Monday, March 14, 2011

Activating the Action

I think it's safe to say every writer has one (or multiple, maybe) things they can't stand writing. Specific things that may or may not be necessary to any given storyline, things you want to avoid if at all possible. If you're like me, and your writing pet-peeve happens to be action scenes. These are the scenes that, were they in a movie, would likely be carefully choreographed by a professional, maybe a few stunt-doubles.

Seeing as I'm not a professional choreographer, I spend half the time writing the scene, and the other half slamming my face into the keyboard trying to figure out how to write it.

Having slaved over these scenes time and again, I can offer at least some suggestions for anyone else in the same boat. (And maybe some of you might have suggestions for me. Please? Pretty please?)

I plot out every action scene, be it a fight or a chase of some kind, and replay it over and over again in my head. Envisioning it as if it were a movie to ensure the motions my characters are going through make sense and can be visualized. I don't want something so unrealistic the reader has to pause and think "how did that knife/leg/face/fist/foot/giraffe get there?!"

Sometimes I'll draw out a sketch of the scene, say, a bedroom. I sketch out the furniture, windows and doors, and use the visual to write. If so-and-so moves this way, what might there be for them to interact with? Often, I see action scenes that don't incorporate the characters' surroundings, as though they're moving about in a big, empty room in clumsy and uncoordinated gestures.

In other words, keep in mind where your characters are at all times; utilize their environment to enhance the scene.

Regarding fights, study such scenes in some kind of visual medium, be it movies, comic books/manga, or cartoons. Write down the scene to get a feel for the wording you might use. You're likely to pick up details from this study that you otherwise might have missed. The way a body moves, the way a person swings a punch and leaves themselves wide open to a hit.

Also, short, clipped sentences often work best in faster-paced scenes as opposed to long and drawn-out ones. They help promote a sense of urgency. (I always recall one exception to this rule being SHUTTER ISLAND, whose fast scenes involve a lot of very long sentences, few commas, and a lot of "and"s. This is more a stylistic thing of the author and it worked for him, but it's way too easy to do wrong.)

Don't get me started on things like sword-fights and magical abilities, because I still want to cry when faced with those. Maybe that's something one of you can give me hints on.


  1. Haha, this is great advice. Especially the visual of the setting the characters are in. :) Good luck writing those pesky action scenes.

  2. Yes, great advice, especially the clipped sentences. I don't enjoy long action scenes, whether it's in a book or movie, so I obviously don't enjoy writing them either! Blech! I have to run it through my head in slow motion to try and get the details while not losing the MC's voice. *shivers* Needless to say, I try to keep my big finale endings more emotional than physical.
    I'd rather write a hundred kissing scenes than face one action scene. :)

  3. Broken Angel, haha, thanks ;)

    Wendy, ditto! But unfortunately, all my MSs thus far have required some kind of action scenes, even if they aren't fights, LOL. I'd rather do emotional over physical any day.

  4. I've recently started doing storyboards to help get a visual. I'm not very good at drawing, but even stick figures are helpful.

  5. You're funny.
    Action scenes are THE HARDEST. Just the littlest bits I did in one of mine felt like, will anyone get what's going on? Do I get what's going on? And yeah, I'm no help...

  6. I LOVE action scenes! Watching them, reading them, writing them! Unortunately, I don't have much advice because I don't really know how I write mine. One good tip is: if you're struggling to describe a certain move, youtube it and write down what you see.

  7. Sarah, haha, I don't even know what the "certain moves" are called!!! I could just google "spinning kick thingy". :) (I don't really have any spinning kicks in my stories, sorry, lol)

  8. I am terrible at action scenes. It's really something I need to work on.

  9. Wendy: Use twitter/facebook. Seriously. I have a few friends who do martial arts and sometimes I'll be like "what is it called when you kick someone high with your heel in a whole THIS IS SPARTA! sort of way?" People love answering these kinds of questions. :-)