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Action scenes:

Forum Villain
I thought that my achilles heel in writing was dialogue. No, no, that's not it. Quite the contrary in fact. I've discovered my real weakness: fight/action scenes. I learned this after trying to write my first one. And this crap is difficult.

Fellow tropers and writers, what constitutes a well-written action sequence? Discuss.
"Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person that doesn't get it."
 2 nrjxll, Thu, 22nd Mar '12 5:11:00 PM Relationship Status: Not war
Although what makes for good action scenes is, I think, a partially subjective issue, one thing I've found essential in writing them is spatial awareness - knowing where the various participants are, both in relation to the setting and each other.

 3 Night, Thu, 22nd Mar '12 6:29:07 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
It depends entirely on the sort of action in play. Different kinds run on different forms of internal dynamic. Hell, the characters involved and their approaches to it cause it to run on different dynamics.
"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 4 Te Chameleon, Thu, 22nd Mar '12 7:30:05 PM from Alberta, Canada
Irritable Reptilian
-*shrug*

I find that what works for me is visualizing the action clearly- I tend to think in pictures anyway, and being able to 'see' the action in my head as it unfolds translates well onto the page.

Shadowed Philosopher
I'm sure it's possible to go too far in the other direction, but something that always really bugs me is big, momentous events that are completely resolved in three lines. Make sure you describe things sufficiently. If you do it right, you can sort of evoke adrenalin bullet time effects that make it much more impressive.
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
 6 nrjxll, Thu, 22nd Mar '12 9:02:40 PM Relationship Status: Not war
I'm sure it's possible to go too far in the other direction

Believe me, it is.

 7 Loni Jay, Thu, 22nd Mar '12 9:16:11 PM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
I have trouble with this myself. I guess you have to strike a balance between 'describe each movement the character makes in such detail you get the impression the character is moving in slo-mo' and 'describe the movements haphazardly so the scene has no sense of flow'.

General advice I've read is to keep the sentences short and snappy without a great deal of description (so, no characters noticing the ornate patterns on an enemy's armour while they're trying to cave it in), and to avoid overusing words like 'suddenly'.
Be not afraid...
 8 feotakahari, Thu, 22nd Mar '12 11:21:40 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
I don't even try—I just write the characters preparing for battle, write a very quick description of what happens during the battle, and then write what happens after the battle. That said, the one author I've found who can pull off good fight scenes in a non-visual medium is RA Salvatore, so if I had to try, I'd imitate him.

(Also, a word of advice on fight scenes in visual media—don't make the images too "busy." I've read a lot of manga where, once the action started, I literally could not tell what the pictures were supposed to show—there was just too much happening at once, and all the shapes blurred together.)

Edit: I guess alethiophile's referring to the kind of stuff I write. In my defense, I don't think fights are very meaningful in and of themselves. Deaths are meaningful, so I focus attention on deaths, but since I don't often write epic brawls between multiple people, I can usually get away with writing a long death at the conclusion of the fight.

edited 22nd Mar '12 11:23:12 PM by feotakahari

That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 9 Night, Fri, 23rd Mar '12 12:25:09 AM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
[up]I think what atheo is trying to say that if you have to kill a character, resolving without the actual combat creates an impression of lack of competence on the character's part and a lack of care and caring (not the same thing) on the writer's part.

Victories without visible effort expended are cheapened, as defeats without visible struggle are magnified.

"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 10 nrjxll, Fri, 23rd Mar '12 12:47:48 AM Relationship Status: Not war
That said, the one author I've found who can pull off good fight scenes in a non-visual medium is RA Salvatore, so if I had to try, I'd imitate him.

Not to derail the thread into a referendum on one author, but while I generally like Salvatore, I've always felt that some of his fights (specifically, most one-on-one duels) are a "good" example of the kind of overly-detailed action scenes I mentioned above. They can be pretty vividly pictured, but there's so much detail that they wind up reading a lot slower then a fight scene should.

 11 Enemy Mayan, Fri, 23rd Mar '12 12:09:18 PM from A van down by the river
Research is just as important here as it is elsewhere. You don't want to invoke Martial Arts Do Not Work That Way or I Just Shot Marvin in the Face, so whatever type of unarmed combat you're writing about, look at pictures/videos of it or read about it from nonfiction books so that you at least in theory, if not in practice, actually know how to use that fighting style. Same rule goes for combat that does involve weapons... research proper and improper ways to handle knives, guns, bows, swords, gopher chucks, whatever.

For larger-scale battles, think of how each force is deployed and what their capabilities and limitations are. Research helps here, too... writing big, epic battles between armies requires some knowledge of tactics and logistics. It'd help to have a strategy in mind for each side before you start writing such a scene, too... if it's a siege, write it as a siege (which is much longer and slower — even boring, if you ask action guys like me who tend to write more Testosterone Poisoning-oriented stuff) and not a quick and bloody battle.

Another writer who does good action scenes that you can emulate is Matt Stover. Read Revenge of the Sith, it'll really help you with anything involving swordplay. In fact, in general the Star Wars Expanded Universe (which also includes two books by the aforementioned RA Salvatore) tends to provide fairly well-written action scenes (though most of them are vehicle-oriented in some way; the X-Wing Series can help you where that's concerned, if you're writing a lot of vehicular combat).

If you just want to not write action scenes at all, mimic the David Eddings style of having the main protagonists stand on a hill and banter while battle rages below them, then one of the people involved in the battle comes up and uses dialogue to tell them what happened. It's easier to write if action doesn't come naturally to you, but be forewarned that it can frustrate some readers who will view it as a Missed Moment of Awesome. Also, since you said dialogue is a weak point for you too, you should probably work on that if you want to use this technique. Well-written banter will get you enough haters (there's always someone who would prefer there be no banter at all); you don't want to be writing bad banter.

You should probably also watch and/or read a little bit of Gorn if you haven't already... it helps to know what's on the inside of the body so you can write battle damage more convincingly, and opening up a real person is presumably not a legal option in your area unless you can afford the time and money it would take to put yourself through medical school.

Hopefully some of this was helpful. I'm not sure what kind of action you were trying to write, so I tried to include as many different scenarios as I could.
Jesus saves. Gretzky steals, he scores!
 12 feotakahari, Fri, 23rd Mar '12 5:27:02 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
I just realized that I didn't mention what I'd consider to be a good fight scene in a visual medium. I'd say this handles it well—it's clear, it's short, and it's neither overly "cool" nor overly "edgy."
That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 13 Mr AHR, Fri, 23rd Mar '12 5:36:01 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Since I write comics and not this sort of thing, I'm just going to emphasize the part about knowing what the fuck you are talking about before you put it to paper

Otherwise someone somewhere will scream in pain when they read it.

Especially if it includes weapons. May you research well if you are using actual weapons in your fight scenes.

edited 23rd Mar '12 5:37:44 PM by MrAHR

Forum Villain
The current action scene I'm writing is actually a Chase Scene, the pursued being in a rover moving across nightmarishly rough terrain, the pursuer being an indigenous mountain giant that can move really quickly. So, unfortunately, as good as a lot of you guys' advice has been, most of it doesn't apply here. D:
"Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person that doesn't get it."
 15 Major Tom, Fri, 23rd Mar '12 5:42:16 PM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
^^ Alternatively, you better know your (completely) fictional weapons inside and out. Their limitations, their advantages, their specs and more. Say you build a future Expy of the M-16 in terms of role, you better know everything about it when you employ it.

edited 23rd Mar '12 5:42:31 PM by MajorTom

Endless Conflict: Every war ends in time, even supposedly this one.
 16 Loni Jay, Fri, 23rd Mar '12 5:45:19 PM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
@Enemy Mayan: I don't think 'gorn' is a good way to learn about what injuries look like. Fictional representations intended to be as revolting as possible usually don't lend themselves to accuracy. Surely it would be better to watch some documentaries on animal dissection, or about emergency rooms in hospitals. Or even something on slaughterhouses.

edited 23rd Mar '12 5:45:45 PM by LoniJay

Be not afraid...
 17 nrjxll, Fri, 23rd Mar '12 5:45:47 PM Relationship Status: Not war
[up][up]I definitely agree with this (though you don't need to mention all those details in the story, and probably shouldn't). Fight scenes of any sort are much easier if you know exactly what the combatants are capable of.

edited 23rd Mar '12 5:45:58 PM by nrjxll

 18 Mr AHR, Fri, 23rd Mar '12 5:46:43 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Major Tom: Damn straight. And that goes for any magical tech or stuff as well. Don't need to explain it in a block of text, just know it yourself.
Shadowed Philosopher
Indeed, that's quite important. I've got two files' worth of world-building exposition on Naruto which I just kind of stitched together, just so I can make fight scenes in my fanfic actually fit together and make sense (as opposed to the pretty-much "it works because the plot says so" approach taken in canon).

Having something previously mentioned as a capability or a logical consequence of previously mentioned abilities save the day is much more satisfying than just pulling things out of your hat.
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
 20 Major Tom, Sat, 24th Mar '12 6:12:37 AM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
^^ Verily. It's one thing to casually introduce specs on a piece of technology or a weapon (especially if you plan on world-building) but the middle of a mano-a-mano fight is not the place for it.

Usually the best place for spec introductions (and keep them brief!) is the calm before a fight or a lull between.

Also try to space out some of the specs over the course of the work if you repeatedly use said piece of technology or weapon. Who cares if a 22nd century M-16 Expy has an underbarrel surface to air missile launcher if you don't use it in the scene it's introduced?

edited 24th Mar '12 6:14:46 AM by MajorTom

Endless Conflict: Every war ends in time, even supposedly this one.
 21 Night, Sat, 24th Mar '12 8:12:15 AM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
Don't ever tell the full specs. Ever. At all.

I'm serious about this. You can describe terminal effects all you want. But never, ever ever ever, should you give the reader a complete understanding of how something works at any one point. This gives you wiggle room.
"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 22 Major Tom, Sat, 24th Mar '12 8:22:18 AM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
^ Not necessarily. Most of the time the eventual full reveal of specs is just a bonus. Infodumping absolutely everything spec-wise at the start is a no-no for most things.

However leaving yourself "wiggle room" is tempting grounds to make your technologies and weapons have the equivalent of New Powers as the Plot Demands. If the reader (and thus you the author) know the full extent of what something in a universe can and cannot do it works wonders to establishing really good consistency.
Endless Conflict: Every war ends in time, even supposedly this one.
 23 Night, Sat, 24th Mar '12 8:37:00 AM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
You are advocating that we sacrifice possibilities to tell stories in the name of consistency. We are already engaged in telling stories, so forgive me, but I think you've completely lost the plot on what it is you're trying to do.

You're not a god. You're an author. Your job is not to create a logical and detailed universe, but to give that impression to the reader.

Saying "you can't jump in a gravity well" but never specifying exactly how deep into it you have to be before you can't jump is good storytelling because it creates a consistent limitation while still allowing the author room to maneuver for purpose of dramatics.

Giving an exact number on how deep into the gravity well and how fast the ship goes is bad storytelling because it creates a situation where the situation is completely inflexible, and thus cannot respond to the author's need or lack thereof for a few extra/less seconds/minutes.

Rules are good.

Detailed rules are bad.
"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 24 Mr AHR, Sat, 24th Mar '12 8:37:42 AM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
...I think it really depends on the person. Plus, what does it matter, so long as the end result appears consistent and iron clad in logic?
 25 JHM, Sat, 24th Mar '12 9:12:11 AM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
I'm not really a fight scene person, in the way that I am not a sex scene person: What you think happened is generally going to be more satisfactory than what I am capable of writing.

Note, however, that there is a difference between describing an act of violence or describing a fight and writing a fight scene. I do the former two, especially the first, but the latter is something else. Once again, like the sex thing: I will describe the way someone breathes, or the way blood falls, but the acts themselves are best left up to the reader, methinks.
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