Action and Writing

So many elements go into writing. That’s one of the reasons it can be tough. Not only do writers have to juggle an interesting story, clever dialogue, engaging characters, and a riveting plot, but there’s also the writing itself. Of course, there are exceptions to everything. One element I find particularly interesting is action.

As in, the adrenaline pumping, blood rushing scenes of characters fighting and struggling for their life, for others, or for fun. Action has just as many branches as anything else. It can cover a lot of things. So, I want to focus on the actual process of writing an ‘action’ scene.

Hand-to-hand combat, special abilities, weaponry, martial arts–we’ve created countless avenues on how we express action as a whole. Writing can be a bit complicated with it because it’s not the same venue as say a movie.

Visual versus descriptive. Martial arts movies, Marvel movies, and the common action hero movies show us that they can tell a story in fight scenes. The intricate work of elbows, knees, grapples, a myriad of punches, or a man using a shield to stop a seemingly immortal assassin. This becomes easy–at least in my opinion–to show visually. You can show each punch landing, show each stance and bloody lip, even go as far as to show an entire scene of ten people deciding to take on the badass martial arts master.

With visual, you can show a lot more in a compact space. Writing is a different beast entirely. I’ve done exercises of trying to accurately describe an intricate fight scene from, say, a Jackie Chan movie. And, it doesn’t quite hold the same weight.

Movies have camera angles, music, sound effects, all these different elements that add to the action. Writing is a silent style. How do you get the same effect in typed words? You can and you can’t.

I love writing a good fight scene. But I have to be conscious every step of the way that, even though I see the 3-D image in my head, I can’t jot down a word for word translation. It gets bogged down. It gets wordy and stale. It gets boring. Because I don’t have the extra tools produced through visual. As a writer, we can want to paint a perfect image of what’s in our heads, but it just doesn’t work that way.

Go too in-depth with every foot placement and expression, every movement and fancy super ability, and you risk losing the reader. I’ve done it myself. Then, I spend hours and hours trying to trim down the fat, trying to get that pristine fight scene that naturally flows, has dialogue, and captures the reader in a short amount of time before continuing the story. Struggles are part of the process. Without struggle, the characters have nowhere to go. Inner struggle, in my opinion, is easy if you have a good grip on your characters.

But, inner struggle can also be expressed in an action scene. Those small details reveal a lot, just as much as if you showed them in a movie. I think the most important thing is the balance. Right a page of two people brawling and you have no development, no movement of the plot, and no interesting banter. Mix in those details without going overboard with the intricate visual details, so to speak. Too much dialogue in a fight, though, can easily slide the scene either way.

Again, it’s a balance. The balance can shift. If you have too much punchy, kicky stuff, the story can stall, and then you’re asking yourself, why do I even have this fight scene?

It’s a tough process. Because I want to write those beautiful, wordy fight scenes of characters flipping around using super strength and magical abilities. The question becomes how to incorporate those elements with everything else, especially in a compelling action sequence.

It’s been done. And the hope is that it becomes something easy for me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to write a story about a slow motion fight scene between two people who can summon animals made out of chlorine.

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