This past week I’ve been working on some scenes that lead to the climax of my WIP, and since it is an adventure story…well, that means a lot of action.
The Challenge of Writing Action Scenes
I think it’s pretty well-known amongst writers that when you’re writing an action scene you want to avoid using long descriptions (and words). This creates the feeling of snappier pacing, mimicking the inherent swiftness of action sequences. The challenge, then, comes in relaying necessary information that gives the reader a clear picture of what’s going on…without getting terribly wordy about it.
Easier said than done!
When I write I see everything as a movie, full color ‘n’ all. I have this saying: if I can’t see it, I can’t write it–’cause it’s true! I can also be very detail-oriented, zooming in on certain aspects in attempt to render full three-dimensional imagery, so it’s been challenging for me to weed out less-than-critical details during action sequences when my narration pacing feels like it’s starting to drag.
For example, the other day I was editing a scene that involves four of my main characters who were…well, violently engaging four antagonists, heh. (Let’s just say there were both conventional weapons, like guns and knives, as well as magic involved.) Most of everyone was doing something in the scene and it took place in a relatively confined area. My POV character was in a position to see most of all that was going on, so I wanted to reflect that in my writing, mentioning only what he would likely notice. Also, sometimes he likes to check on his team members by flashing a quick look over his shoulder or whatnot, so then there was that.
That’s a lot of information to juggle, when you think about it.
As far as I see it, the more props and actors (so to speak) that you have in a scene, the more difficult it’s going to be to clearly communicate what’s happening. As such, you have to be strategic in what you focus on in your narration, which is usually (though not always) anything dealing directly with the POV character–unless you’re writing from an omniscient viewpoint…
As an example, it might be tempting to launch into description as to what your character’s opponent(s) looks like, but unless something about that person’s appearance hinges on an earlier plot point or provides necessary context for the current situation–oh look, it’s that man with the good-looking smile who you thought was actually a good guy!–it maaaay not be the best idea to include that kind of detail.
This is what I’ve realized over time, anyway.
Not long ago, when I was tweeting about working on an action scene, fantasy writer Lindsay Kitson shared with me a link to some articles with advice on writing fight scenes. The author, Marie Brennan, mentions having some martial arts training (fencing and karate, it looks like). In any case, you might find the link worth a look!
What do you do to make writing action scenes easier or flow more smoothly?