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Action Writing : Tips and Advice • Page 2 • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Action Writing

Here's the place to share a writing or marketing tip you've used successfully and want to pass along.
rlago
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Re: Action Writing

Postby rlago » Tue Nov 07, 2017 5:06 am

First of all, I'd like to thank everybody contributing to this thread!

Second, I thought that my point was clear, but apparently some of you have misunderstood me. The issue here is not describing the flow of the scene, the feelings of the character or the environment. My question is far more objective: describing specific actions, in which many things happen at the same time:

"He did X, Y and Z."

He didn't do X->Y->Z. He did X at the same time as he did Y and Z:

"Jhon drew his blade while dodging her attack and lurching towards her"

This is one and only one move. Imagine that Jane tried a thrust, and Jhon "entered her guard" by closing the distance. He is ready to hit her with the pommel. Maybe cut her forearm from the inside. Maybe just throw her with a Ippo Seoi Nage. Any of those would be a *second* action, but my example is a single action, a single move. Another adhoc example would be:

"Jhon crossed his wrists above his head, stepped his right foot forward and pointed his sword upwards, sitting in the right Einhorn stance."

This is also a single move. None takes precedence over the other. You could scramble the order of the movements and it would still describe exactly the same thing. If I split the sentences, it ruins the feeling that those things happen at the same time:

"Jhon crossed his wrists above his head. He stepped his right foot forward. He pointed his sword upwards. With that, Jhon was sitting in the right Einhorn stance."

That's not describing the same movement. If that is still not clear, I can come up with further examples, perhaps with 4 or even 5 events taking place simultaneously.

ostarella wrote:
> I've written quite a few action scenes (ie, fight scenes)
Do you have them published somewhere? Do you mind sharing a link? I'm hunting for examples!

> The pacing of that sentence is very, very slow. He doesn't draw his blade
> and then dodge the attack - it's either the reverse or, more likely,
> simultaneous.
It is simultaneous. I see what you mean with the pacing, but how would you rewrite that piece without losing the sense of simultaneity? I am just hunting for examples.

RobTheThird wrote:
>OK, so instead of taking the advice, or not, you're going to argue.
I honestly have no idea what you're talking about.

RobTheThird wrote:
>Isn't it? I think it is.
- How do I do X?
- Don't do it!
Sorry but it is *objectively* not answering the question.

>Or rapid-fire, staccato sentences that come across more visceral?
Thanks for you comment, but please read my explanation at the beginning of this post!

>Robert Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Elizabeth Moon (she's actually served in the US Marine Corps). David Drake writes some EXCELLENT military science fiction. Even though his "Hammer's Slammers" operate fusion-powered tanks, you can FEEL the way a plasma round rips men apart, and smell blood mixed with oil.
That's really informative, I'll check those out. Thanks!

Crono91 wrote:
>I poised my blade for his chest. He blocked the spinning blades. I didn't let up.
Thanks for you comment, but please read my explanation at the beginning of this post!

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ostarella
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Re: Action Writing

Postby ostarella » Tue Nov 07, 2017 11:20 am

Simultaneous actions can only be written as a-b-c because writing is not a visual medium. You have to give the reader the illusion via sentence structure. In this, pacing is paramount.

As to your sample sentence

"Jhon drew his blade while dodging her attack and lurching towards her"

So, couple quick and very dirty examples:

"Dodging her attack, Jhon drew his blade and lurched towards her."

"Drawing his blade, Jhon dodged her attack and lurched towards her."

"Jhon drew his blade as he dodged her attack..."

None of which creates the illusion of being simultaneous - it just tells us it was. So let's try this:

"Jhon dodged, blade in hand as he reversed the attack."

Again, quick and dirty but at least a little more "action-y" pacing. Just to note - he cannot physically dodge and lurch simultaneously, so there's only an X and Y, no Z. :)

So, in essence, don't try to describe simultaneous. It's not worth the trouble because readers are smart enough to understand without being told, and really don't care much if an action is at the same time as another or two seconds later. There are much more important things to worry about in an action scene.

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updog
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Re: Action Writing

Postby updog » Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:08 pm

I don't see anything wrong with the way you wrote that. As a reader, if I was absorbed in the story already, I wouldn't be tripped up at all by that sentence. But of course it's hard to judge it properly when we're only seeing a tiny sample of the writing. It's possible, if your readers are all telling you the same thing, you may be trying to describe more than is necessary. Your character can "advance" on an opponent or "deflect" a blow without the exact motion of his feet and arms having to be described. As a reader, I know what it looks like when someone deflects a blow, so I'd already picture the way his body moves when he does that. I see it in my mind quite clearly.

Are you familiar with author Brandon Sanderson? His 5 second fight scenes take me 10 minutes to read, and he favors longer, complex sentences over short, simple ones. He gives a very detailed play by play of his fights. Check out the sample of chapter one in "Way of Kings" for an example of how he shows simultaneous moves in his action scenes. You can read chapter one without buying the book. https://www.amazon.com/Way-Kings-Brandon-Sanderson/dp/0765365278
"Is it weird in here, or is it just me?" ~ Steven Wright



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Crono91
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Re: Action Writing

Postby Crono91 » Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:28 pm

Yeah, I don't quite get what you're asking.

Grabbing your sword, moving to the side to dodge, and then shooting forward are fluid motions, not simultaneous motions, unless this character is able to be more than one person.

One could grab their sword and dodge; however, I don't think I'd feel the need to make the reader seriously know it was at the exact same time. Most action readers are going to see it that way in their head. And if they don't, that's also not an issue. Readers are smart. When you said Jane couldn't keep up, they're going to understand how fluid Jhon is in his movements.

Updog pointed out a good read, if you really want to perfectly detail each action to your vision. But I'd say so harp on that sentence...
Be proud of your mistakes when they form from blinding passion. But now edit them.

rlago
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Re: Action Writing

Postby rlago » Tue Nov 07, 2017 1:20 pm

ostarella wrote:
> So, couple quick and very dirty examples:
Thank you for those samples. Yes, I do exploit this kind of inversion of sentences quite a lot, to avoid the monotonicity. The last bit, however, is more bound to this specific example.

Do you have any suggestions for the second example (the one starting with "Jhon crossed his wrists above his head..."), or would it be more or less the same?

ostarella wrote:
> So, in essence, don't try to describe simultaneous. It's not worth the
> trouble because readers are smart enough to understand without being told,
> and really don't care much if an action is at the same time as another or
> two seconds later. There are much more important things to worry about in
> an action scene.
(Please, read below).


updog wrote:
> Are you familiar with author Brandon Sanderson?
No, but from what you describe, that's exactly what I'm looking for! The amazon link doesn't show me the first chapter, but I found it here nevertheless:
https://www.tor.com/2010/06/10/prelude-to-the-stormlight-archive/

Crono91 wrote:
> Yeah, I don't quite get what you're asking.
You're focusing too much on the example, but it might have been my fault for having chosen an awkward position. One can dodge while stepping forward, diagonally. I am constantly scolded by my teachers for doing that in the training (it is dangerous at my level). When Jhon does that, he can keep Jane's weapon out of his reach in two ways: first and simpler, Jane continues her cut, but it will merely land on Jhon's sword or its scabbard. It would be a "parry" with a half-drawn sword. Second (and the true intention of this example) if Jhon is fast enough, he gets so close to Jane that she cannot use her weapon anymore. There is a minimal distance in which swords are effective. In my second post I even mentioned that Jhon could hit Jane *with the pommel* (but not with the blade) or throw her with Judo techniques - that's how close they are from each other in the final position.

All in all, it is just an example. There are no Jhons nor Janes in my novel. Don't worry about fixing that specific example.

@updog and @ostarella:
In my particular case, I am not focusing on the adrenaline of the moment whatsoever. The key element I'm trying to highlight are the strategy and skills of each character. They use different styles, weapons and techniques. I've worked some real choreographies for some scenes with some friends from an martial arts club; hence, the need to describe it more or less precisely. If two moves must happen simultaneously for something to work, I simply have no way around it. Purely mentioning parry/deflect/attack/dodge (or synonyms) are not enough to describe the advantages and drawbacks of each style. Even the shape and weight distributions of some weapons play an important role in combat.

I guess that this would fall into the "style" category. Maybe action readers would be bored to death with such meticulous description of the technique of the actors involved, but by no means I hope to entertain everybody. I am myself not a fan of action novels (little wonder I'm trying to come up with a different narrative).

All in all, when the amount of details slows down the pacing, it is a price I am willing to pay up to some degree. Combat is important in some chapters, but it is far from being the focus of the novel.

RobTheThird
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Re: Action Writing

Postby RobTheThird » Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:17 pm

rlago wrote:
> First of all, I'd like to thank everybody contributing to this thread!
>
> Second, I thought that my point was clear, but apparently some of you have
> misunderstood me. The issue here is not describing the flow of the scene, the
> feelings of the character or the environment. My question is far more objective:
> describing specific actions, in which many things happen at the same time:
>
Don't.

There's a (roughly) two-step process being discussed here. Writing. And publishing.

If you simply want to write, then write. I don't get to tell you what to like or not like.

But there's a principle we use in my local critique group. If one person says something you don't like, maybe it's just a point of disagreement. If three people say it, maybe it's time to pay closer attention.

I think you're up to four or five now. So maybe you should look closer at why.

You aren't under any obligation to do so, for sure. But there's got to be a reason that so many people have given this advice. At some level, each of these people is telling you that the style you want to write does not work. So here's a question in that vein: is someone telling you that it DOES work? If not, why fight it this hard?

Okay, maybe this sort of stuff happens in real life, but so what? Real life is random. It doesn't always make sense. Fiction doesn't always have that kind of freedom.

Take the advice being given. Or don't take it. But telling me that I just don't get it isn't going to change what I think.

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Crono91
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Re: Action Writing

Postby Crono91 » Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:43 pm

rlago wrote:

> I guess that this would fall into the "style" category. Maybe action
> readers would be bored to death with such meticulous description of the technique of
> the actors involved, but by no means I hope to entertain everybody. I am myself not a
> fan of action novels (little wonder I'm trying to come up with a different
> narrative).
>
> All in all, when the amount of details slows down the pacing, it is a price I am
> willing to pay up to some degree. Combat is important in some chapters, but it is far
> from being the focus of the novel.

As Updog said, there are writers who go into each detail of a fight.

I also go into details. I love movements. I love powers, in particular, and enjoy making up my own, which requires larger descriptions. I view action as a dance, and to write out a dance requires a lot of writing. Most of my "big" fight scenes take up an entire chapter.

My original point, was in order to do that effectively, you need to make sure it "flows" correctly. So yes, you were talking about flow, in a sense.

You SINGLE sentence has no issue. It portrays exactly what you wanted it to portray, with it happening all at once. However, if you plan on writing an entire chapter full of intense details like that, then yes, it has an issue.

My fights have a lot of moving parts. It isn't just a 5 second sword fight. A lot happens. However, to keep my readers engaged, between having those overly detailed descriptions, i break it up with story and dialogue and feeling and such.

---

The answer to your question: how do you say it happened all at once.

"I grabbed my sword and dodged at an angle where I could lunge toward her. It all happened at once."

Simple as that.

I went more into action scenes in general, since you said you don't read action. I was trying to help for the whole, rather than the small.
Be proud of your mistakes when they form from blinding passion. But now edit them.

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Crono91
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Re: Action Writing

Postby Crono91 » Tue Nov 07, 2017 3:34 pm

I'm editing my book, and I came across this sentence during a large-scale action scene:

Raisa danced around exploding debris and slid along her knees, ending up next to Nox, placing her hand on his chest. It impressed me how fluid she moved. “This will take a few minutes, Nox. Relax while you can so I can scan your body.” She closed her eyes.

I try not to do two [comma, -ing] in one sentence, but I did here, because I liked how it looked. That was all one motion--the slide on knees while placing her hand on his chest. In my head, she's still sliding just a little after her hand touches his chest. That's how quickly she's moving.

That said, some readers may not see it that way, and I'm cool with that. It stylistically looks cool to me, and readers will see what I saw too--and if they don't, it doesn't harm the scene.

I think this is what O was saying about the difference of digital media and written media, when it comes to simultaneous actions. If your scene hinges on that action being simultaneous, and you can't write it as such, perhaps change the scene.
Be proud of your mistakes when they form from blinding passion. But now edit them.

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Brien Sz
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Re: Action Writing

Postby Brien Sz » Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:14 pm

I don't think you slide along knees. You slide on surfaces on your knees. Also, the motion of dancing is not sliding, generally - unless its the end of a move. I would think one would dance around exploding debris then slide along XXX surface on their knees, ending up next to Nox.

It's an editorial thing...

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Crono91
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Re: Action Writing

Postby Crono91 » Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:54 pm

Brien Sz wrote:
> I don't think you slide along knees. You slide on surfaces on your knees.
> Also, the motion of dancing is not sliding, generally - unless its the end
> of a move. I would think one would dance around exploding debris then
> slide along XXX surface on their knees, ending up next to Nox.
>
> It's an editorial thing...

Hmm... so you're saying sliding along your knees, and along the surface of your knees means two different things? I didn't know that!

And the dancing thing is unrelated to the sliding thing haha. It's a reference to the sentence that came before it.
Be proud of your mistakes when they form from blinding passion. But now edit them.

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