I am excited to welcome author Jo Ann Schneider to the blog today. Her debut novel New Sight with Jolly Fish Press will be out in April 2014. Until then, you can get a taste of how she writes action in her novels by reading her post below.
Almost everyone I know loves a good action sequence in a movie. Watching people do amazing, and often times near-impossible, feats of physical prowess is awesome.
Admit it. A good sword fight? A good fist fight? A good car chase scene? A good plane or space fighter battle? It’s quite a ride to get to watch a well put together action sequence.
But what about reading one?
Since I have a black belt, let’s go with a fist fight/martial arts fight scene. Metaphorically close your eyes and imagine one of the hand to hand fighting scenes in any of the Bourne movies. Those fights are gritty. The director didn’t make them Jackie Chan smooth. But they are awesome.
Go over it in your mind. What did your eye pick out?
Like I said, I’m a black belt, so during fight scenes I usually think things like, “Hey, I can totally do that move!” or “Holy crap, is that what happens when you do the leg sweep right?” or “How did they do that??? Go back!” My eye can follow the strikes better than people who have no training in the martial arts. I’m getting down to the nitty gritty level.
What about you? One person might only be paying attention to the scene because the Rock has his shirt off again. GRRRRrrr… And when he gets sliced across the chest the watcher screams, “No! Not the pecks!” Only then do they realize that the character may be in actual danger. Not just their perfect six-pack.
Another watcher’s interpretation may go like this, “Punches. Wow, that was a lot of punching. Whew, glad he ducked that frying pan. Nice dive over the table. More punching. Holy cow, did he just stab the bad guy through the arm with a chop stick?” It’s the “wow’ move that the watcher remembers.
Now think about writing an action scene. If your point of view character has some training, then they will pick up more details than not. If it is a car chase, does the character know a lot about engines, roads or traffic flow? If so, they will notice different details than the black belt will. What if the character cares more about his hair getting messed up than anything else? He won’t notice what punches or guns are being used, all he sees is potential disasters for his hair, and he will act accordingly.
A piano player watching a fist fight is literally going to process “In a blur of punches, the woman forced the man back. I cringed when the man doubled over, because even though I didn’t actually see it, I could tell by his groan that he wasn’t going to be able to stand up for a long time.”
Or a girlie girl; “The two men fought like brutes, with fists pounding one another’s faces. Blood from a broken tooth, propelled by spittle, flew at the girl, and she screamed and scrambled back from the splash zone. ‘Stop!’ she said, trying to brush the blood from her cheek.” She’d probably be crying too.
Unless your book is about fighting, it’s not a great idea to put in blow by blow details. Most people don’t care, and it will slow the pacing of your scene down. Keep most of an action sequence on a higher level, like a blur of punches and steel clashing against steel faster than I could follow. Because that is how most characters would process the information. Now when the bad guy has the good guy in the corner and is bringing the knife down for the final blow, slow it down. Build the tension and describe it in slow motion, so the reader can clearly see what is going on and how their hero is about to be skewered.
Action is fun to write, but it can be hard to pace. If you read a good action scene that keeps you going, stop and study it. Figure out why it worked. There are lots of other things that can be happening during action that will propel the scene forward as well. Dialogue is a good one. There are plenty more.
Mix it up. Make it fun, and don’t forget that you’re seeing the scene through your character’s eyes. How would they see it?