really stupid once your wife counter's it with a forehead slap or eye poke :p. Explain what is happening to the characters, not what is happening with weapons. Here's a humble example:

    My opponent's body tensed. I poised my gladias and hoplon defensively, anticipating my opponent's attack. He lunged. Sand kicked behind his feet as he flew at me, brandishing spear and dagger in a dual strike. I angled my shield to deflect his blow side-ward, stabbing my sword towards his forward leg. My opponent was in step with me. He stepped short of the anticipated striking distance. My block was wasted, my sword reaching at air. As I overextended my sword arm his true attack came. He stabbed quickly, subtly, more of a whip than a powerful strike. His dagger nicked my sword arm on my elbow. I withdrew quickly, resetting my stance. My opponent was no fool. This would be a dangerous fight.
     
  4. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I also think there is a tendency to want action scenes to go on for too long. Real world fights are typically over very quickly with only a few moves. I think if you push too much for length it comes across as trying too hard.
     
  5. Lewis shepherd
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    Lewis shepherd Member

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    Thanks everyone this is all great advice..
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Read Joe Abercrombie and see how he does it. He is the best fantasy 'fight' writer I can think of. The opening chapter of his First Law Trilogy (The Blade Itself) is a masterclass in this sort of thing.
     
  7. Lewis shepherd
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    Lewis shepherd Member

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    This is exceptionally well written and makes most of my own work look amature in comparison, but you are writing in the first person, how would you go about writing that same paragraph but from the third person perspective?
     
  8. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    Some writers get a lot of mileage out of environmental context--hitting with a trash can lid, kicking embers from a campfire into someone's face, using a desk as partial cover . . . It helps avoid the feeling that you're writing about JRPG characters who stand motionless on each side of the screen and take turns selecting "Attack."

    More personally, I'm a fan of R.A. Salvatore's "chess match" style of fighting, which is a lot like Zoupskim's excerpt above. Each slash, thrust, feint, or dodge serves a purpose to try to manipulate the opponent's stance and position, setting them up for an attack that they won't be able to avoid in time. It's not necessarily a blow-by-blow, but the narration explains the overall patterns the protagonist is using and how those succeed or fail according to the enemy's strength and knowledge. This can also be reversed for tension, backing the protagonist into a corner as he struggles to evade each attack.

    If your POV is limited, you can also consider a degree of chaos in the description. This is particularly popular with large-scale battles--other skirmishes fade in and out of the protagonist's perception as they focus on whatever enemy is currently trying to gut them. Time and space blur as considerations beyond survival cease to matter, moments of clarity popping in and fading out in the time between the fall of one foe and the arrival of the next.

    (You may also see recommendations that you write all your fight scenes in short, choppy sentences. I personally avoid this, focusing in on individual moments and describing them languidly like a series of snapshots.)
     
  9. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    "Her opponent's body tensed. She poised her gladias and hoplon defensively, anticipating her opponent's attack. He lunged. Sand kicked behind his feet as he flew at her, brandishing spear and dagger in a dual strike. She angled her shield to deflect his blow ..." etc.

    I like to focus a little less on actions themselves and more on the effect they have; IMO that adds a little more depth. Instead of "He swung his sword, hitting his opponent's shield", something about the muscular ache from swinging with intent to behead, the singing of the blade through the air, the crashing reverberation of it hitting the shield, his hand going momentarily numb from the impact, his opponent grunting under the force of it and stumbling. I like to focus on the bodies in action rather than the actions themselves, I guess is what I'm saying. Acting out the motions to some degree is definitely helpful since it gives you an idea of what the body's going through.

    Providing obstacles (like @Feo Takahari mentions, environmental context) is good too. Don't just have a battle in a boring, empty space - have things to move your characters around, trip over, things to get in their way and for them to use against each other. Minor injuries are good obstacles too, say having some get grazed and them favoring one side, losing mobility or clear-headedness, blood or something impairing their vision, stuff like that. Always have obstacles other than just the person they're fighting.

    I'm not saying a great at action sequences myself, but if you're interested in a less off-the-top-of-my head example, this is an excerpt of something I was wrote a couple years back. Context: already-injured cyborg gets tackled by alien dragon in the middle of a stampede.

    I'd define the stampede itself, the downed tank the cyborg'd been taking shelter behind (which isn't actually mentioned in this excerpt but is providing a barrier between them and the stampede), the fact that the cyborg's already lightheaded and weak from blood loss, and the fact that he's lost his gun (also not mentioned here but someone else grabbing it is what saves him) as obstacles or set pieces.

    He doesn't even really 'win' the fight - the dragon's killed by the stampede, which it's propelled into by his friend with the gun. And he's injured further in the course of the little scuffle, which makes him as the main character much more fallible and real, which is another thing about writing fights/action - having your main character just unilaterally win all the time is pretty boring. Don't feel like you have to always plan an outright victory for them; let other people save them, let other things happen to the opponent that your mc doesn't necessarily have control over. That helps with variety.

    Anyway, hopefully that makes sense / helps a bit.
     
  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like @izzybot's idea about focusing on the reactions rather than the actions, and I'd also add, since your strength is characterization, to be sure not to leave that out. Make sure we know what your POV character is thinking/feeling, how the fighting characters relate to each other, etc. Don't focus on the action part, focus on the people doing the actions.
     
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  11. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I find the best way to deal with what other writers advise is clunky, over-practical elements is too weave in more conventionally meaningful stuff. Like character reactions. Or metaphor. It also helps to add in other elements of the fight than just "he swung, she swung." and describe the moves with more specific terminology. This helps it feel dynamic, interesting and involved with the word not in a bubble.
    Basically, I agree with most of what's being said here.
     
  12. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Having done a little boxing in my checkered past (just long enough to realize I could get brain damage) I learned that eyes are important. Watch the opponent's eyes and they will give you a clue as to his next move, giving you an extra millisecond to block it. And by keeping you eyes on his, that takes that advantage away from him. To me, fights were always a blur.

    Also include the emotions like zoupskim did. Unless you are a man fighting a boy, you are not going to be supremely confident and calculating, your gut is going to be in a turmoil, and you are going to have to overcome that. After all, just one mistake, and you can be dead or seriously hurt. Finally, you almost always are going to take a hit, also like zoupskim described, and have to struggle to keep on going.

    PS. You may know the captain of my boxing team, Lt Col Oliver North, USMC (ret), USNA 68. I was on the boxing team in 67, but wasn't very good. I was everyone's favorite sparring partner.
     
  13. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    Oh yeah, for sure seconding this. My thing was martial arts (hapkido) but I was taught to always lock eyes with your opponent, and when sparring with newbies you could always see what they were going for in their eyes. We were also taught to maintain a 'war face' to keep any emotional flickers that might tip our opponents off or reveal a weakness at bay. My teacher's was a constant big-ass grin, which was very uh, distinctive; I tended more towards a blank expression though my chronic resting bitchface made it seem more inherently aggressive. Writing combatants who have these skills or don't (and more likely than not, suffer for it) and how it effects their fights is definitely something to think about.
     
  14. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my WIP, Marcia is unexpectedly confronted by her former consort, an abusive person. Since last with him, she has since had some extensive fight training with sword and dagger. She has a dagger in a shoulder sheath on her back. As he raises his hand to beat her, she introduces the weapon, expecting him to back off. Instead he draws his own . The problem is in the first part of the fight, she keeps thinking she can just scare him off, show him she is too tough... she doesn't want to kill or hurt him and the reality has not sunk in that only one will walk out. Not until Wang Ming launches a vicious slash across her chest, laying open the top part of her breast, does she make the transformation into going for the kill. As Hina, her instructor, had taught her, "Let your pain turn to anger, let your reason turn that anger into white hot fury." But I don't describe the rest of that fight, because she wasn't aware of much after that... it was parry and lunge, point and counterpoint, a well-rehearsed ballet that she had done hundreds of times with Hina, that continues until he makes a fatal mistake.

    Also it takes a while to die. Anyone who has killed a deer understands this. While he dying from his gut wound, he is still cursing her, while she is almost apologetic. And since this man has been part of her life for ten years, for good or ill, she is deeply impacted by his dying. And he is her first kill. After he dies, she closes his staring eyes and says "Be at peace, you poor, troubled man," then sits beside him, slowly going into shock from her own bleeding wound, birds singing outside, somewhere a dog barking... she just wants to go to sleep.
     
  15. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    Lewis, what's in that glass? :twisted:

    I think you would benefit from reading a few screenplays. Pick a writer like Shane Black or Steven De Souza or maybe choose a script from an action movie you really like a lot, maybe one you've rewatched many times that you know it by heart, so when you read the scenes on paper you can recall how they played out on screen.

    I'm not saying copy anybody, I'm saying this may give you tips on how to structure the flow and cadence of the actions and movement of the characters.

    I also echo @ddavidv who said fight scenes should be shorter rather than longer.

    <sincetheresnoraisedbeermugemojiinthewritingforums.orgemojimenuididthisinstead>

    :cheerleader:
     
  16. Lewis shepherd
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    Lewis shepherd Member

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    Pint of Stella
     
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  17. Lewis shepherd
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    Lewis shepherd Member

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    Thanks everyone It means alot that you have taken the time to give me advice, and some pretty cracking advice at that, I've been focusing on this fight scene for a couple of days now an although I haven't gotten to the physical blow by blow account, I think it works from a character perspective, I will post what I've written sometime tommorow and would appriciated honest critique, it's it's pants I'd rather know then I can't go back to the drawing board as it were.
     
  18. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    :superagree:
     
  19. Lewis shepherd
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    Lewis shepherd Member

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    ok guys and girls here it is this is my first attempt at writing an action scene its a little rougth around the edges but I hope it gives you a brief feel for my style of writing, please excuse spelling and punctuation, as stated on another thread I do suffer with dyslexia.

    honest feed back and or constructive criticism will be greatfully accepted -

    “Another Lamb to the slaughter” said Decius as Paulious clad in his ancestors battered and bloodied armour, Shield in one hand sword in the other entered the arena.
    “I Only hope he Survives longer than the Last” said Odin

    The crowd around him cheered and Jeered in equal measure, as Paulious walked across the bloodied sand. body's of the deceased strew all around him, Paulious hands trembled with nervous energy and as his eyes met those of his opponants he was filled with the sudden urge to turn and run.
    For man who claimed to welcome death his sense of self preservation was unaturally acute, prehaps he was experiencing what Physiologists sometimes refer to as hyperarousal, or the fight-flight respons and prehaps this had been Odins intention all along. “I don't want to die” Thought Paulious “Then Fight Master Tinall” he could almost hear Odin saying from across the arena. His hand dropped to his side, tightining around the hilt of his ancestors Gladius or short blade, the realisation forming in his mind that he might not walk out of this alive and even if he did somehow surive the experince of killing another human being was bound to change a person, His foe stood an entire two feet taller that Paulious and leered at him from with cold dead eyes from underneith his ram horned helm, he smiled a toothless smile removeing the double edged axe from it sheeth upon his back. Actually holding the blade within his hand felt good thought paulious, He took a couple of practice slashes at the air almost taunting his opponant, the blade was neither too heavy nor too light but perfectly balanced for a man of his size and stature, filled with a new found confidence he stepped towards his enemy blade thirsty for blood, it was as if somebody had flicked a switch which had somehow or rather unlocked a latent killer instinct inside of him. “You're a big bastard” said Paulious taunting the seven foot goloaith of a man further.
    “The big bastard that is going to kill you” said his opponent in a thick eastern European accent “Well stop talking about it and do it princess” said Paulious.

    To this day he could not explain why he had said it perhaps the blood lust had finally got the better of him, drunk with power, Perhaps it was roar of the crowd spurring him on, or the adrenaline being pumped around his body at a million miles per second, perhaps a case of genetic muscal memory a part of his ancestor which had lain dormant in him at a genetic level until this precise moment called for it, or preach a small part of his ancestors spirit remained somehow attached to his suit of armour and was aiding his heir in his hour of need, then again perhaps not. The big man leapt forward axe raised above his head ready to inflict the utmost damage, he brought down the double bladed instrument of death narrowly missing paulious who feigned left but dodged right taking the initiative and catching his opponent upon the left flank, this only served to enrage the big bastard further, a voile of attacks followed the giant brining down his heavy weapon with frighting accuracy, Paulious pre empting each coming attack and and adjusting his own defence accordingly, his shield taking the brunt of his opponents attacks.

    Sweat poring from his his brow blinded him momentarily it was all the giant need to gain the upper hand once more bringing down the axe upon Paulious collar bone all but c loving him in two diagonally across his torso, the axe embedding itself in the small man's chest cavity, the giant turned to the crowd and the looked up at the the emperor a look of disappointment upon his face he gave the giant the thumbs down the big bastard had no issues pulling the double headed blade free and as he did so the two halves of Paulious p tindall fell to the floor, in a pile of blood and gore. “Jupiter Cock!” said Decius.

    Paulious P Tindal had awoken in a cold sweat the Nightmares were getting worse.
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2016
  20. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Physiologists talking about hyperarousal? That sounds too advanced for ancient Rome. Also you made a few grammar errors here's the correction; "sword in the other, entered the arena." "For a man." "Jupiter's cock." Otherwise pretty good.
     
  21. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, think about what action is. It's usually something fast paced, explosive, and intense. Two of which you can probably write quite well. Fast pace comes from fast writing. This will give the reader the impression things are going fast. Explosivity can be anything from real explosions to an explosive movement, like the gladiotor swinging its sword at the protaganist. Intensity is a bit harder to capture. It's a mixture of the former plus an insight to the protaganist(s) thoughts during the action scene.
     
  22. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    This probably belongs in the workshop, but I will comment on the biggest problem I noticed.

    The biggest problem I saw was not any of your ideas or actual descriptions of action, but your paragraph construction. The way you organized the ideas made the scenes hard to follow. With action there needs to be a good feeling of the space your characters occupy. I know that sounds vague, but it means everything.

    In The crowd around him cheered and Jeered in equal measure You start to describe the awesome spectacle that is a Gladiatorial arena, but stopped, giving us one run-on sentence(if that was a spacing error, then disregard).

    In For man who claimed to welcome death you swap paragraph subjects several times, playing with mental state, physical descriptions, some movement, and dialog. I loved hearing the fear and apprehension in the character, as well as hearing the description of his opponent. But, hearing them one after the other, seemingly mixed in with each other, confused my comprehension of the scene. I am about to read about a fight, not see it. I need to have a clear image in my head.

    In To this day he could not explain you do the same thing, mixing paragraph subjects. Psychological effect on characters is important, and sprinkling what they are thinking during a dramatic action scene is great, but don't start a paragraph, then halfway jump straight into a complex action scene.

    It all turns out to be a dream, so you could argue that it is supposed to be confusing and weird for a reason. Honestly, that could work, and if it was what you were going for, then disregard my comments. But, don't use it as an excused for confusing writing.
     
  23. Lewis shepherd
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    Lewis shepherd Member

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    The character of paulious is an interdimensional traveller, hench why he can Be in ancient Rome and yet know about future things..
     
  24. Lewis shepherd
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    Lewis shepherd Member

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    I've gotta admit it paragraph construction is something I know I need to work on, the way my mind works is kinda all over the place and this is Cleary noticeable, I'll deffinantly take everything you have said in mind and give it a second run through.
     
  25. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    The idea behind your prose is quite good, but you do need to work on the basics including punctuation and grammar and some spelling. As long as you analyse how other people use punctuation and how their sentences are structured, it will come with practice. You just have to be very observant of what they do. The other thing is that you tend to string together long sentences, most of which can be split into multiple sentences to separate ideas.

    I've reworked the first little bit to give you an idea of how you might improve the flow and correct errors, according to my own style.

    “Another lamb to the slaughter,” said Decius as Paulious entered the arena wearing his ancestor's battered and bloody armour and holding a shield in one hand.

    “I only hope he survives longer than the last," said Odin.

    As Paulious walked across the blood soaked sand, some of the crowd cheered as others mocked. Bodies of the deceased were strewn all around him, and his hands trembled with nervous energy. His eyes met his opponent's and he was consumed by a sudden urge to turn and run.

    Here is the original to compare with:

     

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