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Some time back, a young lady that I participated in role play with mentioned that she was horrible at writing action scenes, specifically those with fighting and battles. I like to think that I write action scenes very well, especially since she mentioned as much and asked me how I was able to write them so smoothly. So, naturally, this prompted a blog post.
Just a note: these ideas I mention here are just ideas that work for me. There is no guaranteeing that any of them will work for you. We are all different and have different styles and ways of doing things. So, if my ideas don't work for you, perhaps they will help you find your own style that works for you. Don't limit your creativity to someone else's ideas! Broaden your perspective!
1. Pop the popcorn
Before I write a scene, I usually plug in some action music from a movie soundtrack (my favorites are Lord of the Rings soundtrack, Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack, and Transformers: The Score). I think this is referred to as "setting the mood" in the author.
2. Grab the remote
I go through the basics as I get closer to writing the fight scene:
What has led up to this point, this conflict?
How do things look? What sounds, sights, and smells are there? How does my character react to those?
Usually, when writing an fighting scene, I don't get much into my character's head and emotions. But I do get physical: what pain, strain, and stress is his body experiencing? What does he see, hear, and smell?
Sometimes, usually at the very beginning of an action scene, I will touch on the very raw emotions of my character. Is he desperate? Is he filled with rage, hate and blood lust, or fear and confusion? Why is he fighting? What are his very basic feelings and thoughts on the matter?
3. Play the movie
Now for the action to happen. How do I make it work?? I pretend I'm watching a movie... Seriously!
I play my actions scenes in my head, in my imagination, like a movie. I sit down in my Imagination Studio and watch the scene on my huge screen... I close my eyes, or stare off into space, and envision the action in my head, then I transcribe what I see into the written language.
Questions to ask if you are one of those people who have a difficult time envisioning stuff like this: What has happened to cause this conflict? If this were a movie, what kind of action would you expect as a result? What would cause you (or your character) to react? What unexpected things can happen? How does the bad guy think and act? How does the good guy think and act? What can you expect from them? What can happen to cause them pain? What will the characters do to avoid pain and stay alive? What will happen to make the audience cringe, or put them on the edge of their seat?
One thing you must remember when in action, weather in movies, in writing, or in real life: you and/or the characters don't think when in action. You are just doing. The characters are just doing. Everything is happening fast and there is no time to think, only act. There is no time to take in a lot of detail. There is no time to think about how you feel. This can be a bit tricky, since it this is writing and not moving images, and you, the writer, must pre-think everything to make sure it works. The trick with writing is to make your readers think that you didn't pre-think any of the action. Keep constant suspense and give only the necessary details that keep the action rolling, such as the burn of pain, the thrust of a knife, the gleam of a claw, the shock of a punch in the jaw, etc. etc. etc.
Here is an example of a mild action scene, a small excerpt from my published novel, The Dragon's Son (Amazon Link):
Keegan jolted awake out of a sound sleep, feeling a buzz of electricity run through him, shaking him. A dark feeling began creeping up his spine. He instinctively grabbed the hilt of his sword. Something dangerous was lurking nearby. He could feel its presence. He sat up silently and tried to adjust his eyes to the darkness. Clouds were in the sky, and they concealed the twin moons and the many stars that normally lit the night sky.
I created the setting for the scene. You basically know the time and the place, and you understand the eerie feeling that Keegan has. You know danger is just around the corner. *starts playing the danger music*
A twig snapped. Keegan jumped to his feet in one swift movement. He stood still and tried to listen for any inkling of movement. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He loosened his sword in its scabbard and gently nudged the still sleeping Saul with his boot. Saul groaned and rolled over then was silent again. Keegan rolled his eyes and kicked Saul in the leg.
Saul groaned and slowly started to sit up. “Keegan, is something wrong?” he asked groggily.
“Shhhhh!” Keegan whispered. Saul seemed to blink the sleep away, and, seeing that Keegan was disturbed, he slowly and quietly began to stand up.
I am creating the mood and attempting to build a little suspense, along with the "edgy" feeling, but trying to keep the reader a little unprepared, as the characters are, at the same time.
A low, unearthly growl in the darkness caused both men to freeze, Keegan standing and Saul in a half- sitting position. A tall shadow leapt from the darkness and lunged for Keegan with a vicious snarl. Saul rolled out of the way, and Keegan jumped off to the side. The hot twinge of claws breaking skin shot up his left arm as he jumped away. He swung his sword at the shadow as he fell to the ground, landing on his back. The shadow evaded Keegan’s sword swiftly, crouching to the ground a few feet away with a growl. It glared at Keegan through glowing yellow eyes. Then it stood to full height, as would a man. Keegan gasped as the clouds broke and moonlight poured from the sky, chasing away the shadows of the night and exposing the creature well.
Action and harsh conflict always happen suddenly. Spend a little time building suspense and then slam in the action! Envision it as one of those moments in a movie where you jump in your seat because of the sudden and unexpected attack. Of course, you wont get that reaction with the written word, but just envision it and write it out.
Now, at this point, I build more suspense and intrigue by giving a brief description of the monster attacking them, which I have removed for the present distress. But as I said, I give a brief description of the wretched beast, then I move on with the action:
The beast crouched slightly, curling clawed fingers. It then roared and lunged for Keegan, aiming its claws for his throat and torso. Keegan rolled out of the way and jumped to his feet, swinging his sword at the monster. The sword struck the beast across the ribcage, slicing across thick flesh and opening only a small wound in the large monster. The creature roared in anger and leapt away from Keegan, just as the moonlight disappeared behind the clouds and plunged everything back into darkness.
Keegan rushed for a nearby tree, hearing the heavy footfalls of the beast as it came after him. He ducked behind the tree, preparing to swing his sword for the beast again. His boot suddenly caught in a protruding root of the tree as he shifted his position. His foot twisted, his ankle snapped, and pain jolted up his leg. He cried out in anguish as he fell to his knees, his ankle unable to bear his weight any longer.
Instantly, Saul jumped over Keegan as the monster came around the tree with a vicious snarl. The monster looked somewhat surprised by Saul’s sudden appearance, but it recovered quickly enough to dodge Saul’s sword thrust at its abdomen. It grasped Saul by the shoulders, digging its claws into Saul’s muscles, making the tall man buckle under the intense pain, then it flung Saul aside as if he were but a sack of potatoes.
I noted some of the small movements and details, like the curling of the monster's clawed fingers, but not so many that it would slow the action down. Only enough to give the reader the idea of what things look like and to keep the dangerous mood going. The main thing to consider when adding detail to action scenes is to make sure it adds to the action, instead of taking away from it. You must have some detail in action scenes, or things will go way to fast and seem rushed. But you want to make sure that your details keep the action going - that they roll with the punches.
I must admit, the action scene that I used above is not my best nor my favorite scene from my book because it is not my most active and exciting. I have other much, much better ones in different parts of my novel. However, I chose to use this part because it fit the present need better than any of my other scenes. So, all that to say: don't judge my novel by the above excerpt. *wink, smile*
The best way to really perfect action scenes is to write. Just write! Pop in an action movie you like, pick out your favorite scene, and write it out. Then start envisioning random action scenes in your head and write them out as well. Do short little stories all about action moments. The more you observe, the more you write, the better you will get.
Anyway, I hope someone finds this a little bit helpful. Have fun writing!
Oh, and if you are looking at the gif images I've posted, you're probably thinking "Wow. She must like Lord of the Rings." and the truth is: yes. Yes, I do like Lord of the Rings AND The Hobbit. Books and movies. They're my favorites. The movies provided the best action gif images available for this particular post, so.... yeah. I couldn't pass up an opportunity to use them.
Author of the fantasy series, Tales of the Wovlen, Kathryn spends a great deal of time in the world of her imagination, having tea with fire breathing dragons, writing books on flying space ships, and practicing her mad scientist laugh with gusto. However, on occasion,she returns to this world just to play with her dog and blog about her fun.
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