Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

kick-fighting-1528974

He extends his sword and then utters these words:

“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

The most memorable part of this fight scene are these words. But why?

To find the answer, I wanted to know more about writing effective fight and action scenes. My novel has several of these scenes, so I did some research to maximize their punch.

I found some great articles on the web and as I read them, I kept coming across some recurring themes.

  • Action scenes in books are different than action scenes in movies. A blow-by-blow fight between characters doesn’t come across as exciting on the page as it does on the screen. Describing every detail bores the reader.
  • Action scenes must further the plot. They should do this in both movies and books.
  • Action scenes must advance characterization. Why is the protagonist fighting? The fight, the action must relate to the character’s goals.
  • Action scenes should increase the suspense, the tension and up the odds. Writer John Rogers says, “… this is one of the reasons The Matrix still holds up, and the sequels are two of the most boring movies I have ever, ever, ever seen.” I have thought the same thing over and over since I saw those last two movies.
  • Action scenes should be unique and have interesting settings. One fight scene looks like another. An interesting setting can make it more memorable.

I also found some contradicting advice. Writer K.M. Weiland says:

“Make sure you use [dialogue] to your advantage by breaking up descriptions of action with story-advancing (and perhaps scintillatingly witty?) dialogue.”

While writer Alan Baxter says:

“There is no dialogue while fighting. It never goes like that. You don’t have time, although there may be a few sharp words but no conversation.

Remember Montoya’s famous piece of dialogue? It’s totally appropriate. It had been repeated throughout the story and when he finally finds his father’s actual killer, it’s thrilling. Also, he says it before the fight begins, so it serves as a war cry.

Both of the writers I just quoted suggest using short sentences and one or two word pieces of dialogue. Good advice for fight scenes.

Here are the excellent articles:

Writing exercises:

  • Comb through your story or novel and analyze each fight or action scene. Does it develop character? Does it advance the plot? Is dialogue used appropriately? Does it create suspense?
  • Find a favorite novel and go through it looking for action scenes. Do they work? Could you improve upon them?
  • Do more research and find more articles on writing action scenes. Do you see recurring advice? What other tips can you find for writing these scenes?

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

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Books on writing I read in 2015

Every year I try and read a couple of books on the writing craft. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but,  honestly, I love reading stuff on how to write fiction. Here is what I read in 2015:

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir
by Hank Quense
Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. What I want is something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over?

9780985780401_p0_v1_s192x300Structuring Your Novel
by K.M. Weiland
Weiland shows how to make the most of using the three-act structure as you write your novel. She has become sort of an online tutor/mentor to me because books like this one answer my questions about writing fiction.

51QhpMsap6L._UY250_Your Guide to Scrivener by Nicole Dionisio
Scrivener is a program to help writers organize their projects, both fiction and non-fiction. I can’t praise the software enough. There are dozens of books out there to show the writer how to use Scrivener, and I picked this by Nicole Dionisio. I admit I selected because it was the cheapest ebook on the subject I could find. But it’s all okay, because she did a great job and the book is short, so you can learn Scrivener quickly.

Quense tells how he writes his books and doesn’t apologize for it

Here is my review of Hank Quense’s Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir as it appears in Goodreads and Amazon:

I’ve read many books on writing fiction and after a while I see the same theories and best practices over and over. This is not necessarily a bad thing because a reminder is always helpful. However, when I come across some new best practices for writing a novel, I feel like I’m getting the most out of my time and money spent.

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300In his Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir, which is part of his Fiction Writing Series, Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. That’s what I want—something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs.  Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over? Quense’s recommendation to use Scrivener, his practice of mind-mapping, and the idea of a plot cloud gave me some new techniques to incorporate into my writing disciplines. Of course, he also touches on fiction elements I’ve read elsewhere, but his succinct style on concepts like  “character arc” proved to be a great review and motivator.

So if you are looking for some fresh ideas on writing fiction, I recommend this book. He includes lots of resources in the Appendices. The reader may or may not decide to use Quense’s ideas, especially if the person prefers to write without planning, but as he says about his mind-mapping technique, “Ultimately, you have to decide whether to use this method or not.”

I’m definitely going to check out his other books in the series.

Writing Exercise: Describe One Thing Ten Ways

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis writing exercise challenges the writer to describe something ten different ways. I chose Andre, a french bulldog whom I watch when his “mommy” and “daddy” are out-of-town. I have grown quite fond of him and he offers wondrous opportunities for description. Now, for my list, I decided to tackle description using the five senses and figurative language, but you can approach your ten ways differently.

  • sight: Andre’s face bore no expression; his jowls dangled, his teeth jutted up due to his under bite.
  • sound: When Andre snoozed in his chair, he gurgled and snorted in his sleeping state.
  • taste: When I lay down on the couch for a nap, Andre would situate himself by my head and lick the salty residual from my shaved skull.
  • touch: I stroked his legs, his back, his stomach and felt the solid muscle beneath his short fur.
  • smell: After a brisk walk, Andre entered the room and the odor of musk from his exertions would fill the air.
  • simile/metaphor: Throughout most of the day, Andre would curl up on the lounge chair and snore like my grandfather used to do when he rested his weary bones in the recliner.
  • hyperbole: The front part of him bulked up so much more broadly than the back part of him that when he walked down the sidewalk, his back paws didn’t reach the ground.
  • personification: Dressed in his tiny parka, complete with a fur-lined hood and cuffs, Andre marched like a tiny man through the snow.
  • onomatopoeia: Andre always slept in bed with me at night and filled the bedroom with snorts, grunts, sniffs and wheezes.
  • chronologically: Andre’s routine varied little: he jumped on top of me in bed if I slept past his morning walk time; he gulped a few morsels of food after the morning constitution; he napped until noon; a short lunch time walk; an afternoon nap; a walk after my supper; gulped a little food of his own for his evening meal; and finally, snuggled up to me as we sat on the couch either reading or watching television.

Here are some examples of it done better than I have:

Writing blog roundup: make trouble, right choices, wrong words, when writing, writer’s block

Articles on writing I’ve read lately:

I write like . . .

1262267_47588357I don’t take I Write Like  too seriously. This website–which analyses a person’s writing style and then matches it to a famous author–hangs out with all those websites in which a person can take a test to see if he is a narcissist or whether or not his physical symptoms indicate he has leprosy or some other disease. I Write Like is just for funsies.

Here are some of the authors I’ve been matched with over the last couple of years:

  • Isaac Asimov–I have only read one of Asimov’s books, Foundation. I’ve been told my writing is sparse like Hemingway’s or Asimov’s so this doesn’t surprise me. When I write a rough draft, I usually skimp on too much description and detail and focus on actions and dialogue. Then I go back and add some details in revising.
  • Cory Doctorow–Again, I have only read one of Doctorow’s books, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Doctorow is a science fiction author who offers his books to be downloaded for free from his website.
  • Dan Brown–Once again, only one book by this author have I read. During the big hype over his DaVinci’s Code, I read it out of curiosity. It was a fun read and one of those things not to be taken seriously like so many people did. One thing that bothered me about the book: the characters took pains to notice details that were clues to the mystery, yet they kept saying Eve in the book of Genesis ate an apple. The characters should have known that the fruit was never labeled an apple. Just my opinion.
  • Arthur C. Clarke–He is another famous science fiction writer, best know for his book, 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Side note: remember when the year 2001 seemed to be in the way distant future? Not any more, honey.) Well, anyway, I have only read one of his books, his second best known tome called Rendezvous with Rama. I enjoyed it, but remember thinking it would have made a better short story than short novel.

So, if you want to see what famous author you write like, have a sample of your prose ready to be copy and pasted. You may be surprised.

Writing blog roundup: great writing, create characters, writing exercises, write description, show don’t tell

1091650_78779836What I read this week in writing blogs: