1. MetalRenard
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    MetalRenard Member

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    Writing action scenes

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MetalRenard, Dec 10, 2010.

    I've been told that, although my scenes are not boring and do contribute well to my story, the action scenes in my story seem "distant".

    I would like to discuss what makes an action scene good, what verbal tenses fit best (in my story, everything is in the past and being related by a mysterious character in 1st person) and how best to capture movement.

    Here's a short example of what's been critisized (just for the sake of highlighting my point and to have a working example for the thread - not to recieve critique on it):

    "I didn’t have time to react and his charge didn’t end when he collided with me, sending me flying back through the door I’d come in from. I landed roughly on splinters of wood and rolled over only to see him charge at me again. This time I was prepared. I took a hold on the gold plated hilt of my sword and drew it swiftly, which had the desired effect. The crazed man stopped short of impaling himself on the blade and shouted words I dare not repeat."

    It feels maybe a bit flat... How would you go about avoiding that effect and how do you bring action to life?
     
  2. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Long sentences slow pace.
    It may work better using present tense.
    You can but try.
     
  3. darthjim
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    darthjim Member

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    Shorter sentences build pace. Never underestimate the value of punctuation in controlling the rhythm of your work. For some examples of great pacing in action scenes, I'd recommend reading Bernard Cornwell's Uhtred books, or Conn Iggulden's Emperor or Conqueror series. Iggulden, in particular, is a master of action pacing.
     
  4. MetalRenard
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    MetalRenard Member

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    So with shorter sentences, more punctuation... like this?:
    "I landed roughly on splinters of wood. I rolled over only to see him charge at me again. This time I was prepared, I grabbed the gold plated hilt of my sword and drew it swiftly. This had the desired effect - he stopped just before impaling himself on the blade."
    - I do see what you mean. It feels less fluid though it is more lively.

    I can't write it in present tense though, the whole story is being told in the past.

    Thank you for the advice so far.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    "I landed roughly on splinters of wood. I rolled over only to see him charge at me again. This time I was prepared, I grabbed the gold plated hilt of my sword and drew it swiftly. This had the desired effect - he stopped just before impaling himself on the blade."

    The rough splinters of wood pierced my skin, the blood trickling down the inside of my uniform. Rolling over only to see him charge at me again. He won't be getting another chance. Grabbing the hilt of my sword I drew it swiftly. I feel the weight as he impales himself on my blade. He falls against my body, he stinks, trying not to puke - I heave him off me.

    Just a suggestion - use all five senses as much as possible - describe what he is experiencing rather than what he sees. The best action scenes describe what happens with only small touch of action. Like other's have said shorten the sentences. Try not to start the sentences with I it allows the action to flow better.
     
  6. MetalRenard
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    MetalRenard Member

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    Wow that's excellent advice! And, about not using "I", I never would have thought of that. It really works!
    Like I said though, I can't really use the present tense in this case.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My only quibble with Elgaisma's excellent re-write is the sudden switch from past to present tense. I was always taught to never never never switch tenses within the same paragraph.

    But beyond that, I find it jarring to read. My mind has already settled in to the idea that what I'm reading occurred in the past, so how can it suddenly be in the present?
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    my fault sorry - I was writing my book at the time which is in present tense. I struggle switching when I am in mid flow especially as I was writing a fight scene at the time.

    Basic advice is the same though - re-jiggle the I's, include all the senses and feelings, less action. Describe what the character is experiencing :) I used advice from ladies that write erotica use for the best steamy scenes. Finding it works well for fights.

    here:
    The rough splinters of wood pierced my skin, blood trickled down the inside of my uniform. When I rolled over he charged at me again. He won't be given another chance. My sword is drawn and in my hand - he impaled himself against it. His weight fell heavily on top of me. Wow he stank - BO makes me want to hurl.

    I only had two minutes so probably rubbish lol Action scenes and emotional scenes are when I love present tense - also makes removing the I easier.
     
  9. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Not rubbish at all, El! I was ready to post, but then looked and saw yours. Not bad for a throw-off paragraph.

    Fro the last line, if I may (or even if not!) I'll submit my own re-write:

    "...He falls against my body, he stinks, trying not to puke - I heave him off me."

    He slumped onto my body. The stink! Clenching my stomach muscles to avoid vomiting, I heave him off and struggled to my feet.

    Basically, I wanted to separate the body falling from being on the ground with it. I also wanted to slow the pace a bit once on the ground to simulate the fatigue the character would likely feel after the adrenaline rush.

    -Frank
     
  10. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    How a sentence is written and the mood and feeling of the current situation are often what fuel pace.

    Cormac McCarthy often uses short sentences in The Road, and it did NOT have a very frenetic pace. And I've seen plenty of writers who know how to use language in way that they string long sentences together in a way that becomes a breathless break-neck pace.

    Doesn't it seem to easy to just point to sentence length? Is anything in writing quality fiction every easy?
     
  11. MetalRenard
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    MetalRenard Member

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    I've just got two things to point out:
    - You're still all writing in present tense :p
    - The guy doesn't actually die, he stops before "impaling himself on the blade"

    Other than that, thank you for all the ideas and advice. I'm going to review all the action scenes (and there are a lot, it's a gothic fantasy story) keeping your advice in mind.
     
  12. Bartleby
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    Bartleby Member

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    I would write it something like this maybe? you decide, its your writing, you cant please us all :)

    "I didn’t have time to react and his charge didn’t end when he collided with me, sending me flying back through the door I’d come in from. I landed roughly on splinters of wood and rolled over only to see him charge at me again. This time I was prepared. I took a hold on the gold plated hilt of my sword and drew it swiftly, which had the desired effect. The crazed man stopped short of impaling himself on the blade and shouted words I dare not repeat."

    "His shoulder met me hard, sending me flying. I landed roughly on splinters of the door I had just crushed, loud thumping feet rang through my head like a mad bull charging. I rolled over at the last minute dodging his massive foot aimed at my skull. I reached for my sword but it had fallen out of its sheath, the gold inlaid hilt glittered below the remnants of the door, I quickly rolled dodging the mans heavy right hook, and swooped it up in my grasp, his charge was met by the tip of my blade which prompted the response I wanted, him stopping dead in his tracks, cursing in a wild rage words I dare not repeat.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    :p You try writing first person past tense in two minutes after a month of intensely writing first person present tense :)

    I can do third person past tense but first person right now is a struggle.

    And I can kill a guy in my writing lol What you do with him in yours is upto you. :) Kinda therapeutic to kill off someone else's characters instead of my own for a change.
     
  14. MetalRenard
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    MetalRenard Member

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    This made me laugh :D I kill a lot of my characters. It doesn't bother me, I created them so I can kill them (Now I sound like a psychopath!) I only kill them to help move the plot though.

    I really like this bit.
     
  15. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh I can kill off mine but had a particularly difficult one recently - that tore me apart a bit. Have still got to rewrite it - not looking forward to it. Have 0 attachment to yours :)
     
  16. Bartleby
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    Bartleby Member

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    Anything to help, you should try reading R.A. Salvatore, he is by far the best action scene writer, i find myself dodging imaginary blades when he writes.
     
  17. Biffa001
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    Biffa001 Member

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    Certainly a change in pace during action scenes adds to the impact. I always think of the tango in reverse: Slow, slow, quick-quick slow

    instead - quick, quick, slow-slow quick.

    The "slow" section gives us a chance to catch our breath ready to launch into the action again.

    Just for fun I had a go:

    "My reactions were dulled. His body charge hit full force knocking the wind from me like stamping on a balloon. Flying backwards I struck my head on the door frame, splinters flying everywhere. I tensed, rolled over and saw him poised like a bull to strike again. This time I was prepared. He ran towards me, nostrils flared, arms outstretched.

    I felt the hilt of my sword in my hand, heavy but perfectly weighted. It's touch strengthened my resolve as I swiftly pulled it from it's sheath. Looking into my attackers dark eyes I saw the effect this had. His muscles deflated, ever so slightly, his poise slackened, his jaw unclenched.

    As he powered towards me the final time the sword caused him to turn aside at the last, throwing his body to the floor at my side, shouting words I dare not repeat."

    ...it's late and I'm shattered but there you go :)
     
  18. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    I have to echo everyone else. Pace and tone are determinant on sentence structure and word arrangement. Short and choppy in an action scene will build the anticipation you are looking for. Not to take away from Elgaisma's example but Ill give you another one.

    For Example:

    You wrote:
    Basic Rewrite:

    I would also tell you that in action scenes you need to find a way to work in imagery and detail so your audience has an idea of where the action is taking place and what the scene involves. I would assume you set up the scene for this section early in the story that this came from?

    The key to action scenes beside tone and pace is the ability to engage the reader to the character so that they can feel the same things that the character is going through. Make it human, if you will. Show me the world around him and the action. Give me emotion from the character while he's going through that action so I know how he's feeling.
     
  19. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I find the short, choppy version much slower to read. I dunno, maybe I'm crazy, but in my reading a period is a full stop, so slows down the action a lot. Probably just the poet in me, though, as when you want something to keep building momentum I'd use commas, and when I want something to be slow and deliberate periods.

    I still think the adage that long sentences slow down action comes from old-fashioned literature where the sentences would long, and language dense, so it felt like swimming through molasses.

    In my mind it's not the length of sentence, but language employed, that dictates pace.

    Spendiferously nomenclatured aquatic beauties. Three jingled-eyed Mermerians. Inconstitutionable, sayeth I. Unconscionable. Have yea my heart strings strung? So loquaciously chatter-bugging until sorrow drooped down low.

    I dunno, that doesn't seem faced paced to me, but are short sentences. :p

    I think a lot of it has to do with stresses and meter, but yawn. Write out The Raven, for instance, and besides everyone knowing it by heart, it's actually pretty quick paced language. I believe because it's trochaic, despite the sentences being long and the language a bit out dated.

    It has an action of constantly rolling or falling forward that keeps us, rather than the more introspective, as if we can't possibly stop until the end:

    Compared to the slower, more prancing meter of iambics say in many of Shakespeare's poems, where every stress lends to a moment of introspection.

    Or something like that.

    I wrote a story once from the perspective of a man with dementia, and would go entire paragraphs with no periods, and people complained the pace was just too fast to keep up with and exhausted them (intended). So I dunno.
     
  20. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    Personally, I think you're being too hard on yourself. The two versions of the scene you've presented are different from one another, but I don't really think one is better than the other.

    When I initially read the first one, I was swept along in the action just fine.

    Don't try to change your natural writing voice. It's your voice, and it's the way your stories sound. Some people will like it; some won't. There is much I don't like about the way Stephen King writes, yet I continue to buy his books and read them. Don't change your voice to suit your readers; it's impossible and kills you as an artist.

    Case in point: if I had to choose; I prefer the first one to the second. I like your natural writing voice.
     
  21. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    Like Elgaisma said earlier, utilize the senses in your work. It gives it energy, it makes it personal, it brings it closer and plays the action much closer to the chest, which is desired most of the time.
    I find myself agreeing with you on the issue. Most action I read deals with disjointed thoughts, which helps build the suspense of the action as one thought comes after another after another, each falling like dominoes to reveal the one behind it, before it falls as well. A longer sentence, split using commas and such can still increase pacing and action, but it has much more of a flow to it. Sadly, I've seen this a lot less, but both work in my opinion.
     
  22. MetalRenard
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    MetalRenard Member

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    Thanks for the advice everyone, even though you tend to disagree. I think you all have valid points. Since this is still the first draft I still have a lot of time for improvement and reworking (this is the first book I've ever tried writing). I will really work hard on it and hopefully have something good to show you before Easter :)
     
  23. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    Good luck. I look forward to reading it.

    Ed
     

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