Boom, Bam, Pow, we just listed some action sounds because that’s how you get peoples attention on the internet. Action scenes are always a useful thing to have in your arsenal of writing skills, as they are the scenes that get the readers heart racing and the moments that keep the pages turning. Even when writing books with little to no physical contact it can apply because often in a story of this type most of the tension derives from emotions, drama, and inner dialogue, which means that these, instead of action, are what drives the aforementioned page-turning and heart-beating. And though we won’t be talking much about the likes of emotional tension (ew) in today’s article, because of our interest in sticking to what was taught at Fan-X, we will be returning to that discussion on a later date, so keep tuned if you’re interested in that. Also, speaking of Fan-X…
What? Why are we here? I said speaking of Fan-X… and then we were going to transition into a paragraph on Fan-X. Did you not see the ellipses, Jerry?! Insufferable. Fine, from the top everybody.
Speaking of Fan-X…
AGHHH! (*Sound of a shed falling down on top of writers*)
Speaking of Fan-X…
On September 6th we got to go to Fan-X, Fall 2019 where we walked, listened, viewed, and, upon occasion, sat. But if you want to see a full article on our thoughts of the event then click here. At Fan-X we attended multiple panels and selected two out of the three we attended that we found most suited being transformed into articles. This article is based on the last panel we went to, and incidentally, it will be the first one going up on our site, this is because we felt this action scene panel was most appropriate for right after the Area 51 Raid, and hopefully you agree. The panel was entitled “Writing the Perfect Action Scene“, which you probably won’t remember and will instead refer to it as “That One Panel on Action“, a much more efficient name in our opinion. And in “That One Panel on Action“, there were 7 panelists, Brian Lee Durfee, Larry Corriea, Neo Edmund, Julie Frost, Frank Morin, Brian McClellan, and Jonathan Maberry (all relevant links at the bottom of the article). They were all very fun and had good advice to give, we enjoyed their panel mostly due to their personalities, and we would mark it as our favorite panel of the day. And now one more paragraph in the introductory statements and then the article will start we swear, we just need to list the credentials of each of our panelists.
Brian Lee Durfee is both a writer and an artist, which is pretty neat. He has created artwork of nature, animals, and fantasy stuffs. He is writing the fantasy series Five Warrior Angels which is currently on book 2 of the planned to be 5 book series. Larry Correia is a gun enthusiast and author of the Grimnoir Chronicles and the Monster Hunter Chronicles (and various other stuff, but we’re sticking to their most prominent stuff). Neo Edmund, child-actor turned writer, helps work on Power Rangers, and wrote the Alpha Huntress Chronicles. Julie Frost is the author of, by her own definition, werewolves and stuff. She has authored all of the following series: Pack Dynamics, Far Orbit, and Story Hack. Frank Morin is an avid outdoorsman and author of such series as the Petralist, and Facetaker. Brian McClellan is the author of The Powder Mage Trilogy and Gods of Blood and Powder. Fwooooh, that was a lot of people, and we’ll be sure to put all of their relevant links at the bottom of the article. Just a sec gotta catch mah breathe real quick… Wooh, ok, now we can start the article.
What To Remember in an Action Scene
In battle scenes, one issue you may stumble across is forgetting that there’s a character and reason behind it all. And so to counteract this you should read through your script and get rid of anything that doesn’t develop plot or characters. And sometimes that means getting rid of the battle entirely, but you must learn to let go, it is the curse of a writer.
Also, keep in mind the stakes of a battle, figuring out if you’re writing a deathmatch or one with smaller consequences can really help you understand what you should and shouldn’t be paying attention to. We suggest getting a piece of paper or online document and keeping track of every consequence you set up, both good and bad, and using it as a guide for what should be motivating and worrying a character in any given fight.
Another thing is to discover what hurts your characters the most, what are their weaknesses? This is important so you don’t end up accidentally contradicting yourself in a story which can really mess up a readers immersion. So if you write down that a character that has literal metal for skin, and then 50 pages later your character cuts through them with a plastic butter knife, then that’s an issue. This is also important for normal fights too, as some people have higher tolerances for pain, so a simple punch won’t knock them to the ground, and so by finding how much a character can endure you build up a better and more consistent storyline. And another thing to keep track of is injuries inflicted during a battle and their lasting effects, along with this you should research injuries and see how long it takes them to heal, and if it leaves any lasting impacts, such as paralysis. And one real quick tidbit about healing is that in a lot of stories that use healers are usually using them as a device to speed up the pacing and keep the story going, but if you remove these healers you can drive up stakes and suspense.
In a battle, you gotta keep some element of realism, as without it a reader never gets immersed and instead spends the whole time going, “What? Pfttt. That would never happen.” And so it’s your job as a writer to research and find what is most plausible in any situation. At this point, you may also be wondering “What about fantasy and sci-fi,” and these genres fall under similar limitations. Except in this case you have to build up what those limitations are, by creating enough background to get the reader to suspend their disbelief and accept whatever crazy stuff is going on. We have a full article on the suspension of disbelief, if you would like to check it out you can click here.
And finally the part we find the most fun to do is discovering the terrain of a fight. And it might not sound as fun as it is, and that’s because a) we’re friggin nerds and b) it’s planning out terrain, and that’s boring. But you know what’s not boring, finding what can and can’t be used as a weapon, got a box with a sharp corner, pick it up and throw it, got a block of cheese, pick it up and throw it, got a dog, pick it up and—you know what maybe not that one, but otherwise the things you can pick up and throw are boundless. But terrain also includes actual terrain like using a stone spire as a place to latch a hook and swing around it like a tetherball knocking everyone in the characters way on their ugly faces, or maybe it’s the bad guys yeeting your character against a wall. But what this terrain awareness entails is simply setting up the limitations of a battle, and then exploiting them to make a more vibrant and active scene that really engages a reader.
Talk To An Expert
One point that the panelists really tried to hammer in was that of seeking help from experts of any field that may pertain to the physical needs and/or tolls of a fight. Because without their help you’re creating a mess that may look fine to the inexperienced reader, but to the experts, that you should’ve been consulting, they know that no one just walks off the tearing off of an entire limb. And if they do see something like that happen they’re going to go whine about it on the internet, and who whines about people on the internet, honestly, what
buttheads. And sometimes there are things that you should know naturally that you don’t need an expert for, such as the limb example. It should be common knowledge that you’re not going to look stoically off into the distance your abs glistening in the white orb of the sky, while your whole arm lies on the ground next to you, no, what you’re going to be doing is laying on the floor crying, screaming, dying, and totally grossing out the love interest (not cool dude). And if you make one of these mistakes, honestly it’s on you. You can even use experts to help confirm the validity of a choreographed scene. I guess what we’re trying to say is… consort with the magical wizards of pain.
Keeping Your Reader in Mind
One of the most important aspects of a story is characterization, and without proper characterization you end up with a bad character that no one cares for. And this element of storytelling applies even to writing action scenes. As when someone is reading your epic battle scene they won’t know who to root for, they’ll know that your character is supposed to be the good guy, but they could care less about what happens to Ol’ Timmy. And so you really need to put some time and effort into your characters so that an action scene can actually hit a reader, making them hold their breath as they rush through your words to see what happens to their beloved.
One thing that can really mess up a reader is a confusing action scene. One telltale sign of a confusing action piece is when you, yourself, don’t understand what’s going on, and you wrote the thing you dingus. If you can’t tell what a character is doing at any given time then you should revise your papers so that you don’t end up making your readers lost and confused. But sometimes you know what’s happening in a scene because you wrote the whole thing, you dingus, and so you may need to approach someone with eyes who is capable of reading who is not you. And get them to give you honest feedback on the scene and if you should edit it (quick note if you see a confused look on their face as they read, it’s probably not a good sign).
One of the cardinal sins of being creative is being boring, and that is what you need to avoid in an action scene. But how can an action scene be boring it’s supposed to be inherently awesome. Well, sorry to break it to yuh, but it is, in fact, possible, and the main issue that causes boredom in action scenes is clunking up your action scene. You need to make sure that you don’t include stuff that isn’t interesting. And you may be wanting to include more, but you just need to keep in mind the pacing of a fight. If you want to go for more of an emotional battle with lot’s of inner dialogue you can add more prose and length to your fight, but if you want to go on a fast pace battle where your hero has little time to think then we suggest giving only quick bursts of detail and action, or cutting out as many proper nouns as possible, so that you can show how quick the scene is actually going.
The last thing that you should be mindful of is your audience. If you’re writing a children’s book filled with gore and violence then you should probably, first go see a therapist, and second, re-evaluate your book. You can’t write a gritty crime book with lot’s of blood and guts for kids, that just doesn’t make sense. So the panelists told us to think about what audience you were intending for your current WIP (work in progress) and then finding what level of violence would be acceptable there. This is so that you don’t end up destroying the mind of a young innocent child or making your reader queasy and barf up on the page.
We talked a little bit about this earlier, but let’s go a little bit more in-depth on the topic. The panelists, being very skilled in the ways of the fist, understood that not everyone takes pain in the same ways, especially when the pain is coming a new way. It’s almost like practice makes perfect, where a character gets repeatedly punched in the face, and each time it hurts less and less. So remember this simple equation, Experience=More/Less Tolerance.
Psychological and Physiological Effects of a Fight
During a fight, there are numerous thought processes and hormones that fill the body with one goal, “Keep this dude alive!” One of these hormones is known as adrenaline, adrenaline is the hormone released in hight stress moments, and it can have all kinds of strange effects on the body. It makes you stronger, makes you more focused, and shuts off all none important systems, it’s a pretty neat system, and we suggest reading up on some of the other effects so that you can give an accurate description in your novel.
Beating the Big Bad
There are two main ways of killing an antagonist in a story, and those are beating the villain down persistently, or using the all-powerful McGuffin. Of course, if you do use a McGuffin you will have to set it up beforehand so that it’s not like, “Oh wow, look at this incredibly convenient object that just fell into my hand. Oh my gosh, I think we can kill the bad guy with this.” But either way, you have to have a moment where the villain realizes that defeat is in the realm of possibility, and this should be a really strong moment and a turning point of the battle. Often it will increase the villain’s skills, and make the battle turn against your heroes endeavors, creating high amounts of tension that will drive your reader clear on to the end. Or the villain may stumble and falter as they realize that all of their work was for naught, allowing an opening for the hero to finally end the reign of terror.
One line that we have written down in our notes of the panel is “revision is magic,” and it’s true. We have gone through many a crappy article, and with the power of Anokiteh the Dark and revision, we were able to produce a semi-sorta-kinda-maybe-readable article for you. And the most general advice that can be given about editing can apply to action, you have to approach your work with a non-bias view and try to justify what is there, and if you can’t then it’s filler and should be erased. And to be specific to action scenes all you need to do is make sure your not confusing or boring, and make sure that everything is crystal clear to your reader as if a movie is playing in their head. See it’s easy, all you gotta do is get good scrub.
Emotional Side of a Fight
Fighting in a story should more purpose than just a cool action scene, often it works as an insight to a character’s mind and what they’re willing to do, what they want to do, and what they are capable of. And sometimes the best place to draw out where these emotions and wants are coming from is you. You probably have emotions that you can use, we do not, but we have found ways around that, but using real-life experiences and using them in your writing can be extremely beneficial, as little to no research is needed, as you already have all the info up in your noggin.
Also in a story like this writers can fall into the trap of giving a character only one mindset when it comes to a battle scene, and this just doesn’t make any sense. People are complex and change how they’re feeling all the time, especially when entering different circumstances. So using these opportunities to explore a character’s emotional depths, and by accessing these we can establish a closer connection between character and reader.
And the last bit of advice in this section is to stay true to a character. Don’t have some cowardly schmuck suddenly become strong and brave with no good reason, you need to use a character’s personality and try to channel it into what they may try to do in a fight.
Fan-X was fun, this panel was fun, and we learned a lot. We hope you did to and are able to apply this to your own writing. Thanks for reading, and have a nice time of existence
(Oh so many links!)
To visit the Fan-X website click here.
We found videotaping of the panel you can check out by clicking here. (Disclaimer: Some crude language may occur)