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Movies, a bad influence?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by TheokinsJ, Apr 11, 2013.

  1. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

    I've started writing out a few chapters of my story, to find that perhaps my writing has taken it's toll from too many movies. It's fine normally but in the action scenes, I find that my writing resembles that of a scriptwriter for a movie. For example, I'll say phrases like "He turned" constantly throughout my scenes, for example; "He turned to see the raider running straight for him... He turned to see John overwhelmed by a dozen men... He turned-", you get the idea. I find that the way I write action sequences really is rushed and a constant pattern of a character seeing things, reacting to them, and then seeing more things and reacting to them. The way I picture it in my mind, is as if I am watching a fight scene in a movie, and I almost am straying more into the role of director than writer. I see it in my mind, it's just some of the things I think can't be put onto paper, because although they would work well in a movie, where the audience can visually see what I am trying to get across, writing these scenes seems to be a lot harder because I find I lose clarity and the reader often feels like they have no clue what's going on. Any tips on writing action/fight scenes and how to avoid repetition?
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    Perhaps the answer would be to focus on your character's mental and emotional state.

    In high adrenaline encounters, people tend to focus only on what's important to the immediate danger and miss other details. The human mind is conditioned to notice things which are important to our current needs. When you're planning on buying a house, you notice For Sale signs everywhere, but the rest of the time you perhaps don't as much. In battle, therefore, the important things are what are dangers to the character and those they are most concerned about protecting, so details about people lying dead or dying on the floor or people the character doesn't know fighting one another won't be high on his priorities.

    At the same time, when you're exerting yourself you are often very much aware of your own limitations. I'm not especially fit, physically, and last year I went to climb a local hill for the view from the top. It's quite a big hill, and the route up is quite steep. When I was about two thirds of the way up, I was pretty exhausted. I'd been walking uphill for 40 minutes. I wanted to stop and rest. I needed to keep going because I wanted to photograph the sunrise and it was getting close. Most of my thoughts were occupied with breathing, keeping my feet moving one in front of the other, and how hot I'd become in my cardigan, which I'd really needed at the start of the hike because it was a cold October morning. I used tricks like counting my footsteps to try to keep my mind off the posibility of stopping and sitting down or leaning against a tree or whatever. I didn't have the breath to talk, so I listened to my mum. I had my camera in my hand, but my arms felt heavy and my fingers bloated, so I didn't take any photos. It wasn't a conscious decision, it just didn't occur to me, even though the sights ahead of me, were I in a more relaxed state of mind, were worthy of a few snaps.

    So try looking at what your character notices, what's a threat, what immediate physical needs he has, and so on. Talk about him blocking or attacking an immediate threat.

    As for language, you can avoid "he turned" by implying different directions without saying he moved to face them. "A cry from his left warned him of an attack; he blocked just in time, fended off a second swing, then countered."
  3. Do you read a lot of movie scripts? Because I don't think this is a matter of being too influenced by movies you've watched. You have have taken to visualizing the fights as movie scenes but that's not in itself a bad thing - I do that as well. The problem is rather that you're not very skilled at expressing those scenes in a written form.

    What I'm saying is, rather than cutting down on movies you probably just need to read more action books and pay attention to how they are written. It's not like watching movies reduces your writing skills or anything.
    Dr.Dorkness likes this.
  4. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    It sounds like you're not satisfied with your description, at least when the action sets in, and instead what's coming out is a script-like shorthand or certain repetitions.

    This might actually be a good thing. That is, if you see your action in stage-direction terms, it might be a way to get the scene's mechanics down quickly in a first pass, and then you can go back and fill in the details while switching up the repetitions.

    You do have a lot of options in putting those images into sentences. A sentence could be "He turned, to see..." but it could be all about "He turned, praying he wasn't too late" or "The raider galloped at him," or a mix of "He fumbled for his weapon as the raider..." Just mixing up which of two contrasting things is the subject for each sentence, and where the other appears in it if at all, keeps things varied-- especially once you start mixing in additional people and objects, or just "the wind howled" sometimes. I've blogged about sorting out descriptions and sentences a bit, at Order of a Sentence and my big Toolbox piece.

    (Speaking of mixing up different subjects: one measure of active writing I like is the ratio of sentences or clauses about what the MC sees or realizes, compared to which are him doing something about them. Some MC points might be a cumulative "But still he ran on, sweat streaming..." and others might show him try something different because the situation's changed.)

    Other tricks to build up your general description skills: It could certainly mean reading more and seeing how others do it, and getting feedback from writers that you trust. You can make little lists of aspects you might cover (sound and any smells/touch, color, size, direction, speed, etc) and decide which are more important to get in for each thing. You can practice finding stronger verbs, which are the safest way to energize each sentence, and sometimes stick your neck out with a simile or metaphor. Or it could be research; you might lack confidence describing what happens on a castle wall because you wish you knew more about how that wall was laid out, or you could grab a Google Image as a "close enough" model.

    (Personally, I think a lot of writing is moving past the script in our heads to start implying the whole movie, the way the narrative implies a whole "movie set" full of details and then gets on with the action. I especially like the ideas that a writer's attention moves around a bit like a Blair Witch camera to jump to one detail and then over to the next, and that in dialog there's still a "camera" and a set of busy "actors" punctuating all that talk with gestures and expressions.)
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    So he's turning the way the camera turns, and you're taking that to mean it resembles film? I don't really see that connection very well.

    If you want to write better fight scenes, you need to:

    - Show us the crazy overwhelming emotions of a real fight.
    - Give your character lots of choices and no time to choose.
    - Work on building momentum with your language.
    - Use everything in the scene for the fight.
  6. Lycan999

    Lycan999 Minstrel

    First, it might not be a bad thing writing your fight scenes as if they were a movie script. Though you would never present anything in such a way, if your first draft of a fight scene is written in a way that clearly shows every action in turn it can clarify the scene. From this point you can go back and add in all the emotion, dramatic events, and heroic deeds in a way more appealing to readers. This way the scene will be able to be organized clearly and epic at the same time.

    Second, I do not believe movies can do anything but increase your skills as a writer. Especially modern movies such as the Hobbit where the graphics and visual effects are simply stunning, watching fantasy movies can help descriptive abilities. If you think of a written scene as a scene in a movie it can help you make it much more appealing by filling in holes. Say you are writing a scene where your main character is entering the most magnificent city in you world. Picturing it like a movie can help you describe it in a way that will entice your readers to keep reading until they realize that your story ended 5 pages ago, but their own mind is still continuing.
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  7. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I agree 100% with Chilari.

    I read a lot of fight scenes in crit groups that sound exactly what you're describing. They play out like a listing of moves...like a choreographer's script. That's not want you want.

    The fight should be filtered through your POV. The exciting elements are all there, swirling around in their body & mind. Those movements that everyone is so concerned about should serve only as a framework & cause of the mental & physical sensations perceived by the POV character. Rattling off a series of movements is boring and causes the reader's mind to wander. Who cares how many mundane kicks & punches this guy or that guy threw in combination? Show us the extraordinary moments...the ones the cause a mental or physical reaction in your POV. That's the interesting stuff.

    What's more important and tension building to read? A description of the punch and kick combo your character just delivered OR the description of what hot urine feels like, trickling involuntarily down his pant legs as he watches his friends get slaughtered? It's always going to be more riveting to let us experience what a character FEELS.

    Visual media, like movies, have some advantages when it comes to portraying action scenes...but literature also has its strengths in the area and we'd do well to focus on those. First, as a writer, you can get inside the character's head and body portraying what is happening within (physical & mental) as it occurs. In a movie you may be able to see some of the physical manifestations, but the mental is harder to portray visually unless characters are speaking about it. Secondly, in literature, authors can manipulate time. This is much more difficult visually, where in writing, we can weave through time and pacing seamlessly, altering reader perception for effect.

    Try not to think of your writing like "a movie in your head". I used to do the same thing. Only when I realized writing required a different mental approach & I needed to view my scenes from a different perspective (the POV's 5 senses > the action itself), did my scenes improve. I hope this helps.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2013
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Visualizing combat like a movie isn't a bad thing, but it's only a part of the requirement when writing a battle scene. Movies have one huge advantage because they can show in a second what may need thousands of words to describe, and they have soundtracks to convey the emotions you should feel. Those are their strengths and good movies play to them.

    Books can't do the same things movies can do.

    Books have the advantage that you can get into the character's heads know and feel what they do more clearly. These are the things that should be focused on in writing a battle scene the strength that should be played too. The visuals should support what's going on in the pov character's heads.

    This isn't easy.

    It's easy enough to write the character did this and they did that, chopped this and chopped that. We can all have these things play out in our heads visual arc of events. Its a lot more difficult to write why characters did the things they did, how each of those things made them feel, and have them play out in an emotional arc. All this while connecting the emotions to the visuals and having them work together.

    To sum it up, focus more on the emotions and internal thoughts of the characters during a fight instead of the blow-by-blow details.

    Edit: I took so long to write this post. I got kind of ninja'd. :p
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2013
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  9. ndmellen

    ndmellen Minstrel

    In my humblest of opinions...

    The most effective way to write about something is to do it yourself. Try taking a few muay thai or jiu jitsu classes. This will add/ teach you some of the finer details. (I started training when I was five, and fighting when I was 17. Even if the rest of my book sucks, the fight scenes are top notch.)

    There are many fine details in a fight that many fantasy authors miss. For example, punching someone hurts. Size matters; a dwarf isn't going to kill a giant (imagine a 3 year old trying to fight you.) Your diminuitive MC isn't going to stop a dozen overhand mace strikes on his upraised sheild; his arm is going to break. Fighting is scary, even if you're winning; anyone who says otherwise is either lying, or a fool. Most importantly, fighting is exhausting. Fighters train for hours a day, for weeks, to prepare for a fight that lasts for a half an hour; Nobody is going to swing a seven pound axe, while wearing full plate, for six hours. (Don't even take my word for it; put on a pair of 16oz gloves and do a round or two on a heavy bag.)

    Your vision narrows, time slows down, you feel your heart beating throughout your entire body. Your senses are an odd combination of limited and ultra-aware. Sweat in your eyes isn't dismissable; it stings, more than you would imagine. Blood is even worse. It doesn't just sting, but it'll gum your eyes shut, limiting your feild of vision. Your nose breaks easier than you would think, and blood in your mouth is like a Gusher's fruit snack...providing that Gusher's made a flavor of salty pennies.

    The most effective and realistic fight scene depiction I have seen comes from Joe Abercrombie; check him out and see what he does to embody the visceral nature of fighting/ battle.

    I hope that a) this helped at all, and b) that I didn't sound like too much of a pompous ass.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2013
  10. ndmellen

    ndmellen Minstrel

    ...and in a shameless plug for myself: If any of you out there are fans of MMA, I am a contributing writer to Fiveouncesofpain.com, MMATraining.com, Overhand-right.blogspot.com, and Wicked Good Sports Talk.
  11. Honey_Badger

    Honey_Badger Banned

    Movies are nice...
  12. Avi Love

    Avi Love Acolyte

    I would actually highly recommend you read some movie scripts. They don't look anything like you think they do, and a script like that would never make it's way up the hollywood chain. It would get chucked in the trash by a reader who reads like 15 of them a week.

    However due to the fact that you're seeing your scenes as "filmic," I'd say go watch some films. Instead of looking for the tiny details of movements, look for what's actually happening. What's driving that scene? I know a lot of directors, actors, and other film professionals. I can tell you none of them would want to work on a film like you're describing.

    All of those details have to be added by someone. The actor, director, director of photography, production designer, and so on all have to think of details to add based on what's in the script. So you want a script to be inspirational, not a blow by blow recording of visual action for the blind.

    If I were to receive a script to direct or act in which said, "He turned...He turned...He threw a punch...He turned." I'd immediately turn down the film. As an actor, I don't want to be told exactly what to do. As a director, I don't want to be told exactly where the camera would be.

    I want a script that, as others have said, relays tension, obstacles, gripping conflict. I don't want to see, "He walks to one end of the bridge. The other guy walks to the other end. They turn to face each other. The bridge is about 25 feet long. It spans a chasm. Suddenly they run at each other..........."

    I want to see, "They met on the same bridge that his father had been thrown from years ago. It was oddly calm. Wind didn't whip through the air. No sound except the water below them disturbed the air, but when their eyes met for the first time since that day the tension seemed to reverberate off of everything."

    Now of course that's melodramatic, cliche, and suffers from a brutal lack of editing or real thought. The point is it invites me to SEE something. There's a moment there I could act. There's a moment there I could direct. I could think about as an actor what my character would feel and how they would portray that. I could think about as a director how I would shoot it and what would surround them.

    The big point is your reader IS ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE. They are every member of the cast, the director, the production designer, the costume designer, and everyone else who works on the film. All of those people don't want to be told what they should make and how they should make it. They want to be inspired to make something brilliant. Your readers don't want to be told what they should be seeing. They want you to inspire them to see something.
    TheokinsJ and Jabrosky like this.

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