M. B. Weston’s Writing Diary: Writing Action 1 – 02/21/15

Action scenes are a nightmare to create. Yeah, I know, action is what I write. But filling my short stories and novels with action because that’s what I do doesn’t make writing it any easier.

Here are a few issues all of us need to look out for when writing action:
Stage Directions: Nothing says “Beware: Awkward Writing Trap” more than having three or more people fighting to the death in a scene. Oh, and add masks to a few of them or try to conceal identity in other ways? Nightmare. “The masked dude threw a punch at Billy Bob, while another masked dude grabbed Sarah Lou and tried to drag her to the truck. The third masked guy….” You get the picture. Making sure your party of people all get their moment in the action scene makes for lots of words and lots of drafts before it sounds smooth. (PS give them each different mask colors. It helps. :::wink wink:::)
Fighting Description: Unless you are writing hard sci-fi or for a specific audience who cares, no one really wants to read a detailed description of the execution of your beautiful fighting move. Don’t describe the exact method of grabbing the wrist, flipping it around, and forcing the twisted wrist against the elbow. The audience doesn’t care about your black belt in jujitsu. Say “He grabbed Sam’s arm, and with a twist had him in a wrist lock using Sam’s elbow for leverage.” You can even leave out the elbow part.
Sentence Structure: Forget everything you believe about what good writing looks like. Don’t weigh your words down with description, and lose the compound sentences. Short sentences. And unless it’s pain or the smell of blood, your hero doesn’t have time to admire the particular blue color of the sky.
The Laws of Physics I hate them, I tell you! Even if you are writing a fantasy or sci-fi story, you still have to obey them. And if you’re writing fantasy and have developed rules for your own magic world, you have to obey those too.
Continuity Issues: Literary authors have it great. They don’t have to keep track of a character’s weapons, electronics, injuries (prior and new), and clothing. Once your hero loses his sword, it’s gone. He either has to steal one or he’s up a creek. Unfortunately, action scenes usually end with changes to the above. Your hero isn’t getting out of a fight without damage, and in long strings of action scenes, he’s piling damage on top of damage. His weapons are degrading, he’s losing ammo, and his clothes are either dirty, wet, gone, or bloody. Keeping track of all of that is crazy.

The only solution to these are 1) editing and 2) getting someone else to edit as well. You aren’t going to catch everything. I had a character leave a knife in the basement and then use the same knife in the next scene. Someone else caught it for me. Get help.

Here are a few issues I ran into last night, and I didn’t even write the fighting parts. (I saved those for later when I know more about where I’m going.):
–Crap. Iron doesn’t work on zombies. They aren’t magic. Michael needs another weapon.
–Dang it! Stupid Michael’s cell phone went into the river with him three hours ago, and it’s broken. Dude has no cell phone…
–Does Louisiana have laws against carrying concealed machetes? Even if they did, would Michael obey them?
–Is Michael going to fit in that mirror? (It didn’t matter because I ended up closing the portal before he could jump through…)
–Michael needs a flashlight. Wait! He has a flashlight app in his cell phone. Crap! Wait, the dude’s gotta carry a flashlight somewhere. Yeah, but he fell in the friggin river! Crap! “Michael felt his way through the dark…”
–Dang it! His stupid cell phone is still broken. How do they get a ride back into town once he rescues Claire?

The cellphone/electronic issue is bigger than it seems at first glance. Michael is a wizard who is not allowed to use magic. It only makes sense that he would learn to love and rely on technology that do things magic does as well.

Example: Gandalf was mighty good in a pinch because he could create fire out of nothing and turn on lights in the goblin cave. (And that whole wisdom thing comes in handy, too.) Gandalf’s usefulness–except for the wisdom–could often have been replaced with a mag light and a Bic lighter.

Anyway, I was the idiot who decided dunk Michael in the river for a few hours, and now I’m having to write around it. It will make for a better story, but it’s a bear to wade through…

What about you? How have you struggled with action scenes? How have you fixed it?


About M. B. Weston

M. B. Weston is an award-winning fantasy, pulp, young adult, steampunk, and paranormal author. Her attention to procedure and detail gives her works an authentic gritty, military feel that takes an adventure tale to the level of a true page-turner. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and Alabama Phoenix Festival. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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