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How much action is too much action?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Nameback, May 15, 2013.

  1. Nameback

    Nameback Troubadour

    So I'm a little worried that I have too many action/battle scenes in my WIP. I think it's an artifact of the beginning of the book, which sets up a lot of conflicts, and will decrease over the mid section of the book (before ramping up near the climax, of course).

    I have 6 chapters so far. Here is the breakdown:

    Chapter 1: 5376 words. 1910 words of battle. 35.5% battle. 2 dead, 0 injured.
    Chapter 2: 4306 words. 0 words of battle. 0% battle. 0 dead, 0 injured.
    Chapter 3: 2048 words. 1369 words of battle. 66.8% battle. 1 dead, 0 injured.
    Chapter 4: 4656 words. 463 words of battle. 9.9% battle. 15+ dead, 3 injured.
    Chapter 5: 6050 words. 1128 words of battle. 18.6% battle. 30+ dead, 40+ injured
    Chapter 6: 3289 words. 0 words of battle. 0% battle. 0 dead, 0 injured.

    Total: 25725 words. 4870 words of battle. 18.9% battle. 48+ dead. 43+ injured. Avg 8+ deaths per chapter, 7.2+ injured.

    This feels like a lot to me. My battle scenes are clear and readable, according to those who have read them, and I think they're all necessary to the plot so far. I also think that the imagery is very cool. So I don't want to cut any of the scenes. What do you guys think? Should I bite the bullet and do some trimming?
  2. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    Depends on how they advance the story, I'd say.
  3. advait98

    advait98 Sage

    I agree. It's not so easy so as to just proclaim that these battle scenes are too much and need trimming. There are different ways to progress a story. Does it always have to be done in a quiet atmosphere?

    Is/Are your character/s developing? Yes? Then you're one step good. Are the battles natural and not contrived? Yes? You're another step good. As long as the story progresses as it should without any irrational aspects, you're good.

    If you're still not sure, maybe you could give some context to clarify the situation?
    Nameback likes this.
  4. AnnaBlixt

    AnnaBlixt Minstrel

    You can't quantify this. I mean, if you take the number of people who die in Lord of the Rings and divide it by the number of chapters, I'm sure that Tolkien kills thousands of people per chapter. But most of the dead are nameless NPCs that we don't give a darn about. Like, I don't care when orch number #2375 dies, or when Rohan Rider numer #765 dies. These guys don't even need a full sentance to describe their deaths. On the other hand, Boromir is a character of relevance and his death needs to be handled with care.

    If you look at some failed examples, I would say that Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay are very good bad examples. In Deathly Hallows, characters that we care about are being killed off left and right without any time for the reader to absorb what is happening. It is too fast and it gives the action a cheap feel. In Mockingjay, characters die so fast that you'll miss it if you don't take notes. I was reading the book and suddenly there was a casual reference to a guy who was dead, and I was like... ooookay, when the f* did he die? Then I scrolled back and found the total of 5 words that desribe his death. Too fast.

    Death can be fast and still be good (GRR Martin excels at this!) but I think that you need an aftermath the is appropriate to the importance of the character. If the person who dies is the main characters love, then you need more words than if the person who dies is his brother's cousin's former roommate.

    You can kill 10 000 people in each chapter if you like - if they are nameless NPCs. ;-)
    Nameback likes this.
  5. Ddruid

    Ddruid Minstrel

    I don't think you should bite the bullet over this (whatever that means). You said it yourself. According to others, the battles are clear and readable. And as long as they actually move the plot and the story forward, i.e, it is not simply action for the sake of action, I'm pretty sure readers won't have a problem. You never know, they might actually prefer it.

    I agree with advait that you might not always need a quiet or passive atmosphere to progress a story. Though if you noticed, while plot is always advanced in action scenes, the development of the characters themselves is usually shown in the more quiet scenes. By quiet I mean no action, but there can still be a lot of tension and conflict. These scenes are when the characters will stop running or fighting and actually think and talk and interact with each other. That's usually when you get to know them.

    But has anybody wondered how someone could go about showing character development through action scenes. How would you show a character's core values and motivation and the way they change through his physical actions. Actions do speak louder than words after all. Does anybody know of an example of this being done?

    Anyways Nameback, ignore those above paragraphs if you want. Just some crazy ramblings of my mind. You write the story the way you want to. If the action fits it, if the battle are tight and clear and each scene serves a purpose besides sheer bloody entertainment (though that's always a given), go with it!

    By the way, I also agree with AnnaBlixt. Now that I think of it, I don't think Mad-Eye never really got his due in the Deathly Hallows.
    Nameback likes this.
  6. KRHolbrook

    KRHolbrook Scribe

    Everything you write has to progress the story. For every action there is a reaction. If this means multiple battles throughout the story, then so be it. As long as they're written clearly, which people have stated they are, and they aren't constantly the same with the battling. Same wording, same swordsmanship, same screaming and yelling. That's all bland.

    Some characters die fast because they aren't entirely important. This is actually fine by me. I mean, they don't give descriptions and huge backgrounds on every single person going to the Hunger Games event. They basically pinpoint the main people and make you focus on them. If a character by name dies a quick, short-sentenced death, they just weren't a focal point character, imo.

    Back to the OP, I wouldn't say you need to bite the bullet and do some trimming unless you feel it's necessary, as the writer. You take what other readers say and should change it based on the majority of their opinions, or ignore all the critics and continue on. ;)
  7. AnnaBlixt

    AnnaBlixt Minstrel

    True, but Mockingjay does not contain a Hunger Games. I did not mind the pacing of the deaths in the actual Hunger Games - but Mockingjay is about the war for the capitol and no Games is held. I don't want to write spoilers since I bet that many people have not read this novel, but several characters who are extremely important to Katniss are killed off (including focal characters) with barely even a comment.

    Of course, the book also contain a lot of these "introduce and kill off" type characters, and those get rather annoying for a different reason - we don't have time to get to know them before they die, and thus we don't care.
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Too much? It depends. Is the plot moving? Can what you're trying to express with four "battles" be done in one or two? On the surface it does seem like much. Four physical confrontations out of six chapters but it may be what's required.
  9. KRHolbrook

    KRHolbrook Scribe

    Ah, Mockingjay is the second book then? I honestly don't recall much of anything from the second book, because it didn't hold my attention like the first and third did. I'm kind of leery about watching the second movie, because if the book didn't do it for me, I doubt the movie will either.
  10. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    I think it has to do with the impression the fights make within the story as a whole. Call it centering and contrast.

    What are your story and your main type of scene really about, and how different are these battles from that? Does the violence, or maybe the scale of some of these fights (70+ casualties, not like it's a few heroes using swords as part of their overall work), mean the early story is more military than the rest, and might create a false "off-center" sense from what it is overall?

    (And of course, early impressions can be more distracting than a temporary changeup later on. Especially when it's more than one scene of something.)

    Still, I think this might be less about "too much fighting" and more "is there enough of the rest" in those early chapters. You want the reader to always know that your other elements are at least as important as the battles, so the shift isn't as big as it might be. Keep the real center clear.

    Contrast is another point: whenever any kind of thing is happening a lot, are those similar scenes still different enough from each other? In fact, any story ought to be partly about whatever degree of similarity things have (maybe very little, maybe a lot) and then playing up the distinctions within them. For example:

    • Tarzan fights a lion, then Tarzan fights another lion-- redundant, unless this author is really getting into the differences within a lion pride and makes the story about that
    • Tarzan fights a lion, Tarzan fights a poacher-- focused on battles and the overall jungle, very Tarzan-esque if each is played up in their own way
    • Tarzan fights a lion, Tarzan fights a World War I battle-- still fighting, but wanders so close to realism it seems more like how you'd build up a different character

    (Looking at your numbers' variety and your confidence in how your fights fit the plot, it sounds like you're using the battles well in their own right.)

    So I'd say those might be the things to look at. Be sure your similar scenes have their differences, and be aware that that similarity pulls part of the overall story impression in around them-- depending on how well you play up the other elements in the tale.
    Ddruid likes this.
  11. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I would stick a red flag on that. It looks like it might be too much. The question is, are your characters compelling enough to carry that much fighting? Readers need to care before the action becomes compelling. Loosely speaking, I think the better your storytelling skills, the more of the less-character-building content like action you can carry.
  12. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    When you lay it out like that, it looks a lot, but readers aren't going to add up the numbers, they'll just have a general feeling about whether there's a lot of fighting or not. It really all depends on context. If the MC is going to decide in chapter 7 that, actually, this war business is stupid and goes off to spend the rest of the book growing turnips, then, yes, it's too much because it's irrelevant. If the MC and sidekicks are just ambling through the scenery and every three pages a new beast/bunch of orcs/rampaging demon randomly jumps out from behind a boulder - well, I would say that's too much because it's boring (some people like that sort of thing, though).

    On the other hand, if the story is actually about war, its effects on the MC or MC's country, if the battles are driving everyone back and they later have to regroup and find a better strategy - then it's probably not too much, because it's integral to the story. Ultimately, I think you have to let the story tell itself. If you feel this is right, then it probably is right, so don't over-analyse.
  13. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    1.To much action; I would base the to much action of the limits of the human body,
    is it like 24, and the MC is running across the city and back, killing bad guys at every turn, crawling through several air ducts, without a meal, without a drink, without stopping to use a bathroom all in a 24 hour period.
    If the characers actually take a break, maybe you need to cover a little of the down time too, to show there is a break in the action.

    2.Killing people off. Death comes sudden in real life, in war it happens so quickly you won't even know that someone died until you find them. Killing someone quickly doesn't mean forgetting about it. If they were important the living people should mention it.
    Look at the Boston Marathon bombing, a few people jogging by, boom hundreds injured, three dead. We didn't know who the dead were until much later.
    Main Characters should be immediate in noticing their death, but secondary, even real important secondary characters deaths might be washed over during the excitement. But they should be missed.
    Last edited: May 16, 2013
  14. Nameback

    Nameback Troubadour

    This makes me feel a bit better. The first scene is a duel between two characters that sets up the entire book pretty much. A princess and her secret paramour are killed by one of her suitors, who naturally frames the secret beau. Since they're of different nations, this sets us on the path towards war. It also establishes what sorcery looks like and how it can be used.

    The second scene is also a duel, but a bit different because it's happening between two gods. The scale is rather larger. The third scene is a reluctant assassin clearing out some NPCs so that he can carry out a magical ritual in secret. The fourth scene is an ambassador who is supposed to parley for peace who instead summons demons and sets them among the rival nation, encouraging war.
  15. krunchee

    krunchee Scribe

    I haven't read every response but my answer to your question is this.

    There can never be too much action, and to me it doesn't even seem like your wip is that action intensive. If it gets to 50% let me know, I'm looking for an action packed fantasy novel. There is always too much tip toeing through the tulips.
  16. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Hmmm...still engaged in a rewrite, but...


    Chapter 1: 3100 words; running pursuit with two battles, 10+ dead, including two aristocrats, takes place over half a day. The MC's big screwup.

    Chapter 2: 4600 words; no battles, no deaths, revolves around MC's family. MC's quest launched. Takes place two weeks after chapter one, 3-4 day time period.

    Chapter 3: 3300 words; no battles, 'traveling' section, takes place over the course of about a month.

    Chapter 4: 5500 words; more traveling, one battle near the middle of a month long period; 15-20 dead including another aristocrat. Battle forces MC to abandon initial plans.

    Chapter 5: 4400 words; two battles, one pivotal, one for emphasis, plus skirmishes. About 15-20 dead. Introduction to strange new...place.

    Chapter 6*: 15,000 words*; one fight (wrestling contest, no deaths), mostly urban intrigue. Includes comic farce section. MC obtains primary goal of quest, at cost.

    *This is the current focus of my rewrite. I'm probably going to have to split this chapter into three parts. Prior to rewrite, this chapter was only 5500 words long, but upon rereading I decided it was lacking.
  17. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Since 24 supposedly takes place in real-time, and there ARE commercial breaks (timed ones, even! Check out the counter before and after!), we can easily assume that the hero gets the chance to eat/drink/poop/rest in those unseen periods as he needs to, without slowing the pace of the show with those scenes.

    On topic: one reviewer of the first five chapters of my latest WIP said that too much happens too quickly. It's not all about battle scenes; in fact the only battle so far took place in the first chapter. But we go from that fight to a race to heal the MC's friend, to a kidnapping and torture sequence in chapter two, to discussion of a truce in chapter three, to the intro of the villain and her spy in chapter four, to the spy being found out and the MC being kidnapped in chapter five, and so on. It's all a logical buildup and progression, but to that one reviewer it happened so fast they couldn't get a sense of any of the characters. This is only one review out of many, but I'm still inclined to take it into account.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2013
  18. Addison

    Addison Auror

    Action is not conflict...in most cases. Most of the time action, as in battles and fights, is an effect of conflict. Jim slept with Mike's wife, Mike found out and when he saw Jim come into the office smiling he punched him in the nose. Conflict to action.

    Sometimes action leads to conflict. A ship hits a reef and while the passengers flee to the life boats one passenger sees someone ducking from cabin to cabin with their bag steadily growing bigger. And the protagonist recognizes the thief. Action to conflict.

    But if you've spent three pages describing a brawl between a few people in their man cave, it's too much. Like a literary brain freeze. Stick to what needs to be told. Short sentences are great for writing action scenes. But action scenes must have a purpose, either from or toward a conflict. Otherwise it's just fluff.
  19. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Action is a form of conflict, but it's one that makes it easy to play up two things any conflict can gain from:

    • What's at stake. An apprentice begging his master to teach him a certain spell could be ho-hum, or it could have been built up as the high point of his life-- but if it's a rival apprentice trying to kill him, we already know the stakes are high. Danger (and maybe romance) are the stakes that speak for themselves.
    • Complexity. That apprentice/master debate has to work hard to have that many turning points beyond "pleeeze?" and "because I said so." But a fight (or any complex physical danger, but especially against a smart opponent) is a thousand ways you could move or deceive or change the rules of what's going on while watching for the three thousand things that could turn against you.

    There isn't really a hard boundary between what's "conflict" and what's "action," if you explore ways a scene that isn't an obvious fight can use more of these strengths. Of course each scene ought to be working its own way, with a lot of variety in how much it pushes different things-- but I think those are lessons worth keeping in mind.
  20. wino

    wino Dreamer

    Hmm...how many POV's do you have? This sounds like way too much too soon.

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