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Thread: Making the action happen

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    Junior Member Sander's Avatar
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    Making the action happen

    I never had much trouble writing scenes where two people talk. Yet I've always felt like it was easier just to focus on the dialogue then to remember to add actions in them. I'm not trying to make an excuse for myself, but as a non-native English speaker I'm used to hearing dialogue, not used to description and action. Still I manage.

    Lately I've felt myself overwhelmed with writing big scenes. I try to make my scope as small as possible. When writing a battle-scene not to focus on the group of soldiers charging forward, but on the young recruit drawing his sword to kill for the first time as friends and comrades force him forward and that works.

    Yet, I still feel like I have no idea where to start. So does anyone have any advice on making my battle scenes feel less wooden. I can imagine them perfectly, but I lack the skill to describe chaos.

    I'm currently also analysing how other writers do it, so good examples from novels are welcome.

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    Senior Member TWErvin2's Avatar
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    What I would do is find an author or two that have battle scenes in their novels that are similar to what you're trying to accomplish, including Point of View used. The more you enjoy the authors the better.

    Study how they put the scene together. How they mixed dialogue and action, pacing and perspective. How they incorporated senses beyond visual--sound, smell, touch, etc.

    Then from what you observed and learned, apply it to your writing style and the novel you're working on.

    Roger Zelazny's Amber series has both large and small battles, written from first person POV, as does Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels, especially Dragon. However for small grounds and individual combat, the other novels would work.

    For larger group, third person POV, and some small group battles, Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant Series, especially the first trilogy would work, as would the Elric series by Michael Moorcock. Another novel that might be handy would be Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword.

    Individual combat in a variety of situations, or in groups, The Iron Druid Series by Kevin Hearne (first person POV), but in the 6th novel he switches first person POVs a couple of times.

    Hope that helps. I just don't think there is a quick way to accompish what you're struggling with. No two or three paragraph post here, I think will fully cover it.

    Good luck moving forward!

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    Senior Member CupofJoe's Avatar
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    For my part I'd suggest David Gemmell's "Legend".
    It is about a siege at a great castle [that the fate of the world depends on - or so they would like to think]. It draws me in by focusing on a few people [not all of them professional soldiers] and how they change during the battle and the little touches/details that can be a matter of life and death. It isn't graphic but it is visceral.
    Last edited by CupofJoe; 7-12-13 at 11:56 PM. Reason: Tweaking
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    Moderator Steerpike's Avatar
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    Legend is a great recommendation. In fact, anything by Gemmell.

    The authors TWErvin mentioned are also well worth reading - Zelazny, Brust, Moorcock, and so on. Greats of the genre.
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    Moderator skip.knox's Avatar
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    My model has always been War and Peace. Battle of Borodino, specifically. It was an enormous battle. Tolstoy uses multiple POVs, and every one of them is worth considering. All Quiet on the Western Front is another great one.

    The other recommendations are excellent, too. Much depends on the kind of battle you are trying to convey. Even more depends on why you are describing the battle at all -- that is, on how it moves the story forward.
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    As far as other authors go, I highly recommend Joe Abercrombie. He manages to combine savage carnage with the visceral fear that comes with fighting.

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    Senior Member Chessie's Avatar
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    Joe Abercrombie is fantastic. His writing is simple and I dig it big time. Reason being is he doesn't frosting cover anything. His characters are deep, his story lines are interesting with a twist, and I really feel like I'm right there when I'm reading. His fighting scenes are graphic but not overdone.

    Enough.

    One thing I like to remember when writing fighting scenes is that it doesn't have to be blow by blow. If there's more than one person, give the secondary character(s) a sentence or two to toss them out, so to speak, then return focus on the main character. The number of sentences depends on pace and length of the battle. I imagine how it would be if I was reading it...or seeing it. Hope this helps some.

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    Moderator T.Allen.Smith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sander View Post
    I try to make my scope as small as possible. When writing a battle-scene not to focus on the group of soldiers charging forward, but on the young recruit drawing his sword to kill for the first time as friends and comrades force him forward and that works.
    What you're already doing is a fine technique. It sounds like you need only to expound upon the method. Action scenes are a common struggle that many writers face. Focusing on the senses and emotions of a POV, in my opinion, is the best way to invoke a similar emotion in your reader. After all, that's what you want to do. By delving deep into the experience of the POV in a fearful moment, you're establishing a connection between character and reader. The reader has become an active participant in the battle because they're feeling it through the senses & thoughts of a character.

    Most times when I read an action scene that feels like something is missing, I find the emotion lacking. Writers often depict the happenings through one sense alone...sight. Try involving as many of the senses as possible. Not just what the POV sees but what they hear, feel, smell, and even what a bloody nose tastes like. After you involve a broad spectrum of senses, dig deeper. Show me the turmoil lying underneath. What does that character feel emotionally when they kill for the first time? What do they feel when they run away frightened? Those are the details that grab your audience and they are far more important than the actual happenings.
    Readers care more about how events affect characters than they care about the events themselves.
    "What lasts in the reader's mind is not the phrase but the effect the phrase created: laughter, tears, pain, joy. If the phrase is not affecting the reader, what's it doing there? Make it do its job or cut it without mercy or remorse."
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    Senior Member C Hollis's Avatar
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    R.A. Salvatore is know for his combat scenes. I thought his Demon Wars series had some of the best one on one battles.

    As far as the grand battle scene goes, study a couple of real world battles from early wars where planes and tanks weren't involved. See how you can twist the tactics/formations into your world.

    I really think that once you have a grasp of individual battles, you will be able to describe the larger scope on a more personal level. Especially with all the resources everyone has listed.

  12. #10
    Brandon Sanderson's a great one. Mistborn is known for its superpowered maneuvers, but Way of Kings tells a lot about being a knight (ok, with super-weapons) and also about being a lowly bridge-carrier who has to make his team run right into enemy arrows.

    Edit: You might also try building on your sense of not knowing the battle. Look for scenes out there that capture the feel of someone losing track of his surroundings in a fight, becoming confused or getting tunnel vision or not quite able to process what he's doing even though he's doing it. No one author comes to mind for me here, but it's a known effect in many fights and it might be just the way you want to write this.
    Last edited by wordwalker; 7-13-13 at 9:58 AM.
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