1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Writing action sequences, without characters defying logic, just to have them?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ryan Elder, Mar 2, 2016.

    When it comes to writing action scenes, in a thriller, I feel I have to make characters behave illogical in order for the desired action sequence to happen.

    Like if you want a chase, or a hide and seek scene, they have to do things that are not the most plausible in order for the chase to continue rather than not begin at all.

    Since I am into writing screenplays, I watch and use a lot of movies as examples. In the movie Die Hard for example, there is the scene where John McClane, his hiding and evading Kristoff.

    Kristoff is looking for him and comes around a corner. John points a gun at Kristoff's head and tells him to drop his machine gun. Kristoff does not. Now the most realistic thing a cop would do here is shoot him after he doesn't drop it.

    But John decides to pistol whip him, get on top of him, and wrestle the gun out of his hand, while Kristoff is trying to shoot him in the process.

    The reason why they had it happen this more illogical way, is so that they could have a fight scene.

    Another movie example is Internal Affairs (1990). Avilla (Andy Garcia), predicts that Peck (Richard Gere), will go to his house and come after his wife, as his next move.

    But instead of calling for police back up, Avilla decides to go his home, all by himself, logically prolonging the rescue of his wife, should she be in likely danger.

    He could have just picked up the phone and had other cops go there before he could get there, bu the chose to go there by himself to add suspense.

    In Point Break, when Utah and his partner predict where the bank robbers will strike next, they were right. But they also did not call for back up and decide to chase them all by themselves, in order for them to have a longer more exciting chase, between hero and villain.

    In Lethal Weapon, Riggs arrest the villain, but instead of slapping the cuffs on his he decides to give his gun to his partner, so he can have a long elaborate martial arts fight with the villain.

    You get the idea. However, I been told by readers that it's not good to defy logic just for the sake of having an action scene. If an action scene does not naturally fit, don't force it. But if this is the case, then I cannot really find any action scenes naturally fit, without defying logic in order to force action into it.

    In The Dark Knight, Batman is chasing after The Joker on his Batpod and takes a short cut by firing .50 caliber bullets through the windows of the mall, and riding through them. But if he had those guns all along, then why did he go for five minutes of a chase with the police and everyone without using them, by shooting out The Joker's tires right at the start of the chase?

    Is their a way to have logical action scenes, where you do not have to do this? Some movies do this but it is rare, and if I look for an illogical move, in order for the action scene to continue, I can often find it. What do you think? Is it possible to write it so it doesn't bother reader's?
     
  2. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I like that you are questioning this.

    I'm going to suggest that movies and books are different in this regard (and should be). A lot of people want to completely suspend disbelief when they go to the movies. They just want to be visually wowed. I'm not like that, and find a lot of these so-called action movies to be more ridiculous than cartoon violence. My wife hates watching movies with me because I often can't go with the outlandish nonsense they expect me to accept.

    So, how does this work for writing? There is a bit of a fine line to it and I don't claim to have the answer. I have been cautioned that my female heroine, Brianna, sometimes comes across as "too stupid to live". However, these same readers admit that she manages to redeem herself after doing something seemingly foolish by her just being human. I have her make mistakes. I try not to make them glaring. If she never made an error in judgement nothing would ever happen to her. Having her make mistakes makes her more human as well as sets her up for more intense interactions with the villains. We may know how many rounds she has shot from her gun but in all the excitement of a gun battle Brianna loses track. The reader may think "Well isn't she stupid!" but at the same time they will think to themselves "Err...maybe if someone is shooting up an entire room with bullets I wouldn't be able to keep track either." Like I said, it's a difficult dance.

    To summarize, your set-ups have to be plausible. I'm a huge fan of Die Hard and know the scene you refer to. That interaction has never bothered me because I just ASSume that because he is a cop McClane's moral code won't allow him to just shoot the villain. This is even alluded to in the scene with the conference table: "Next time you have the chance to shoot someone, don't hesitate!" Or better still when Kristoff's brother says, "There are rules for policemen". There are all kinds of reasons people will make decisions that place them in peril. It is the writer's job to make their decisions plausible even if they are not completely reasonable.
     
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  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I understand McClane has a moral code ,but I thought he could do a quick shot in the arm, or something since he was right up close to him. And when Kristoff says there are rules for policemen, Kristoff was actually incorrect. In that situation it is actually smarter for a cop to shoot, rather than trying to jump on top and wrestle the gun out. Out of all the police shootings captured on camera and put on youtube, obviously there probably isn't one where a cop chooses to wrestle a machine gun out of someone's hand, when he can just shoot.

    But I understand plausible vs. reasonable, and there is a fine line. I am actually writing a screenplay, but I wouldn't say it's of the action genre. It's more like 24 maybe, where you have some action here or there, but it's low budget and grounded, and it doesn't go over the top I would say. So I guess that's the thriller genre? So how much outlandishness can you expect the audience to accept in that case?
     
  4. HelloImRex
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    HelloImRex Contributing Member

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    With movies illogical action sequences are acceptable because visuals alone can impress an audience. They are left wondering how it was done rather than why batman didn't use his guns sooner. With writing, it's obvious how its done, you wrote the words down. Therefore, I think action sequences have much less value in books. Something like Inception or The Matrix is a good example, in movie form its primary about the action sequences and how the moviemakers were able to pull off such disbelief. If it was a book it would have to be almost completely about the construct of a simulated world and what questions this poses on reality as a whole. Writing is an idea game, not a dazzle game. Sherlock Holmes is probably a good example of differences. They don't write in a bunch of action sequences up to the arrest of the criminal, its all about their plan and them getting checkmated in a war of ideas with Holmes. The movies on the other hand, those were something else entirely. My conclusion is that the value of an action scene is much less in a book so if you have one at all it better be logical. I'm not saying don't have them at all, just that what works on screen isn't good for words. I think action scenes in books often focus on the character's anticipation, fear, and instinctual responses rather than the actual events taking place.
     
  5. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Well what about a movie like The Silence of the Lambs, where the action scenes are mainly hide and seek cat and mouse games in dark places? Can those ones defy logic too, or is it just destructive spectacle action scenes that can?
     
  6. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    I see two factors you're coming back to: support and resources. It might be easier to avoid illogical situations if your protagonists have less of each. For instance, if there's no reason for a character with a gun not to shoot the villain, does your protagonist need to have and know how to use a gun? Or if your character could call on the police and expect help, would your story work better with a time, place, or character that would make the police less likely to be helpful?
     
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  7. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Action scenes should be logical, and reflect the emotions and thought processes of the characters. Any illogic should be emotionally driven, that is all right... someone doesn't want to fight, delays acting, and is sucked into a more violent confrontation. Think of fights you have been in, if you have been in one, even as a young person... that is what the action scene should represent. What did YOU feel about that fight?

    In one of my WIP action sequences, a party of ten, mostly Roman, are trying to get out of 1st century China with asses intact. Chinese are actively searching for them, their cover as Buddhist monks (then mostly Indian or Central Asian, so western visage and poor Chinese not unusual) is blown. They are hiding in isolated vacant house in mountains trying figure out next move. Threats are not only Chinese soldiers, but also maybe bounty hunters and plain old bandits. The group includes two Roman soldiers, four men with good fighting experience, two more men that need training in the basics, one real and currently non-violent Buddhist monk and one woman. The centurion Antonius, ever the force-protection sort of guy, organizes and rehearses a plan to defend themselves if they are raided, and trains the two neophytes (Roman Senator and a eunuch) in basic swordsmanship. After some time, some bandits come by, a notorious gang preying on Shaanxi province, looking to hole up in that same house (vacant, frequently used by hunters, so well known by word of mouth) to raid the nearby town. They note that it is occupied (smoke from chimney, animals around) and come to take it from what they expect to be unsuspecting and defenseless residents. Antonius' plan is executed, but in the very first sortie, he goes down with arrow in the gut, man behind picks up his section, the bandits are surprised by highly organized resistance
    and all are quickly cut down. The Buddhist monk, a former Bactrian army medic, saves the day for Antonius (no mean feat for gut wounds in first century, lots of vinegar used as antiseptic) and he recovers after a few days of touch and go fever which never quite makes it to a fatal case of peritonitis.

    So lots of action, but nothing that stretches the credibility of the reader, I don't think, except maybe recovering from a 1st century gut wound. Rare, but it did happen, and the medic did all the right things... he had done this once before, but that man died.

    Allow your characters to make mistakes.
     
  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most police officers aren't crack shots, especially with a handgun. So, you aim smack in the middle and, with luck, you'll at least wing him.

    I think that's your trouble. When we (my kids and I) watch 24, it's with a clip-board to record the body count to see if it's higher than the last episode.

    Jack Bauer is so implausible...one second he'll have just been shot, next second he's wrestling a guy twice his size to the ground, then outrunning the fastest villain, who's completely fresh, and who hasn't gone 24 hours without sleep, food or going to the toilet!

    Though I did know one guy who planned to show 24 to his employees as a motivational documentary...this is how dedicated to the company I expect my employees to be!
     
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  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    One way of eliminating the illogical action is not to make it seem illogical. John in Die Hard is the kind of macho guy that doesn't follow police procedures. Kind of a laid back Dirty Harry. And the audience knows it pretty early. So one way is to keep the characters decisions in tune with the character so an illogical decision looks typical/believable for that character. Because maybe they are the kind that rushes in without thinking.

    Another way is like Feo suggested try to make the scenarios more complicated. In movies there always seems to be a clear cut situation that calls for a simple action. Mc has a gun - shoot the opposition.
    Don't give the mc a gun. Or make it unloaded, or that he doesn't have a clear shot. Don't think in terms of the movie moment. You're in a different medium so you have to change up how the action plays out.

    And read more thrillers - get away from the movies for a while and see how action translates to fiction.
     
  10. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    24 after season two became silly. My wife and I used to LOL when someone said, "Set up a perimeter" because we knew a) the bad guy would slip through and b) the body count was about to explode. As much as I liked the characters of Jack Bauer and Chloe I really had trouble buying much of the storylines.

    @peachalulu echoes some of my sentiment expressed earlier. Here are a few examples of how my heroine character couldn't just shoot someone and end the book ten chapters earlier:

    1) she never fired a weapon of any kind at the beginning of the book
    2) when she did eventually use a gun, she spent all the rounds practicing
    3) with the gun empty she had to instead use a bow and arrow on villain #1 (she was staying in a hunting cabin so this was not outlandish)
    4) she fumbles her second shot and inadvertently slices bad guy #2 in the neck instead of hitting center mass
    5) after getting a gun she panics trying to shoot the third bad guy because he is going to shoot her love interest. The shot goes wide and bad guy #3 gets away
    6) next she is chased in a truck by guy #3 on a dirt road. The truck is too hard to control and it is impossible to steer and shoot out the window behind her at the same time
    7) the truck crashes and the gun is outside of her reach

    These are all believable roadblocks I placed in my MC's way to increase tension and generate action scenes. I do not write long, drawn-out fight scenes as they honestly aren't realistic. Most pairings of people who fight are not going to be equals in size, strength or capability. The Bourne Identitiy (film) depicts two kinds of fights: one where Jason quickly subdues two policemen in a park (because he has far advanced fight training) and another where he battles a would-be assassin (a man who has had equal or possibly better training). These fights go on for vastly different periods. On film, the latter seems to take much longer but I think it is actually short and reasonable given the capabilities of the two combatants. What you can't do in a book is the five minute long fist fights that seem to be the norm in films like Lethal Weapon. Professional boxing matches don't last that long!

    It is also important to remember that you can't please everyone. My wife will accept far more creative latitude in both movies and books than I will. No car will ever crash and burst into flames in my books because it really doesn't happen that way in real life unless the car is filled with C4. Others will be in disbelief that the car didn't explode on impact because--according to 99% of the films they've seen--they all do that.
     
  11. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Yeah. 24 is probably as far as you can push it before you enter Die Hard territory. Die Hard universe is a little more far fetched, with things like, villains taking over an airport, but they have to rely on a storm preventing planes from landing at other airports, and the storm so happens to come on the day of taking the airport hostage or something like that.

    But if I can accept the Die Hard universe, I can accept 24.

    As far as making the action scenes more complicated, that is where my problem was. I was trying to make them so logical to the point where the action scenes themselves become too convoluted, at least I find. So I thought maybe it was better to keep them simple, but maybe not.

    As for McClane not being a crackshot, I understand that most cops are not, but McClane had his gun pressed up against Kristoff's face. Since he was that close, I thought he could hit his arm for sure, or something.

    I never saw McClane as a Dirty Harry type though as Harry would have pulled the trigger without even warning likely.
     

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