I recently helped an author friend with some action scenes in her fantasy story. (It’s awesome, by the way. I can’t put it down and I hate fantasy. Check back for announcements about its release. You’ll love it. If she wasn’t so damned shy I’d be telling you about it and her right now.)
We’ve discussed writing better action scenes HERE:
At one point, the main character is surrounded in his car by an angry mob trying to kill him. Could be zombies, could be crazy tribesman from planet X. I’m not saying. Oh, and he’s been shot.
So he stomps the gas pedal and plows over them.
Awesome, right? Take that zombies! Or planet X-ians. (Not saying which.)
Well… not a lot of us have done that in real life, so she wanted to make sure it seemed realistic. Cos I know about driving over crowds of people or zombies or aliens.
As she thanked me for the assistance, she made a comment. “I feel like men are always better with the action. Why is that?”
First, thank you.
Second, I don’t know that they are.
Now, she’s an educated lady so she’s allowed to have her opinion, but don’t let that slow you down as an author – any of you, male or female.
Everybody else is always better at looking at our stuff and analyzing it, because we’re too close to it. We know what we mean when we say something, and sometimes we can’t see the mistake.
MORE on critiquing your own stories HERE
When it comes to action, there are plenty of ladies who’ve done a good job. Harry Potter has action, just to name one, or some of Agatha Christie’s books. But there are plenty of others. I think there have been more men writers who’ve written action-ey stuff, cos we guys tend to like that sort of thing, but since there are a lot of crappy action books and movies, it’s safe to say men write more crappy stuff, too.
In either case, GO WHERE YOU ARE COMFORTABLE going to get input. Find trusted sources to tell you the truth or help you because they genuinely want to help make the story better – as in friends, not people looking to get paid. Critique partners…
Why you should join a critique group HERE
Author friends are good sources, too. Or random strangers on the subway. Does this murder read realistic to you?
Okay, maybe not the subway – you may need to ride it again some day. But we all have resources we aren’t utilizing fully, such as our imaginations, and everyday things we do. Start there.
Use those first, because you’re comfortable with them. Then go where you are not comfortable going.
First, the comfortable stuff.
When I have to write an action scene, I first visualize it in my head. I think of it like I’ve just watched a movie and now I’m telling a friend about it, describing it. This happened, then this, then this… and then when I have the sequence down, which is pretty quick, I think about how I’d tell the friend, what I’d have emphasize, etc. Then you just go back and layer that over the sequence, and look at it for proper descriptions and word repetition.
Some comfortable examples…
Very few of us have driven over people in our cars. Therefore, you can think of anything that would give you a close approximation of the experience, and very few readers can say that’s not how it would work.
Bones are kinda like sticks. What does it sound like and feel like to drive over some really thick sticks? Go put a stack in your yard and try it. Live in the city? Go to a park. Do it. Now you know. As you drive over them, your hands and butt are getting vibrations from the tires. Make a note of that. When your main character has to run over zombies in the apocalypse, that description may come in handy. We’ve been in bumper cars at the fair. We’ve driven on bumpy roads in old cars. What did that feel like, smell like, look like? Add that in.
On Mythbusters they tell us that human bodies are just meat and bones, and we’ve cut up a chicken or a steak; what were the vibrations going through the serrated knife handle into our fingers as we cut the meat and hit tendons? Wouldn’t that serve as a nice description for slicing a victim’s throat?
Blood is 98 degrees; put a bowl of water into the microwave and get it to that temperature, then stick your hand in it. How does it feel? Go outside and slowly pour it through a funnel onto your belly, right over your clothes. (Come on, it’s water. Okay, change out of your nice clothes first, but at least wear jeans.) Where does the liquid go? Downward, sure; but also sideways a little. How does it spread? Does the warmth feel different against your body? Kinda feels like when you wet the bed as a child, right? What does that feel like? We can all probably associate a little.
Blood is thick, too, and kind of hard to wash off. It’s a little greasy. It gets sticky as it dries. And it stinks after just a day or so. (I’ve forgotten to take out the trash after steak night and then gone away for the weekend. Yuck.) It doesn’t look red at night, it looks black. What are easy ways to know that? Keep some of the packaging next time you make hamburgers and go outside with a flashlight. Take notes. (Vegetarian? Spend $4 on ground beef and give it to your sister or neighbor. They’re used to your wacky author antics by now. Four bucks is a cheap investment to learn about a key element of your writing.)
DON’T go to the butcher and ask for some blood. The police will visit your home shortly afterwards.
There are lots and lots of things we’ve done – completely legal things, mind you – that translate into completely horrifying things with just a little imagination. These are comfortable suggestions.
Later, we’ll get into some UNCOMFORTABLE suggestions. But only if you reply below and comment.
Some uncomfortable stuff and how to get to it, HERE
What are some other sensations (smells, sounds, whatever) that you’ve added to your stories?
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.