Writing ACTION SCENES - Chapter 1

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Writing ACTION SCENES

by OokamiKasumi

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If you can imagine it - you can write it. The easiest way is by doing it in LAYERS.

Writing ACTION SCENES

DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

 

-------- Original Message -----------

"I can't write an action/fight scene worth a crap. Mind you, I can usually imagine them, I just can't write them." -- Wanna Do a Fight Scene.


If you can imagine it - you can write it. The easiest way is by doing it in LAYERS.

 

The Quick and Dirty Method for writing Action Scenes


Start with a list of ACTIONS & Reactions < in that order.

-- Actions ALWAYS go before Reactions.

(IMPORTANT! Each CHARACTER gets a SEPERATE LINE. ~ NEVER clump the separate actions of two different characters in the same paragraph or the reader will get confused as to who is doing what very quickly.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Will lunged forward, his sword fully extended in a stab.

Jack caught Will's blade with the flat of his blade. Pushing the blade just out of range of his skin, Jack slide down Will's blade in a short fast stab.

Will turned to the side to avoid Jack's sword's point.

Jack did a quick side-step to stay in front of Will, keeping his sword's point on target.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Add DIALOGUE.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"You're dead meat!" Will lunged forward, his sword fully extended in a stab.

Jack caught Will's blade with the flat of his blade. "Oh really?" Pushing the blade just out of range of his skin, Jack slide down Will's blade in a short fast stab. "I don't think so!"

Will turned to the side to avoid Jack's sword's point. "Crap!"

Jack did a quick side-step to stay in front of Will, keeping his sword's point on target. "You're gonna have to do a lot better than that."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Add EMOTION.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"You're dead meat!" Will bared his teeth and lunged forward, his sword fully extended in a stab.

Jack snorted in derision and caught Will's blade with the flat of his blade. "Oh really?" Pushing the blade just out of range of his skin, Jack slide down Will's blade in a short fast stab. He smiled. "I don't think so!"

Startled, Will turned to the side to avoid Jack's sword's point. "Crap!"

Jack did a quick side-step to stay in front of Will, keeping his sword's point on target. He chuckled. "You're gonna have to do a lot better than that."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Pick ONE POV character in that scene and Add the POV character's INTERNAL Observations.
(More than one POV in a scene is known as HEAD-HOPPING.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You're dead meat!" Will bared his teeth and lunged forward, his sword fully extended in a stab.

Jack snorted in derision and caught Will's blade with the flat of his blade. "Oh really?" The kid certainly had guts. Too bad he didn't have the skill to go with it. Pushing the blade just out of range of his skin, Jack slide down Will's blade in a short fast stab. He smiled. "I don't think so!"

Startled, Will turned to the side to avoid Jack's sword's point. "Crap!"

Jack did a quick side-step to stay in front of Will, keeping his sword's point on target. He chuckled, knowing it would piss the kid off. "You're gonna have to do a lot better than that." He was hoping the kid would figure out that he was out-matched and just bolt. He didn't like killing those that didn't actually deserve to die.
~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seriously, if you can imagine it - you can write it.

Having problems imagining it?
- WATCH MOVIES.

 

 

The REAL Trick to Writing Action Scenes that Work:
Action THEN Reaction!

Putting the Reaction BEFORE the Action is the Most Common Mistake in Fiction.

 

“The flash of pain exploded in my cheek from the slap her hand lashed out at me.”

WRONG!


Why is this wrong?
-- If you were watching this scene as a movie, that sentence is NOT how you would have seen it happen.

Actual Sequence of events:
1) Her hand lashed out at me in a slap. [Action]
2) A flash of pain exploded in my cheek [Reaction]

ACTION Sequences = Chronological Order

Chronological Order is the ONLY way to write an Action Scene. If you visualize the characters doing something in a specific order – you write it in THAT order.

REALITY = something random happens to you then…you react.
Action – Reaction / Action – Reaction
- in Chronological order


The finger pulls the trigger and THEN the shooter wonders: “Oh no, what have I done?”

Realistically, physical actions usually happen BEFORE dialogue. Most people ACT, and then comment, because physical reactions normally happen faster than thought. Thought happens after the fist has already shot out. Ask any martial artist.

Thoughts that come first FREEZE physical action - not in the literary sense, for real. Most people stop whatever action they are doing, they pause, to answer a direct question.

Fiction works exactly the same way.

FICTION = the Plot happens to the characters then…they react.
Action – Reaction / Action – Reaction
- in Chronological order


1 - Something happened TO the character, (Action).
2 - The character feels the Physical Sensation - the Effects of the Action, (reaction)
3 - THEN they have an actual thought and/or comment about what had just happened, (Action)
4 - THEN they DO something about it, (Reaction).

WRONG:
The flash of pain exploded in my cheek [Reaction] from the slap her hand lashed out at me. [Action]

RIGHT:

Her hand lashed out in a slap [action].

My cheek exploded with a flash of pain.
[reaction]. “Ow!” [dialogue/action] I balled my hand into a fist and swung for her stomach. [reaction]

Note: Why did I break that sequence into Two lines?

-- Because Each character gets their own paragraph for their actions for exactly the same reason you seperate each character's dialogue into two paragraphs. And while we're on the subject - Leave the Dialogue ATTACHED to that character's Actions! This way you never need to use dialogue tags such as 'he said' or 'she said'.

Back to the topic...

Violating chronological order is a Very Bad idea. If you knock the actions out of order the reader’s Mental Movie STOPS because the reader has to STOP READING to Re-Read that sequence and rearrange the sentences into the correct order to get the movie back.

Making the story hard for the reader to PICTURE -- is a VERY Bad Idea. Anytime the reader has to STOP to rearrange the words to FIT their mental movie, you’ve made a break. Breaks are BAD – very, very bad! A break creates a moment where the reader can STOP READING your story, and start reading something else -- and possibly never look at you again.

A lot of writers hesitate to break up the actions between characters because written chronological action and dialogue tends to look very choppy on the page. It doesn't look neat and tidy

Neat and tidy be damned!
 -- Once the reader has their Mental Movie rolling the reader won’t even SEE the words – they’ll be too busy watching the scenes in their head to even Notice that they are reading. Who cares how the words are arranged on the page? Screw aesthetics! Your first priority is keeping that reader  reading -- and that means keeing their Mental Movie going!


How to FIX this chronic problem:


VISUALIZE your scenes as you write them. Play them as a movie in your head and write everything down EXACTLY as you see it. If it comes out in a pile of one short sentence after another, then add some smart-assed internal comments and/or dialogue. Just remember to add the comments at the END of the action paragraph -- and connected! Don't seperate a character's dialogue from their actions. That's silly. Dialogue is action too!

What about Literary style?

 

What about it?
-- If you simply MUST have stylish phrasing in your fiction, save it for the descriptions, but keep it out of the actions.

If you want the reader to SEE the actions that you are trying to portray - Chronological Order is the ONLY way to do it.

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