Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Writing action scenes

I'm a big fan of action scenes in my writing. I write (mostly) adventure stories, and adventures involve all kinds of sword fights, ninja throw downs, tunnel chases, and booby traps. Writing action scenes is a whole different barrel of monkeys that often confuse people when they're first starting out.

I don't claim to be an expert on writing action scenes, but I've learned a lot about how to craft them through my writing classes and other helpful blogs, and in the spirit of charity I'd like to pass on those learnings to all you, my lovely readers.

Tips for writing whiz-bang action scenes (technical term)
  • Keep voice out of the scene. That sounds counter-intuitive to every piece of advice you've ever read, but for action scenes it's true. Writing in action scenes should act like a window through which to view the physical, and a lot of times voice can break the tension or pacing of what's going on in the scene by reminding the reader that someone else (not them) is watching.
  • Keep your word choice concise and your sentences short. Action is fast-paced and clipped, and your writing should be as well. This ties into the previous bullet point, but deserves to be called out as it's own point. If you think about a comma like a breath, when people are fighting for their lives they don't have a chance to take a breath, and neither should you as the writer.
  • Stay focused. This isn't the place to wax poetic on the brutal nature of man, or focus on the vibrant foliage in the background. Set your scene up before the action starts so the reader is clear about where they are, what they're wearing, what weapons they have, and why they're fighting. Don't get distracted in details in the middle of someone swinging a sword.
  • Think about your action like a movie. Action scenes are probably the closest a book gets to a movie, and the details need to be crisp and obvious enough that readers can visualize the action in their head. If you can't visualize it as the writer, the reader definitely can't visualize it when they're reading, which breaks tension.
    • I have a special advantage in that I take martial arts classes, but they've taught me how to describe the physical in words that make sense. It's critical to know what descriptions make sense to most people.
  • Consider your audience when making vocabulary choices. If they don't know what a mace or a stiletto or a rapier is, then make sure you make it clear what they are before they start fighting. You don't want someone thinking your character is throwing shoes in the middle of a castle dungeon.
What action scene tips can you share from your own writing?

1 comment:

Christina Lee said...

Fantastic tips! Esp. thinking of it like a movie scene. Spot on.