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February 16th, 2005, 12:53 PM
When they asked me to be a moderator at SFFWorld, I sorta promised I'd try to create some threads for the Writing Forum. It's a promise I haven't really done much to keep, in part because you all come up with interesting subjects on your own. And action certainly isn't a new or original topic, but it's on my mind at the moment, as I'm trying to write a tricky fight scene. Soooo, here's what I propose:

Action. The stuff where things happen. Most sf/f/hor stories have a fair amount of action. That doesn't mean they can't be talky with dialogue or have contemplative philosophical exposition -- many of them do -- but action is one of the more beloved tools in the genres' arsenal. Even if it's not big, bouncy battle action, having a character brush his teeth or call his mother brings up certain narrative issues. And the likelihood of big bouncy battle action being sought in a genre story is fairly high.

So how do you handle action? How do you handle character point-of-view and expository devices in action scenes? How do you handle and write scenic description -- sensory information -- and what senses do you concentrate on? What do you do with non-scenic description, with abstract and emotional material? How do you handle dialogue, which is a form of action, but a separate category as it is not simply described but presented to the reader in whole or partial form? How do you handle both slow and fast action in a scene, pacing, suspense and atmosphere building? How do you handle action fragments worked into transitional and expository parts of narrative? How have you seen other authors you've learned from handle action? And so on, anything having to do with action, and yes, the definition is fairly loose.

Here's what I would like to see on this particular thread: that participants use the words "must," "should," "need" and "have to" only in reference to themselves, as in "I need to set it up this way or it doesn't work for me." That means not using these or similar words on someone else, as in "you should," "you must." If you do this, I won't stop you, but I will scold you mightily. I would like this to be writers talking about writing, about what they do in their writing regarding action and the problems they've encountered, not a bunch of teachers all trying to tell each other what to do. (Yes, even those of you who are teachers in your day jobs.) "Write it this way" is of limited usefulness. But odds are, if we talk about what we are doing, we will learn from each other just in the conversation. If this sounds plausible, it's a discussion I could certainly use right now while I figure out what attributes I want a particular monster to have. Based on your ability to come up with alien hunting acronyms, I'm sure it will be an interesting thread. :)

February 16th, 2005, 02:17 PM
Fight scenes... I was given some very good advice by a movie stunt coordinator. I was struggling to try and write a number of fight scenes of various size. From the grand battle to the personal encounter type.

He told me to watch as many films or re-enactors or people who study medieval sword work or hand to hand combat, in fact the type of fights I was planning to use, as I could. Watch the scenes/people closely. Jot down the physical actions, their facial expressions. How they reacted to things.

Then he said re-write the scene from your character’s POV, add his reactions over. Then he said read it, edit it down, taking out the excess movement. Keep the movements sharp. Give the reader a mental picture of what was going on with as small an image as you can.

I did it time and time again with various fight scenes, with lots of characters, pages and pages. Then I started combining them, forming my own fights from scratch.

He also impressed on me the “less in more” He was in the business of creating battles and styles of fighting for films, it was his job, in fact most here would have seen his work on the big screen ;)

Bit of one…

“Adda ride boy. You’re the lightest. Go! Tomos guard your brother’s back. Staffen, Esylt….” Rhys did not have to finish the words, for as he wheeled his wheezing pony his two older sons did the same. The young men who had worn the colours of Earth and Air rose in the stirrups, their swords slicing the snow-laden air.

As the three clansmen charged the horde that had spewed out of the house and barn the wind increased to a howling. The snow once falling softly was now driven. It became spears of biting cold that lacerated bodies, burning deep, as hot as ashes.

The ground shuddered, rolled like an old man tossing and seeking a flea in the bed. Rhys’ mount stumbled; its hooves caught in a thrown net. Men screamed, harsh and fearful. A mounted figure loomed out of the swirling veil, an axe raised, a face twisted with exertion.

Rhys lifted his blade with the ease of experience, readying to block the blow of the axe’s arching course. As his blade soared he realised that the two bladed axe was not aiming for him, but for the failing pony’s neck. Rhys tried in a heart’s beat to turn his sword. His wrist flicked; the muscles along his inner arm and chest screaming with the effort. Rhys felt the ligaments in his elbow joint snatch, as the blade began to obey his command; the sword was no longer soaring, but slicing down.

The axe bit deep into the tossing mane of the creature at the very second Rhys sword severed the hand that held it. The air in front of the Llafn Meistr exploded into a bloody gore-laced vista. The pony shrieked and corkscrewed sideways, its half entangled hooves lashing out, hammering the careering mount of the Mor-liedr.

Rhys’ world spun, as he fought to clear both feet from the stirrups. He clung to the saddle horn with the remains of the sliced reins in his hands. The pony lurched; half rearing in its death throws and dropped. Rhys felt the cold of the snow kiss his cheek. The breath whooshed from his abused lungs. The weight of the pony on Rhys’ leg felt for a few moments as light as a feather, then it crushed; setting alight a roaring pain. The agony raced through his groin, banishing the gripes in his belly numbing mind and bursting heart. Then all was blackness through which the soft whine of a hound fluttered.

February 16th, 2005, 02:32 PM
Now this should be an interesting thread... (I am allowed to use the "should" word there right? :p)

I find it quite easy to write combat from a first person perspective. I have been into martial arts for round about 15 years, I do a lot of weapon work and when coupled with the fact that I used to work as a Nurse in the third busiest Emergency department in the UK I have a lot of experience to draw on...

Of course this doesn't necessarily mean it works but I find that when I keep sentences short, and use simple but (anatomically) correct description the action seems to flow. I hate getting lost in action scenes and I find the excuse that fights are confusing simply that, an excuse. I have always found that in a fight, real or sparring, I tend to focus in on small details and simply lose the ability to see the rest of the world. So that is how I try to write it. Scared is ok, angry is ok, calm is ok, confused I don't think is.


February 16th, 2005, 02:50 PM
Here's an example of what I'm trying to say. It is a brief extract from a longer piece I abandoned a while ago. The actual moves are taken from Bujinkan but similar ones are found in most systems.

The big man stepped in, his sword swinging down at my neck. I swayed forward and caught his wrist with my right hand using his momentum to bring his elbow into range of my left. With a sharp blow I broke his arm and as he fell I snapped a kick to his throat. Taking the hilt from his hand I turned to face the other two.

“Who’s next?” I asked. They didn’t reply.

The man on the left charged in and hacked down onto my head, I stepped slightly to the right and mimicked his cut. My blade deflected his and buried itself in his head. I heard a noise behind me. I dropped to the floor leaving the sword in the dead man's skull. The third man’s blade missed me by inches, I caught one foot behind his leg and slammed the other into his knee. With a satisfying snap his leg folded backwards. I rolled to my feet and opened his throat with his own blade.

February 16th, 2005, 02:51 PM
Narrow focus from 1st POV is I believe a must... nothing worse than a writer describing a blow coming from an angle the character can't see... Feel, sense... maybe... shadow falling... noise of feet, grunt or hiss of breath alerting him, but telling everything about the blow. Or worse the hero in the middle of a hand to hand , knowing how the whole battle is going.... Huh??

Also senses, all the senses are wide open you are fighting for goodness sake... Find a lot of folk forget that... Getting too technical, a sin I have committed... I feel you shouldn't, don't throw words in just for the sake of sounding "good". There is always someone out there with more knowledge in arms and armour than you , just waiting to laugh at you.... ;)

February 16th, 2005, 02:54 PM
There is always someone out there with more knowledge in arms and armour than you , just waiting to laugh at you.... ;)

Oh I don't know... ;)

February 16th, 2005, 03:01 PM
Oh I don't know... ;)

I do... lol...

Anyway I am playing with pistols and sabres at the moment, trying to write a "Peterloo" type protest, crowd cut down by mounted troops. Totally different approach, fear, confusion, people trying to flee protect themselves and to add to it I have a carriage caught in the middle of it with a couple of my main characters in it... Doing my normal approach, break it down, try and see what my characters would see, how they would react, what would they do....


February 16th, 2005, 03:24 PM
Usually, I don't really like to read big battle scenes. I almost always end up lost and confused as to which armies march where, and which companies attack what. And space battles in three dimensions are even worse.

Yet right now I'm working on a fantasy short story featuring nothing much but one big battle scene, just to try my hand at that kind of writing. I have a pretty good idea of the "techniques" I'm going to use when writing it, despite only being baerly about one-third way through writing the first draft (approx. 1000 words).

Firstly, In an attempt to make this effort even mildly interesting, I'm focusing very thighly on my protagonist. I render all the action strictly from his POV.

Normally, I write my fiction using short, simple sentences without many "tricks". I still do that here. But in the heat of battle I try to shorten the sentences even more. I also drop (nearly) all descriptions. No gore, no sound of swishing blades ect. And then I keep this sort of passages very short in themselves. I'm no expert on the mechanics of sword fighting and don't find lengthty hack-n-slash episodes very interesting myself anyay. So, just a short paragraph or two to the heaviest action.

Interspersed between these paragraphs I have a few "islands" of calm where the protagonist, for one reason or another, finds himself on the edge of the battle and the actions slows down. I try to use these "islands" to give a broaded view of the battle and I let the descriptions creep back again, noting sounds and colors, fatigue and pain.

That, at least, is my strategy. If I can realise it remains to be seen.

February 16th, 2005, 04:10 PM
. I'm no expert on the mechanics of sword fighting and don't find lengthty hack-n-slash episodes very interesting myself anyay.

Pretty much all the systems that I have ever had any experience of focus almost entirely on quick kills. The Hollywood film industry has taken a series of myths regarding arms and armour created by people like Richard Burton (not the actor), Egerton Castle and Alfred Hutton and embedded them in modern culture. The problem of course is that most writers take commonly accepted beliefs such as these and work from them rather than commit to the research.

Swords are light, armour does not restrict your movement and fights are fast.

Oh, I'm not directing this at you nicba, it is just a personal peeve of mine as Holbrook will testify...

I think realism is important in fights, however well a fight is written, if it isn't workable then it will lose half its audience straight away imho.


February 16th, 2005, 10:10 PM
One thing that I find that works for me when it comes to fights, is to listen to how fights are described by others. I listen to the commentators who call a boxing match or some of those "extreme fighting" videos, or read what the sports writers have to say about a big fight in the paper.

Another trick I like is speeding things up, sometimes to the point where they're over before they begin. Then I fill in the necessary details and hope that my reader's imaginations can fill in the rest.

So that's fights. But all action isn't just fighting? I'm curious how others go about chase scenes. Personally I try to draw out the suspence with them if I can. Some of my best stuff comes before the characters actually interact, when they're hanging in that moment of "almost there."