Dec 19, 2017

The Write-A-Story Calendar Day 19: Aaand Action!

Let's talk a bit about writing action scenes today. How do you do it well?

It depends on what you want; some action-genre oriented writers do martial arts and want the action scenes to be as real as possible. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but sometimes it can lead to an overuse of technical terms and a level of specificity that can annoy the reader. The same applies to any action scene written by a professional in that field. You can end up sounding like a textbook. 

It might be a good idea to think about the difference between real and realistic: real means the textbook approach without taking any narrative liberties, while realistic lets you bend the rules a little to extract the maximum amount of drama. A realistic fight scene is exciting while still feeling realistic. A few interesting, specific details go a long way. And remember, we are writing fiction. Would you rather watch a few drunk guys duking it out in a bar or The Matrix? This is a matter of opinion, of course, but I'd definitely pick The Matrix every time. 

You need conflict for a story, and more action scenes mean more exciting conflict, right? Well, like any scenes, action scenes can get boring and repetitive. (Okay, sometimes you can use a similar scene twice for emphasis (mirroring), but make sure you're doing it on purpose.) Variety is key, and every scene should do two or three things at once, build character and advance the plot. If you write an action scene just because it's cool, it might actually bore the reader. If you can cut the scene without affecting the story, it's nonessential.

In fight scenes, especially, sometimes the writer gets too detailed; she'll write every move, not trusting the reader to add in the blanks. This gets annoying fast. You don't need to write a paragraph about how the protagonist first reaches for the ray gun and then tightens her fingers around it one by one and etc., etc. The reader will get it, don't worry.

Though you don't need to be a professional to write an action scene about performing an appendectomy, for example, do your research. That's how you'll get those interesting details to put in your story and the experts hopefully will find the scene at least plausible. (There are always nitpickers. They come in really useful if they're your beta readers so you can fix these issues before the story gets published. In fact, if you have an expert in your circle of friends or acquaintances, do ask if she'd be willing to read the scene and give you her comments.)

For today's 350 words, (begin to) write an action scene. Doesn't have to be a fight scene, just an action scene.

Psst . . . For a great book on writing fight scenes, check out Write the Fight right by Alan Baxter.

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