1. CaffeineCat7

    CaffeineCat7 New Member

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    Problem with writing action scenes and possible too long descriptions

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by CaffeineCat7, Aug 20, 2019.

    I'm a new user here but I've been reading this forum for years. It's a really nice place to exchange ideas and get help and many insightful comments.

    This holiday I've started to write the first draft of the story that I've been planning for some years. I was writing earlier some sketches to see my ideas in working, shape them and select elements that seemed fine for the whole project; it was more like exercise. Before starting the first draft I read them again and I realized my biggest issues that made me quite concerned. I see them on the first draft too and it's teasing my inside perfectionist.

    To be strict, I have two main issues I'd want to describe.

    The first problem with my prose is handling action scenes. With this term, I mean something like battle scenes or description of the desperate escape of one of the character. I use third person limited point of view because I feel it suits my work - in scenes like that I can describe emotions of the character, but I don't feel the dynamics of the scene. It seems flat for me. Don't get me wrong; for example, in the scene of escape I described the environment around the character, sense of being chased, fatigue, hiding, pain, wind on the face, etc., but I don't feel it. I don't feel the emotions that the escaping scene should deliver to a potential reader.

    What is more, I've noticed that I have a problem with manage these scenes. Many things happen at the same moment: the character is fighting, their best friend is running away or something, the enemy is climbing up the wall. I don't want my text to be messy and I get nervous in a case like that.

    My second problem is writing too long descriptions and scenes that take too much time.

    For example, my character has an accident. I described this from her aunt's point of view - I took into account her emotions and thoughts, other family members' emotions (for example crying), the examination of the injured person, family argument, etc. It has some influence on the character's future. Personally, I quite like it and I prefer that personal and psychological approach to the character, of course - only if it's necessary for the plot or for the character-building.

    But how much is enough? Can scene that like that take a long time only because of thoughts, emotions, reactions of the character? Is this slowing down the pace of the plot? Could this be boring?

    I'd be happy to see your feedback and tips.
     
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  2. EFMingo

    EFMingo A Modern Dinosaur Supporter Contributor

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    It most certainly can be boring, but that depends a lot on both management and writing ability.

    What I would do with action scenes is really develop a sense of pacing. You need to manage all aspects of the clutter to make the scene readable. I would first look at who's viewpoints you really want to focus on, and then structure the battle in a clean timeline of logical events. Providing limitations pulls your descriptions back from being boring.

    When you have a structured timeline, you can have these scenes experienced either directly by the MC, indirectly at a distance, or in reference (say, an after action report or memories from another character). The MC certainly doesn't need to experience all of the things happening in a battle. A lot of the indirect battle things can be done through auditory means as well. You could have a random guard losing his shit that the army is breaching a certain section.

    Speaking of other senses, that's half the battle with these scenes as well. If you want it to feel real, all the senses need to be engaged. A battle scene can quickly turn impersonal or boring when visual descriptions overload. Let the reader feel the MC's struggle. I always liked narrowing the view and giving a bit of tunnel vision during high intensity scenes because that's how a real person would be. At the end of the day, they themselves are simply struggling to survive. The higher the tension, the narrower the view, down to base survival instincts. Reads wicked fast and gives the reader a bit of claustrophobia when done right.

    I'd like to see a sample of your work to see what exactly your talking about, and read where exactly the issues are falling.
     
  3. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I'm including a link to one of my favourite 'action' openings ever. I've read this opening chapter many times, trying to get a handle on why it works so well, while so many other 'action' chapters don't ...at least for me. Especially at the opening of a story, when we don't even know the characters yet.

    I think the key to this success is what @EFMingo was suggesting above.
    Try out the 'Look Inside' feature and read that opening chapter. Abercrombie keeps that scene VERY personal to Logen, the POV character. Not only is the action intense, but so is Logen's personal take on his life at the moment. It's more than just action. As a character development scene, it's memorable. I think it's just about the best-written scene of its type that I've ever come across.

    https://www.amazon.com/Blade-Itself-First-Law-Trilogy/dp/0316387312/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2SMQJQNL82TXN&keywords=joe+abercrombie+the+blade+itself&qid=1566266805&s=gateway&sprefix=Joe+Aber,aps,223&sr=8-1
     
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  4. Lawless

    Lawless Active Member

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    The simplest and fastest way of getting your answers:

    Post here an action scene you have written and we'll tell you if there's anything wrong with it and how to make them better.
     
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  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Moderator hat on here: That's good advice BUT any new member, such as CaffeineCat7, needs to ensure they've been here two full weeks, made 20 posts and has done 2 critiques before the software allows them to post in the Workshop. New Member Quick Start And the Workshop is the only place (other than blogs) where a member is allowed to post work on the forum.

    I would hope that @CaffeineCat7 upgrades her membership soon. This is exactly what the forum is here for. Feedback!
     
  6. CaffeineCat7

    CaffeineCat7 New Member

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    Thank you. When I read it last night (it was really late) for the first time, I wanted to try this immediately.

    My character, who's the point of view I describe almost all of the battles from is a commander and a nobleman; I thought this is validated reason to focus on the outer aspects of the battle. I'm really going to try to focus on him and his emotions and narrow the battle scene in some points and show his struggle to survive - I feel that this approach is somewhat close to my other concepts and to one of the main themes of the whole story. At least he fights with his soldiers arm to arm.

    I had planned that my woman character listens to other people (notably her husband, he's the same person I referred to above) telling about earlier and present battles, but I want to describe some of them directly. I write historical fiction and war is one of the main themes.

    Reading your response the second time and writing the answer, the possible core of my problem has suddenly shown itself. I do have a strict chronological order of the events (as all of the battles I describe are historical) and tons of pieces of information about them. This, paradoxically, makes me fail. I want to describe it all - army movements, environment, important events as well as my character's emotions and his personal struggle to survive and finally I end up unable to manage all of the clutter :bigfrown:.

    I'll definitley try this this out! Thank you very much.

    Unfortunately, there may be another problem with this. I write in my native language and I don't know if my English is good enough to translate any piece. Anyway, thank you!

    Thank you very much for your tips.
     
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  7. EFMingo

    EFMingo A Modern Dinosaur Supporter Contributor

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    Just remember, you are writing historical fiction, and not a history book. Don't be an emotionless grocery list. Focus on the character in all aspects, and interject bits of what's going throughout sparsely. Historical fiction is a hundred percent about how you write it. You're timeline is already built for you, provided you have done proper research. I would also suggest investing in a sand table. The you can physically have the battle in front of you to play with and visualize everything your MC is doing and can see.
     
  8. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    See if you can wean yourself away from 'Gamemaster' mode, and try to imagine yourself AS one of your characters. What are they saying, seeing, doing? What do they know? What don't they know and might be wondering or worrying about?

    You can get lots of information in there if you stick with one person's perspective, and let us in on what that person is thinking and feeling. If they are a footsoldier and wonder where in HECK the cavalry has got to, the reader will become aware that a) there is cavalry, and b) the cavalry is late (or the POV character's sense of timing is faulty ...maybe because in battle time seems to happen slowly? Are they wondering what the overall battle strategy is? They might know who planned the strategy, and either they have faith that whatever it is will work, or they're having doubts. Either because things don't seem to be going to plan, or because the plan seemed flawed in the first place. And etc.

    Let us in on those hopes, doubts, fears, determination, and battle perspective. Let us know what is going through the character's mind before and during the battle, and you can give us a bigger picture without having to stop and describe it from the Gamemaster's seat.
     
  9. CaffeineCat7

    CaffeineCat7 New Member

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    Maybe still I can't find harmony between me the writer and me the historian. History as science pays attention to the very details of every aspect (for example, when reading sources) and is poor when it comes to emotions, as they are harder to determine. I'm quite trained to think in that manner (which is proper while writing a historical book), especially when it comes to wars and political aspects.

    I copied schemes of battles I want to describe, with arrows and everything, but a sand table will be a better option, thank you! I assume it will help me rethink wording of these scenes, go out of these dry or specialistic terms used in history books and sometimes even in the sources I use. I hope it

    To be honest I think that coming into details is my problem in general. When I write I'm not aware of this, I just let my thoughts flow, but when I read it I always had been seeing that something is wrong but I hadn't known what.

    It's really cluttered. So many words to describe a little scene, so many details.

    Here comes another problem I described in the second part of my first post - how to determine if some detail is necessary or not?

    Back to the things described in the first post. My character's aunt embroiders a tablecloth when she gets to know the girl has an accident. Her eyes are tired but she wants to do as much as possible - actually doing as much as possible despite hardships is part of her personality and the girl would admire this trait in her in the future (so I treated this scene like character building). I described shortly a scene when she sits at the window and doing it, then I mentioned bad lighting, gloomy evening, rustling rain and her thoughts. Then the bad news comes.

    There are a lot of similar cases in my writing like that. I want to throw away unnecessary things that slow down the pace, but I haven't a method on how to distinguish them from necessary things.


    When I had read your post, I read some of my battle scenes once again. I've noticed that I seem to suddenly switch to Third Person Omniscient while describing things happening around the character, using this dry language I've discussed below (detailed army movements, character's friend fighting, even my main character, etc.); then I panic because it seems like I'm losing Third Person Limited and throw emotions of the main character is some weird places as a result. It isn't harmonized well and it isn't working as I want it to.

    So I appreciate so much your solution, thank you very much. I'll be trying hard to harmonize these things together, as you wrote. I hope that awareness of my own stupidity and practice is enough to be even a little better.
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Don't worry. It takes a while to get it right.

    I write historical novels (although not combat/warlike ones) and I know I WANTED to include so much more than I did. In fact, I did include a lot I didn't need in my first draft, which came out to be 312,000 words! :eek:

    The final version is still hefty at just over 200,000 words, but that's a window into how much of my 'necessary' stuff I got rid of. Over a third of it. And that is despite the fact that I wrote a couple extra chapters to make better transitions, and added a few scenes as well.

    Once you get finished, and take a long break (and/or give it to a couple of betas) you'll begin to see where you can make the cuts. I wouldn't worry too much about it at this stage. Put whatever you want in there. It's easy enough to remove it later, and you'll feel pleased to do it. Kinda like having a clear-out of your house. Theraputic, when you realise that the finished product is a lot better than the mess you had when you began editing.
     
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  11. Lawless

    Lawless Active Member

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    In that case (and considering you don't meet the requirements for Workshop yet), you can try this exercise:

    Read an action scene in a book. Stop and think about it.

    Write down (on a sheet of paper or in the computer):
    The author's name.
    The book's title.
    The page number.
    Description (in you own words, in your native language) of what the scene is about. What did you like about it? What (if anything) did you dislike? Did it give you any new ideas? What can you learn from it that will help you write good action scenes of your own?

    Keep those notes and look at them should you ever feel low on inspiration or doubtful about your writing.
     
  12. CaffeineCat7

    CaffeineCat7 New Member

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    I think I'm heading towards the same, really. What is more, this first draft is rather an experiment. I want to identify my mistakes, fill plot holes I'm struggling with and end shaping my characters (I have read your tip in other thread to visualize characters and it helps a lot).

    Thank you very much for your feedback.

    To be honest, I sometimes feel doubtful about my writing capabilities and this is nice that there are some people who understand me and help me unveil my problems and mistakes.
     
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  13. EFMingo

    EFMingo A Modern Dinosaur Supporter Contributor

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    That's what this forum is for. Been off and on here a very long time. It's grown better with age.
     
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  14. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    Have you ever been in a real fight with real danger? In a situation you can't predict or handle?

    In that kind of situation your senses change. You hear in a different way. You get tunnel vision. Your focusing to things is narrow.

    (If you have enough experience about danger, you might get yourself to some kind of hyper alert mode. It is a bit like you had some kind of intuition abbout what is going to happen next. But this is rare.)

    If you try to write action it needs to take account the change of senses and focus in some way. Otherwise it becomes flat.
     
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  15. Gallogladh

    Gallogladh Member

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    As a fellow writer of violent historical fiction, I bid you welcome :)

    Fight scenes work in your favour in controlling information, for you can zero in on what the character involved sees or feels - ignoring other things going on around him/her - and it will only enhance the experience. This extends to punches and blows and physical knocks. A fighter won't notice all of them, allowing you to lavish attention on moves that physically move them around the scene relative to each other, which is vital to the reader following what's going on. If there is information you need to tell that doesn't directly involve or affect a combat participant, use changes of physical perspective (for instance, he gets turned around) or slow-downs in action (one character is knocked a considerable distance from the other) to make him/her notice so you can slot it in. Also, it's cheap but realistic: the grapple. Though they end fights often, non-professional fighters have no clue what's going on in a graple. Other than major movement beats, your audience doesn't have to either. It would be inauthentic and less tense if they knew what every hand was doing.

    tl;dr: you really don't need to cover all the detail, and in many cases it's better if you don't.
     
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  16. CaffeineCat7

    CaffeineCat7 New Member

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    Thank you very much! I do have experience about danger, although different from my character's. It's such a shame I didn't think to analyze and use them while writing.

    Hello! Thank you for your post. You are really welcome. It's good to know that I'm not completely alone with my genre and interests I'm relatively new to this, not as experienced as you - this project is the first time when I write something that requires describing that type of scenes and this and, although I'm excited to learn new things, it makes me doubtful and discouraged sometimes.

    I know what to write, but I didn't know how to transfer dry descriptions from history books and sources into prose from the perspective of my fictional character, make this more authentic and engaging for the possible reader. Thanks to this thread and this nice forum, I started to realize what my problems really are and now I'm working to change this to write the way you described (just tried this yesterday for the first time). Hope it would get better in time.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2019
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