Let’s take a look at an integral part of many stories these days. Your story may not have it, but I’m willing to bet that it will. Who can resist playing with swords or firing spells in a fantasy novel?
That’s right. Today we’re talking about action!
This is the part of writing that can really stump a lot of people. It takes careful coordination of a handful, or more, characters to make a really believable scene. That coordination often involves a lot of planning and confusion on the part of the writer.
This is the prep work stage. Here, you will shine a light on everything that is going to happen during the scene, not for the reader, but for yourself. Ask yourself a few questions.
- Who: Who do you plan on bringing to this party? What is their reason for being there? Whoever you bring to the fight has to have a pretty solid reason for being there. Of course, your protagonist (or one of many) is going to be there. They’re fighting for something, have been since the beginning. Others brought into the fight might make tragic deaths on the page, face a character arc, or supply a quick getaway.
- Where: The fight has to happen somewhere. Right? Is the fight happening on a mountain cliff that someone could fall off? Or, is it set in your protagonist’s house where every broken piece of furniture means money they already can’t afford to spare? Setting plays a large part in how it not only affects the fight, but affects the characters and how they treat it.
- Why: What are they fighting over? Is it the villain’s plan to just plain kill the protagonist? Or, are they using the protagonist to send a bloody message? The protagonist could simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time, could be paid to protect someone, could have offended the wrong person, or could have stuck their nose in some dark dealings.
- How: What weapons are they using? Are people throwing fireballs or swinging swords? Do they have claws and teeth or do they have guns? Figure out who has what weapon and when, as they can get thrown around if they aren’t innate. Make sure you keep track because it can get lost on the page. Make yourself a cheat sheet.
- What: How does this end? What does the protagonist stand to lose? Make it apparent and raise the stakes appropriately. If they lose, show the fallout. If they win, there are still bound to be some draw backs. Fights never end well.
That might seem like a lot. Break it down into notes. I like a messy approach, but you might want to make thought bubbles and connect characters to weapons, motives, and stakes. You could also make a physical map, showing where each person stands and how they might move through the fight.
You have an idea of what is going to happen, who is going to be there, and how it’s going to end. Now, you need to work out the mechanics of it so that it seems real. Go ahead and hop on over to Youtube. Watch some people fight using weapons your characters might have or martial arts they might know.
The best way to figure out how they move is to engage in the fight yourself. You could always run down and sign up for self defense classes. I keep telling myself to do so. Another thing you could do is ask someone you trust to act it out with you. I can ask my husband to imitate an action in my story to see if I have it playing out correctly, or I can be weird and act it out by myself.
Don’t judge. It works.
Remember that the human body isn’t impervious. Fights take a lot of energy. They usually end quickly or movements become sloppy. Adrenaline doesn’t help your protagonist. It’s making their movements shaky. A leap from a high place is going to jack up their ankles if they don’t roll with it, and even that hurts.
Look up the weapons you plan on using. Even swords have some oddities about them that we don’t really thing about. They aren’t anything like a kitchen knife. Dude, Pinterest and Tumblr have a bevy of things to help you out. All I did on Pinterest is type Writing action into the search bar and grabbed some great pointers on the physical aspects.
Now is when you can finally set about writing that fight scene. The best thing to remember while writing the scene itself is to write in short sentences. The reader’s eyes move faster. They digest the quick movements. The scene unfolds in their head.
The action moves in their head as fast as it does on the page.
See what I did there? Pace your words so that the sentence structure imitates the pace of the fight. Motions are swift and jerky. Breathing comes short. Everything hangs in the balance.
Don’t worry about what it looks like when you’re getting it on the page the very first time. First drafts are always shitty. There’s no getting around it. Later on, sift through it for the gold, edit your sentence length, and make sure everyone is in their places.
Now, look what you have. It’s a full fledged fighting scene! Well, almost.
Give it to someone to read. Make sure those words make sense to a reader. You’re so familiar with them at this point that they haunt your dreams. What you have on the page might not always be clear to someone else. Once you have that step out of the way and you took their concerns into account (you don’t always have to listen to them!), then you got yourself a fight.