1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Writing action scenes without consequence; good or bad?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ryan Elder, Nov 24, 2015.

    I am refining a thriller type screenplay and changing some things around. I was told before that it is too heavy and complicated on plot, so I decided to cut down.

    I was thinking of writing it so that some of the action sequences do not result in consequence. Like how when some James Bond movies for example, they will have action scenes for the sake of action scenes... By that I mean that nothing happens in the action scenes that cause any change. Everyone is alive and well at the end, and if someone does die, their death does not spur any changes in the story, and the dead body, will not cause anything to happen, if found.

    This way, the plot remains really loose and flexible and able to play around with. The disadvantage is that it is easier to become repetitive, but as long as the action scenes are exciting, can it still make for a good read? The movie Halloween (1978), for example, had a series or murders in, but none of the murders caused any consequences in the plot, and in the end, the killer is still in the same position he was at the start, as well as the MC, not having found out about any of the killings, until right near the end.

    What do you think of this approach? Does it come off as less interesting or can it just be as interesting as long as the action scenes have suspense in each individual scenario?
     
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  2. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    Yesterday, I read a book. I skipped half of it - more than half - because I knew going in that it would be of no consequence. The half of the book I did read was also filled with scenes of no consequence, where nothing changed and were ultimately meaningless. Suffice to say, I spent much of yesterday ranting about how badly written said book was.

    When going into an action scene, you want them to care that dangerous things are going on. You want them to worry about if the characters they like are going to be okay, or hope that the character that they love to hate survives it because without them the world is doomed, you want them to be invested. And trust me when I say they won't be invested in your story if you go all Hollywood on them.

    Think of dominoes all lined up, the first one to be pushed and made to fall onto the next, and that onto the one after. That chain reaction of events is your story. Now imagine a single domino on its own, apart from the rest and in no way connected to the chain. That's your inconsequential event. Each one of those is ultimately a detraction from the story, an unnecessary halt in the chain.

    Am I making sense?

    Try doing this. For ever character that is theoretically in danger in your action scene, flip a coin. Be it your protagonists, antagonists, random goons, onlookers. Heads they live, tails they die. Then imagine the rest of your story after whoever dies, dies. You don't need to go with that new version of your story, but it might give you some insight into how to make things a little more weighted without resorting to artificial dramatics.
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Ryan Elder - Do the scenes you're referring to tell the audience something about the characters, or the world they live in? If so, the action scenes are not inconsequential at all, even if the outcome doesn't really change anything about the story.

    Think about that opening scene in the first Daniel Craig James Bond movie. I can't remember all the whys and wherefores, but he was chasing a criminal over what seemed to be a massive obstacle course (an unintentional one.) What that particular criminal had done didn't matter to the rest of the story, what mattered was what that scene told us about Daniel Craig's James Bond. He was incredibly fit, grimly determined, inventive, and—most importantly—he was the kind of man who did not give up. We learned, from that scene, that he would do whatever it took to catch his man. That was a powerful scene, even though it didn't actually matter who the criminal was, or what happened to the criminal afterwards. It was there to show us what James Bond could—and would—do.

    Yes, it could have been left out. But we would have had to learn about James Bond more slowly, wouldn't we? It was an excellent use of an action scene that didn't really matter to the plot, but mattered a hell of a lot to the portrayal of his character.

    Every scene you write should have a story purpose, but that purpose doesn't have to be a plot point. It can be character development or setting development. However, you should also not include scenes just for 'fun.' Imagine if there had been three such scenes in that Bond movie. Three scenes where Bond chased a criminal and caught him, but the criminal didn't really matter to the overall story. That would have become irritating.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015
  4. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there are lots of ways that this can be addressed.

    The OP looks a little bit over-concerned with people dying. It's possible for plot to progress without somebody dying.

    E.g. our heroes are in a mountain cabin, lying low. As they walk in the snow, someone starts shooting at them. They fire back, and after an extensive chase/firefight, whoever it is scarpers. So, no deaths.

    The story has changed. Clearly someone knows where they are. There's the question of who knows, and how they know. Perhaps there's a mole in the heroes' organisation. Also, the relative safety of the mountain cabin is clearly safe no more.

    Mystery is created, with all these new questions. Was the assassin sent by the big bad? And motion is promoted, as the heroes pack up and leave the cabin ASAP.

    Overall, the situation hasn't changed, assuming that this isn't the first introduction of peril for our heroes. But, the action (extended firefight among trees, snow, icy mountainous terrain) hasn't been meaningless.

    I can't see how someone writing a thriller would have too much difficulty introducing action which isn't conclusive in any way, but is still meaningful for the plot.
     
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  5. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    When I say consequences, I am referring to plot consequences. Such as if a person dies, then it means, police investigations, DNA tests, and other characters getting involved when I do not want them to. Or things like that. Or if someone witnesses a crime, the witness will report it, thereby getting other characters involved, etc. I want to keep the action scenes contained, if possible. So far in the outline I have written two action scenes, that do not affect the plot, and the characters and situation are still the same pretty much afterward.

    During the action scenes, there are reveals though. Such as a character you thought was good turns out to be bad in one... And the other action previous, is used as more of a red herring to disguise the reveal in the next one. I suppose you do not need action scenes to have reveals and red herrings, but I thought that by having the reveals in action scenes, you get some action scenes as a bonus, and they don't drive the plot in a direction you don't want. Is that bad?

    As for James Bond, in Casino Royale you are talking about the action scene where Bond kills the guy at the Embassy, right? I would say that one does result in a plot consequence because Bond gets the bad guy's phone after the chase, which gives him new leads.
     
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  6. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    I'm going to generally disagree - I think there is usually a consequence. It might not be easily discernible, but it's usually there.
     
  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be cautious about taking too many examples from movies rather than novels.

    Movie action sequences are a lot more engrossing because a picture is worth a thousand words, and modern movies can give us 24 to 48 pictures per second. Yes, okay, some of them are closely related. But I'd say the average shot in an action sequence doesn't last more than a few seconds, if that, so unless your reader is able to read and comprehend a thousand words in a few seconds, you just can't have the visual/immediate impact in a book that you can have in a movie.

    What you can have is more insight, more reflection, etc. But if you're trying to justify writing a bunch of action scenes that don't really have any significance, then you're not really playing to the strengths of the written word.
     
  8. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I am writing a screenplay though, so I would try to translate the words to screen as best as I can for sure.

    What about the movie The Fugitive (1993)? In that one, there is the action sequence where Kimble goes to visit a man in prison, he thinks may be his wife's killer, and coincidentally runs into Gerard, who also went to see the same prisoner, to investigate the same thing.

    Gerard chases Kimble out of the building, and into the parade on the street. Did this action sequence advance the plot in anyway? Sure you have Gerard finding out that Kimble was there, but what if Gerard went there after, and found out that Kimble had visited him previous to his arrival? It would have been the same result, but without an action sequence.
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There's little point in you constantly citing movies that have done what you wanna try. The only thing tat matters is whether you can structure it in such a way that it works. Just 'cause someone else has done the same thing doesn't mean 1) you can do it just as well or better, or 2) that it's suitable for your story depending on purpose, genre, tone of the story etc. Even if you can do it well and it fits your story, it'll depend on the timing and length of the scene etc.

    However, I gotta ask: are you sure there isn't a bigger problem with your story if you need to resort to these gimmicks to maintain the audience's interest?

    But if these scenes have a purpose to them, then it's fine - the plot isn't the only important thing. But it does need a purpose.
     
  10. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. Well I am trying to cut down on plot cause I have too much of it. But I am also somewhat short on length and need to fill it with something else.
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, sorry! I missed that entirely.
     
  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't understand how you can have 'too much' plot. Do you mean it's too convoluted? In that case, you need to simplify it and make it more streamline. A good story shouldn't need fillers and you should simply write to the length your story needs. Unless you're submitting this as a paid project for a client who's specified it needs to be a certain length, to fill a TV slot, for example, I don't see why you need to pad it.
     
  13. wellthatsnice
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    wellthatsnice Active Member

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    Ok, firstly the plot movers in that sequence all happen in the early parts of the scene. Kimble visits with the prisoner and realizes that this isn't the one armed man that he is looking for. These are big reveals.

    While leaving Gerard spots kimble and the chase ensues. During that chase, kimble becomes immobilized by the security glass and Gerard straight up try's to murder Kimble. They are escalating the stakes. We knew that Gerard was a bit over the top about catching the fugitive, and that he didn't care about his innocence, but we just watched him fire shots in an attempt to kill an unarmed man.

    This scene also begins to get Gerards team to start to have doubt about the case. Why would kimble risk so much to visit this man in prison unless he was in fact innocent and trying to get to the bottom of things. Gerard refuses to even accept that premise, which shows us that he has become consumed by the case and does not consider kimble human. He is simply a target for him.

    This does place enough doubt in them though that when kimble later breaks into Sykes apartment, Gerard decides to place eyes on Sykes. This eventually helps lead Gerard to the truth that kimble didn't kill his wife. Without the previous run-in its very unlikely that Gerard has doubt later and decides to tail sykes.

    So at the start of the scene we got a huge piece of plot development, and in the chase we got a massive piece of character development (on Gerard and his team). that scene is dripping with consequence.

    You are also using as example a cat and mouse movie. Part of those films is always going to be about how close the protagonist comes to getting caught. Those films are about building tension.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2015
  14. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. But I thought that Kimble could have broken into Sykes apartment anyway, and lead Gerard to him anyway. Plus I didn't think that Gerard was trying to murder Kimble. Gerard was following the fleeing felon rule, that if an escaped convict, one convicted of murder, resists arrest, after being warned, then you can shoot him to protect the public. In this case, Gerard warned Kimble first, before he tried to escaped from being caught in the glass door.

    But it does add to Gerard's character that he had to be given a new target. I think the plot is still the same, but the character has a change, so yes it resulted in a character change. Thanks for pointing that out.

    The story I am writing is also a cat and mouse thriller. But so far when I give it to friends and beta readers to read, they will come across parts they do not like and say that this needs to be changed, and then they say what it needs to be changed to. However, if you change or remove one plot turn, it can cause the whole plot to collapse like dominos. Just removing one will cause that, every time.

    Is it possible to come up with a plot that's simple to the point where you can make changes without that happening so much? Or is this normal for any plot? Also, how can I submit to readers suggestions and do what they say to make the story make more sense for them, but at the same time, not have the whole plot collapse as a result?
     
  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most of the time, feedback like this is more about a story going too far from the plot line rather than the plot line being too complex. Complexity is fine as long as it's clearly laid out. Where things go wrong is when some action seems to be part of the plot, but it really isn't. If a scene doesn't make things worse for the good guy or better for the bad guy (unless it's the third act, then reverse those) it can be cut, even if it's full of car chases, gun battles and people leaping off high things into thimbles.

    Go back to your plot. Make it simple. A needs B to accomplish C, but D wants B as well (or wants no one to have B).
    Then, figure out why A will have trouble getting B, not just because of D, but because he's got a flaw (E).
    Then overlay on your plot all the scenes where A and D clash. Make sure in each of these scenes (unless it's the third act) D comes out on top or puts A further from B in some other way.

    Figure out what A needs (F) to learn so he can accomplish C, but don't give it to him until The Dark Moment, just before the third act starts.

    A flounders in his application of F as he makes his way through the third act, vanquishes D, realizes he didn't need B at all, and accomplishes C.

    Clear as mud?

    Go read Dwight V. Swain, Blake Snyder and Syd Field. ;)

    PS: Stories that rely on action aren't about the action. They're about the anticipation of action. Don't believe me? Use a stop watch and time all the action scenes in a James Bond film. Add up all those times and deduct from the film's total (minus credits). You may be surprised.
     
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  16. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I read some of Snyder as well as John Truby. Well I had to fix a plot hole in my story and in order to do that I had to move the midpoint climax to the beginning. The midpoint climax kind of becomes part of the inciting incident more so. But because this, about almost half the story is gone now, and I need to fill it with something. If not action scenes, is their anything else I can fill it with to get the screenplay to be long enough?

    I don't want to fill it with more plot, because it will complicate the story too much and just create another domino effect. So is their anything I can do to make the script longer without having to add more plot and overcomplicate it?
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2015
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You're right, I had forgotten that bit. Mind you, it was years ago that I saw the film, and haven't seen it since. But what has stuck with me about that scene is what it told me about the character of James Bond. If getting the criminal's phone number had been the only reason for the scene they could have shortened it by having Bond simply shoot the guy and retrieve the number from his pocket, or whatever. I think there was a lot more to that scene than just getting the number. Strangely enough, it's one of the few scenes from the film that still sticks with me. It left a deep impression.

    Mind you, I'm not a Bond fan. Actually I'm a Daniel Craig fan, which is why I went to that movie in the first place. I really loved the bad guy character he played in the TV series Sharpe.
     
  18. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    That's true, I can still have action scenes tell something about the characters, even if no new plot turns arise from them, if that's good. Like in that scene, if Bond hadn't found the phone and the chase lead to a dead end, would have been bad?
     
  19. Boger
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    Boger Contributing Member

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    could be that the killing is for the thrill for example a serial killer is portrayed and then no focus on the bodies, could also be that the killing is happening for a greater goal or some other reason in the plot which makes it possible to mindlessly decimate the inhabitants of your story

    you can write all these and still have pointless killing without being irrelevant
     
  20. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    That's true. I was looking over the story and thinking of other ways I can insert more action.

    There is a scene where the MC finds out who the killer is going to kill next. I wrote it so the MC goes to warn that person, so he can then formulate a trap for the killer instead. But instead of the MC going to warn that person, maybe for the sake of having action, I can have the MC actually save the person from being killed in the nick of time? Or will this come off as unnecessary forced action possibly, because all the MC had to do was warn the person instead of saving them?

    There is another scene where a woman who is subpoenaed to testify at a preliminary hearing against the villain, has an attempt on her life that fails, but she doesn't know that there was an attempt that failed, even though it was close.

    I could instead write it so that she is attacked and gets away, knowing full well of the attempt, but then the police would give her protection and there would be an investigation, and the hearing would have to be put on hold for the plot. How long before the police stop protecting her, and she is forced to go back home, and hopefully the killer will not come? Cause for the plot, I want it so that she has no protection and alone again later on.

    But how much time would the plot have to be put on hold for, for the sake of another action sequence? Is it worth it, to show her survive an attempt with an action scene, for the sake of more action? Cause she will then have to be home alone again later for what I want to happen.

    What do you think when it comes to deciding if scenarios such as those, would be worth having when it comes to the plot?
     

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