Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Adding a Little Action to Your Adventure

When you're writing adventure, you almost always have action scenes.  What would be the fun of a quest if your knight never gets to slay his dragon?

But how do you make that dragon-slaying exciting?  I'm assuming that we've all heard our favorite fairy tale retold by a preschooler, and, let me tell you, much of the suspense and excitement is GONE in that version (except for in the mind of the little one).

There are a couple of really great articles on writing action, but so far, "Writing Action Scenes" is the best I've read.

In addition to Mice's (the author's) concerns about description, believability/logistics, and point-of-view, here are a couple of other considerations that I have seen used in excellent action scenes.

And before I get into these, let me admit right off the bat that I am action-deficient.  Something about action scenes generally makes me lose my way and get lost.  So the considerations below are strategies which seem to keep even the most hopeless action followers in the moment.

And they all boil down to this:  To enable the action to move quickly in your action scene, introduce the reader to everything important BEFORE you get to there.  Excellent examples of this strategy are found in J.K. Rowling and in Rick Riordan.

  1. Make sure we know where we are.

    Often, in action scenes, the surroundings--what is hidden and what is not, who is where, what props/weapons are at hand, etc.--are very important.  It may be too much to take in at once.  Many of the best authors either build in a slow scene just prior to the action to allow us to take it all in before it becomes important, or they may gradually show the place throughout the story so that we know what's what when we get there.
  2. Make sure we know everything important about what we're fighting with.

    If that gun only has six bullets, then we need to have seen that problem before the final fight so that after that fifth shot, we all know what's riding on the accuracy of the final try. 
  3. Make sure we know who's fighting and their strengths and limitations.

    Come on, we all know what happens when Velma loses her glasses and we all know that Shaggy and Scooby are going to bug out of there when the monster shows.  We're always waiting for the dawn in vampire pictures, and everybody knows the guy in the black hat is in for it.  When we know either our specific character's weaknesses (Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby) or the weakness of a general class of characters (vampires and cowboys), then it allows us to just focus on the scene and not the justification for the characters' actions because we already know their motivation.

1 comment:

  1. My accomplished friend, Peadar Callaghan, left me this comment regarding this post on Google+ on June 20, 2012:

    "add a moral quandary. Maybe slaying the dragon will effect the ecosystem in such away that the village will be threatened. Maybe the dragon has been acting in a specific way because its protecting the innocent.


    as to making the sequence exciting keep it descriptive and make sure your hero gets hurt. the audience wants to identify with the hero as a human."

    This is terrific advice, and something that we can remember even as we are writing memoir. Remember that our adventures bring about changes of attitude. These need to be brought to bear in the most active scenes of your adventure--and you probably will be conflicted over them (e.g., The dragon is a living creature too! Must I slay him?). We need to see that.

    Similarly, most of our "quests" come at a price. You may be physically hurt or injured in some other way--a loss of esteem, emotional loss, etc. But the important change that took place usually costs us something, and that cost reflects its value in part and needs to be described.

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