The following has been respectfully shanghaied from my old blog. If you saw the Monday Meditations, you know that action scenes have been on my mind in a big way. They’re some of the difficult writing I’ve ever had to do in my life.
“Ever since I got the idea for The Kingdom Trilogy, I knew there were going to be swordfights. And chases, and monsters, and fire, and jumps, and battle-cries, and everything that made Star Wars, Braveheart, and Indiana Jones beloved by audiences around the world.
Well, Indy makes it look easy. If writing action sequences is not the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do, it’s in the top three. Movies have a natural advantage over me. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what kind of words you need when that picture involves a man kung-fu fighting a gang of ninjas and leaping out of an exploding submarine.
Problem is, I can only write so much. When I throw Arman off a stone tower, I only have one terse paragraph to put you in the scene. I want you to be excited. I want you to squeal as Arman plummets to certain death. Every single word has to draw you in, because when things happen this quickly, one confusing word or phrase will halt the flow.”
It’s been a few months since I wrote this. Now I want to add something. Action scenes are like writing poetry. Every phrases must burst with imagery. In this case, I must give an impression of the human body in motion, doing daring deeds at the pace of a sprinter. Connotation is vitally important. The word “dash” conveys a much more frenetic picture than the word “sprint”.
Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a paragraph from the rough draft of The Kingdom: The Quest, from when I throw Arman off that stone tower…
“His stomach smashed into his gullet as the swiftly growing earth pulled him down with a primal, roaring speed; a deathly whooshing wind reverberated through and past his ears, as he scrambled and looked about for the rope. Blurs of colours flashed down all about him: black, winds-softened cliff, grey, air-rippled tower, and a curiously brown line traveling with him that he recognized as the rope and grabbed onto just in time for an excruciating jolt to strain his suddenly aching arms and shoulders. The rope had straightened, and before he could comprehend with his eyes it had happened, he was already swinging downward at a soaringly swift rate, yelling incoherently to battle the surging wind, and clinging onto the palm-stinging fibers as he sailed rapidly over the ground, flying with a wave of exhilaration towards the tower.”
I bet you didn’t even make it through two sentences of that. Isn’t that clunky? Isn’t that boring? I’ve revised that chapter several times since. Here’s how it looks right now…
They dove straight to the earth. Arman was dimly aware of Vertaen tossing the hook, but what consumed him most was speed, and terror. Blurs of colors were all around him. Black cliff, grey tower, green earth, yellow lights. The ground swelled unnaturally fast. Hundreds of howls tore at his ears, not the least of which was the roar of the wind.
Do you see the difference? I’ll be tinkering with that passage even more in order, because even as I copied it down I recognized places where I can delete a word, or use a different word in order to increase pace and urgency. The faster, the better.
Enough about me. Have you ever written action scenes before? What works for you? What are your favorite examples in other writers? Am I spouting nonsense right now? Be a human being. Tell what you think.