Action Does Not Equal Combat

I’ve finally got around to writing an action scene! And boy, was I surprised how easily I got distracted. I was shocked and appalled that my main character would begin to scheme or analyse something that took the narrative down a very different – albeit, interesting – route than expected.

Why did this happen? Well, let’s break it down. ‘Action sequences’ are, or were in my mind, scenes in which fighting happened. In the fantasy genre, as with many, the default is stuff fighting stuff. My MC (Sebastian) doesn’t do fights, by and large – not because he can’t, the book starts off with one – but because he prefers not to. He’s strongly against killing, morally and professionally, for starters and so most of his combat or fighting tactics are about running away. When I say ‘strongly against killing’ I don’t mean in the Batman way of ‘It’s okay, I didn’t kill them. I just left them in a alley or isolated location with severe injuries, including broken bones and possible organ failure’; Sebastian doesn’t even want to risk killing someone.

He begins the book doing something with a crime that is pretty undesirable with the expressed goal of – apart from getting paid – building up to killing someone to increase his skill set. Like an artist with a portfolio. A lot of his development is realising he hates what he did and that he should never have done it, and so shies strongly away from killing people. Discovering that he’s not the dark, immoral man he thought he was, if you will. So fight scenes end pretty quickly as he usually makes his escape.

Now, this is not to say he can’t handle himself in a fight. He just prefers to run away – the other problem with fights for Sebastian is that he’s quite attached to not being killed himself, and avoid violence is a good way to avoid being killed. Especially when your career is thievery. But I’ve built up in his character such a resistant and refusal to resort to violence that I need to find a good way of making him accept it’s okay sometimes, maybe. I’ve found a way to make the final dramatic showdown occur, but I also want to avoid having all the action sequences be flight scenes.

My mistake was excluding the stealth scenes from the category of ‘action sequences’; this is something Sebastian does very well. And if I show the reader how he does it rather than simply tell them something like ‘he snuck past the guards without difficulty, barely more than a shadow in the night as they bumbled about their patrol routes’ then I get myself a very good action sequence. The problem here is that, in about one to two thousand words, Sebastian is likely to cover a hundred or so yards and perhaps talk to an inconvenient character so he can excuse his presence some how.

This isn’t a problem for me. My first submission to my writing group, Mightier than the Sword, was a soon-to-be-available-on-the-istore short story called ‘The Pit’. In the first thousand or so words, which were praised highly as gripping and interesting, the lights go out and the main character shuffles forwards about twenty feet. I kid you not, thrilling stuff. Of course there’s a bit more storyworld building etc in there, but as an example of my writing it shines as a beacon of minimalist activity within exploratory prose. So I’m clearly okay with that kind of thing in my writing.

My issue is that I don’t want all the action sequences to be limited to this. I know I can write action sequences because in that same short story there’s some good action bits, although it’s mainly a psychological thriller. I just need to write myself a few scenes where Sebastian has to resort to violence, or can excuse it some how. Arguably I don’t need any of these scenes, but the pace change and focus they offer allows me to convincingly move between moods quite well, and allows supporting characters to demonstrate their abilities and moral counter-points to Sebastian.

I would break down the different ‘action sequences’ as below (just my opinion, not preaching this as Fiction-Gospel):

  • Fight Scene – Pretty straight forward, stuff fighting stuff. This would be a very direct and violent conflict in which most of the narrative focusing on physical description and movement.
  • Chase Scene – Again, fairly self explanatory; stuff chasing stuff. Direct and movement based, but with the possibility of a technical edge to it – gear shifts, drifts, sounds and sights of the environment the characters run though.
  • Battle Scene – A mixture of fight and chase, really. Not so focused on small combats, but on a whole battle instead. Sounds and sights would be included, along with some technical/tactical description. Unless one of the characters is directly involved I would avoid describing individuals or individual fights too closely.
  • Technical Scene – Much more focused on describing how a particular action or event unfolds; a sniper taking his shot, an assassin or hunter stalking his prey, a thief approaching and robbing a mark, two characters playing a game of chess. It becomes an action scene when the focus is on the activity rather than what’s going on around it, and only description relevant to that activity is used. Snow can crunch under foot, but should not fall like the icy tears of past lovers who realise their mistake in leaving (Main Character).

So for tonight I’m submitting a chase scene to Mightier than the Sword. My challenge to myself for next week will be finding a way to make a fight scene happen wherein the supporting characters, who are less morally restrained about killing than Seb, can demonstrate their abilities and proficiencies. Yes, this has to be done because they often are insulted or belittled by Seb, as the manuscript stands currently, for their more direct approach and lower moral compunction. Ergo, they tag along and get no demonstration of their own skills and ‘worth’ as party members or co-stars. Can’t have that, else I may accidentally brush into Mary Sue territory by making Sebastian the solution to every problem they find – bad writing, right there. Avoid doing that with your own main characters if you can!

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