The 2014 yeah write summer series continues! Check out Christine’s weekly kickoff post to find everything you need to know about the guidelines, format, and lounges for the last week of our summer series. You’ll find the grid and posting guidelines at the bottom of this post. Don’t forget to drop by the yeah write lounges and the coffeehouse and introduce yourself. They are open 24-7 and we would love to see you. In the meantime, our weekly summer series writing topics continue. Today’s topic? Action scenes.
Michael Bay is not your friend
Michael Bay could easily be labeled the King of Action Film Making. His scenes are mind-boggling and keep you on the edge of your seat. Unfortunately, there is one thing that Bay has yet to figure out:
When to stop.
If you’ve seen any of the Transformers films, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The first few minutes of the final battle is epic in each film. Then, the twelfth minute rolls around and stupid Megatron just doesn’t seem to know when to wave the white flag. Your head starts to hurt from the explosions. By the time the twentieth minute comes, you’re worried you will suddenly erupt in a grand mal seizure. WILL IT EVER END?!
So let’s learn from Michael Bay’s mistakes and talk about action scenes in your writing.
When do you need action?
Action scenes come in all forms. They don’t have to entail a massive alien invasion of planet Zeptu. It can be a small argument with a friend. It can be a knockdown, drag out fight with a significant other. A car accident. A bank robbery. Big or small, an action scene should only be included if it does one simple thing. It must propel your plot forward.
You should never throw an action scene into your story just for the hell of it. It will bog your story down and you will lose your reader’s interest faster than Shia LeBeouf lost his A-list status. If the action sequence you want to write is required to further your plot and character, then you’re on the right track.
Here’s a quick tip: Are you unsure whether or not you need that action scene? Go ahead and write it. Once you’re finished, remove it and read your story. Does it make perfect sense without the action scene? If you wouldn’t even notice that it’s gone, then you don’t need it. Cut! Cut! Cut!
I’ve seen many writers who believe they need action in their writing to make it interesting. That’s simply not true. Action, just like any other literary device, has its own, special place in your writing. It’s up to you to figure out where that is.
You + Research = Best Friends Forever
I’m not going to say who it is, but there may be an editor at yeah write who knows her birds better than I know a cheap bottle of red wine. Birds tend to weave their way into our prompts fairly often, especially at the speakeasy. Trust me, you do not want this particular editor reading your post if you failed to properly research your birds. It takes just a few minutes to check Wikipedia. So why didn’t you?
Whether you’re writing a 7-part historical fiction series or a 750-word speakeasy post, research needs to be a priority. I recall writing a post for the speakeasy a few months ago that centered on a man dying in a warzone. I never named the war or the time period but I still wanted to make sure the pieces added up to a perfect whole. The media prompt was a song so I first researched when it originally came out. Any war that came before that wouldn’t do for the piece. Once I figured out the war, I researched the terrain, the weather, and finally, the wildlife. Guess what? There were birds flying above my main character. My last bit of research was to make sure the birds I mentioned were actually in that area of the world.
It took me approximately five minutes to check these facts. Were any of these details spelled out explicitly in my post? No. But every writer should hold themselves accountable to get their facts straight. I refuse to lose a reader’s interest because of shoddy research. And you should as well.
Use all your senses
Show, don’t tell. I assume you’ve all heard that, right? We do this by using dialogue, description, and specifics (avoid the vague-plague). Another way to show your readers instead of telling them is to use sensory language.
In order to accomplish this, try this exercise:
For your next action scene, list out each sense: touch, sight, taste, smell, and hearing. Then describe what your character is experiencing during the scene using only those senses. Is he surrounded by gunfire? Great! Tell me what he hears and smells. When the bullet grazes his shoulder, what does it feel like? If you can’t answer these questions, then I can guarantee you’re just leading your reader through a boring list of actions.
Map it out
When you first think of including an action scene, do yourself a favor and draw before you write. Action scenes can get very confusing, especially when you have more than a few characters involved. You’ll write this great fight scene with four guys until you realize halfway through that you forgot about the fifth guy biting his nails in the corner because he’s got nothing to do!
Know your distances! Unless your protagonist is Adrian Peterson, he’s not going to cross that 100-yard distance in just a few seconds.
You don’t have to be the next Monet to use this technique to its fullest. My scene maps tend to be squiggly lines and stick figures, but it works.
Now it’s time to write!
Once you’ve gone through the above exercises, you’ll finally be ready to write that action scene! I know. It seems like a lot of work. But guess what? Writing a great action scene is a lot of work. There are many different techniques to perfect an action sequence. These just happen to be the ones that work for me. Find the ones that work for you. After some practice, you’ll find your action scenes will begin to fit seamlessly into your writing. Good luck!
This week’s optional prompt is: have you ever seen the rain?
Go ahead and answer that question in a gargleblaster, incorporate it in your longer fiction, or use it as inspiration for your nonfiction. You can also ignore it completely if you’ve already got a great idea! Below you’ll find the badge for the summer supergrid #175. Copy the code under the badge and paste it into the html or text view of your blog editor. Having trouble? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for tech support.
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