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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

POW! Making an impact with action scenes.


...okay, not really. Readers, loyal readers, I am back! Thank you for your patience. Death Cold 2014 turned into Horror Sinus Infection 2014 last week and I still can't bend over with my head feeling like it's going to explode from the pressure -- so that's been fun. But I'm well enough to be at work, and I'm well enough to write!

And what a treat I have for you today! I've talked a bit before about how to make more interesting descriptive passages -- and sure, descriptions are kind of important. They're the seasoning in you story burger. The cherry on your plot sundae. But today we're going to talk about the good stuff: the action scenes!

Let me be clear about one thing before we get into this, though: on this topic in particular, I am definitely not writing to you as an expert. Rather, I'm writing as an active student who is constantly trying to learn how to get out of my main character's head and make the action happen.

The thing is, my writing style and narrative voice tends more towards the character-driven story. I get caught up in how characters are thinking and feeling, acting and reacting, their relationships and fears and faults and successes, and not so much the actual plot stuff.

But I don't just get caught up in it. I get bogged down by it. Whether a story is character-driven or plot-driven, the truth is that there needs to be a balance of both. Not a 50/50 balance, necessarily, but your characters need plot events to react to, and your plot events need some characters to affect.

Since the action scene are important, how can we strive to make them better?

Here are a few tips and tricks I've picked up over the years of my struggle to be better (and my years as a graphic novel fanatic):

How to Write Better Action Scenes

  1. Don't be afraid of an onomatopoeia. Don't be afraid to use sound words -- you don't have to go all Adam West Batman. It's not all wham, pow and kablooey. Think like a poet. Use words that have sounds in them that sound like what happening. Example: You character is sneaking around through the woods. What kind of noise does sneaking make to you? To me, it's the rustling sound of the wind in the leaves, so a lot of "s"s and "sh"s. "Garrett stepped softly through the forest, shuffling through the hushed susurrus of the trees."
  2. Vary your sentence structure. This is my favorite technique to read and to write. When you character is caught up in an explosive action sequence, make the sentences length reflect the action. Use short sentences to punctuate big and sudden moments, use long breathless sentences to convey when everything is moving quickly. "Thunk. A knife quivered in the tree near her head. Fran's heart raced, her mind stopped, she was nothing but blood and speed as she ran, her feet pounding into the ground, her teeth rattling against themselves so hard they might shatter. A scream. Somebody was hurt, but she couldn't stop, she couldn't turn around or it would be her next. The sound echoed in her ears long after it had been silenced, morphing until it wasn't a scream, it wasn't even human, it was the shriek of her heart pumping into her veins faster, her lungs begging for air, her legs failing, and the wind whooshing past her ears as she fell."
  3. Combine your awesome descriptive powers with your action scenes! Not only is your descriptive writing good writing, but bonus: using hyper-detailed descriptions in the midst of action mimics the effects of adrenaline. Anyone who's experience an adrenline rush knows how things get sharper, how the little details seem more prevalent and important. It's your body's way of trying to keep you alive, and, Writers, you ought to thank you body for it because it makes your job so much more interesting! Looking for an example? Suzanne Collins is good at adrenaline. "Rosy streak are breaking through in the east. I can't afford to wait any longer. Compared to the agony of last night's climb, this one is a cinch. At the tree limb that holds the nest, I position the knife in the groove and I'm about to draw the teeth across the wood when I see something moving. There, on the nest. The bright gold gleam of a tracker jacker lazily making its way across the papery gray surface." (Hunger Games)

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