Taking the Time To Savour Your Action Scenes

gary provost five word sentencesHappy Father’s Day for yesterday to all the dads out there. We had a very laid back meeting on Saturday (it was moved from Sunday to Saturday just this month so we weren’t forcing people to chose between the meeting and Father’s Day). It reminded me of the meetings we used to have when I first started, only five or six of us showing up at the meetings, the discussions and tangents we went on while giving feedback — and no time limits!

Despite there being less pieces to critique and less people critiquing there were still several good bits of advice from the meeting that are applicable to more than just the pieces they were given to.

My favourite bit of advice from this month’s meeting is related to action scenes. Chances are you’ve heard the advice to use short, punchy sentences for impact. This is good advice, but like anything, can be taken to far.

In the extreme this can result in action scenes which feel too rushed, too dry, maybe even like just a laundry list of actions taken.

How to avoid these outcomes? Don’t forget to vary your sentence length. If you aren’t sure of what I’m saying, read the Gary Provost quote I’ve used as a picture for this post.

Another way to avoid it is to add some description in. Not too much, use it like pepper, not potatoes. So let’s look at a basic scene to start: (be warned, violence ahead)

“Jason threw the rock into the bushes on the other side of the agents. The agents turned to see what made the noise. Jason burst from the bushes. He leaped at the agent on the left, punching her hard in the face. Then Jason turned on the other agent, only to come face-to-face with the barrel of a beretta. That’s when Jason took on his wolf form and tore the man’s throat out.”

OK, not bad, but it was a bit dry, a bit rushed, and doesn’t really evoke any emotions. Now let’s try it with a few embellishments.

“Jason lobbed the rock over the agents heads so it landed in the bushes on the other side of them. The two agents spun, searching for what made the sound. Jason burst from the bushes, launching at the female agent. He wasn’t a fan of hitting women, but when that woman would shoot both him and his entire family just for being what they were he didn’t struggle with the decision so bad. He slammed his fist into her face hard enough to knock her flat on her back.

Jason turned on the other agent only to come face-to-face with the barrel of a beretta. Jason swallowed hard. He only had one option left: Be what he was. A growl rolled up, past the lump in his throat, and he felt the bizarre prickling sensation of fur sprouting out all over his body. At the same time he felt the stretching and expanding as he changed size and shape into his wolf form. He surged forward and slightly to the side, past the gun and straight at the agent’s throat.”

It’s not perfect, but now we’ve got some emotional connection to Jason. We can see what he’s feeling and thinking. That helps us care about the result of the action scene. We’ve also added some more lively descriptions of the action which make it feel less like reading a bland list of actions taken. Sure it’s twice as long, but it’s a more interesting read because we’ve taken the time to savour the action rather than just rushing through.

Though don’t forget not to over-embellish. Too many details and asides can bog down your reader, detracting from the pace and tension. As usual, moderation is key.

Action scenes can be tough to master, and the only way to master them is practice, so you better get started!

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About Kirstie Olley

Kirstie is the current President of Vision Writers, has had several short stories published since joining the group in 2012, has been a finalist in the Aurealis Awards and received multiple honourable mentions in the Writers Of The Future contest. She also blogs and has free fiction at her website http://www.storybookperfect.com/
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