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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Hunt-or-be-hunted

   
Author Topic: Hunt-or-be-hunted
arcanist
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Okay, so I'm writing a scene for a novel in which a group of four characters (two of which are main protagonists, the other two are more or less static) is to rout a pack of wolves who are attempting to extend their territory into the disputed woods. The situation quickly becomes hunt-or-be-hunted, etc.
Anyway, I've never written this kind of action before, or suspense, whatever you want to call it. So I'm wondering if you guys have any tips you'd be willing to share.
Thanks.

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pixydust
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Writing action is a definite art. My suggestions are:

1. Read several action scenes to study the structure and language used, and meditate on how difference in style and structure stirs your emotions differently.

2. Watch a few action scenes in your favorite movies. Then try to picture your scene in your head. Watch it in your imagination as if you were watching a movie.

3. Make simple notes on scene structure. I call it blocking, or staging the scene. Put the characters in their places. As if you were directing a play.

4. Sit down and write it. And then rewrite it, and then rewrite it again, and again... There's nothing like practice to get your scene perfected. Plus, it helps you to see it from several different angles.

5. Then when you think you've got it nailed, have someone read it and tell you what they think.

[This message has been edited by pixydust (edited December 14, 2005).]


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arcanist
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I've tried watching hunt-or-be-hunted (predator-prey? what do you call this type of action?) in movies before, and typically they're the horror movie formula: door rattles, stick breaks in the woods, etc. Character investigates, big surprise, it's the cat. Sigh of relief. Turn around, BAM, killer, monster, etc in your face.
But yeah, I figured it would come to just writing and rewriting.
Also, what would you suggest as far as point of view? Should I have it jump around between characters, focus on one character, or really get inside the head of that character (like as close to first-person as possible while maintaining a third person narrative)?

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sojoyful
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Hmm. It's hard to know what advice to give, since the description of your scene could mean many things.

You say they are trying to rout a pack of wolves who are trying to extend their territory into a disputed area. What does that mean for a particular scene? Is this the scene where our heros learn that the wolves are planning this, and make their own plan for counteracting it? Or is this the scene where the wolves finally make their move, and our heros have to defend their territory?


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mikemunsil
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in line with sojoyful's comment, if you sit downand figure put exactly how this scene furthers the plot, then you should be at least partly on the way to figuring out how to structure the scene.

as far as POV goes, unless you have a specific reason for changing POV, why don't you just continue the existing POV you last used with the main characters? you can always rewrite from another POV later; just get the words down, now.


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Inkwell
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I would also look at the behavior of wolves...a major factor of which (in this case) is that they hunt in packs, working together to bring down prey. If your wolves are more than the average variety (smarter, enchanted, etc.) you will want to modify their basic, underlying behaviors as necessary. Understand the real thing...how it hunts, how well it can see in different light conditions, how big it is (in relation to bringing down a full-size human), etc.

Know thy enemy.


Inkwell
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"The difference between a writer and someone who says they want to write is merely the width of a postage stamp."
-Anonymous


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arcanist
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Hmm. I guess it hand't occurred to me to look at how real packs of wolves hunt. D'oh.
To answer your question, a summary of the scenario is this: at present in the story, the main character Tobias is under the instruction of a master in the art of combat with three other students. Among other aspects, a big part of the training (and substance of the writing to keep it interesting) is that every Sunday the students are sent out on seperate tasks throughout the forest surrounding the temple where they are training.
The wolves are what the scientists call 'Dirus Lupus', otherwise known as the infamous Dire Wolf. Created by the Magus (head cheese mage king guy) along with many other kinds of magical creatures several thousand years ago because he felt the world dull, dire wolves posess intelligence that is...not quite greater or less than human, just of a different, more predatory sort. Like the raptors from jurassic park. They are dozens of different packs (a pack usually consists of anywhere between four and two dozen wolves, I'm thinking something like six or seven for this one) and the different packs often feud over territory, mating grounds, feeding grounds, etcetera, like warlords. This pack is attempting to take the forest as part of its territory, which cannot be allowed.
So today, rather than seperate, the four students are sent out on one mission together. The wolves have already gotten into the forest and have found your standard forest clearing to live in while they work to extend their control. The students' task is to rout the wolves before they can 'dig in' so to speak. The wolves are merciless creatures, and no mercy can be spared for them as the main character typically tries to do. The hunter soon becomes the prey, however (surprise, surprise. Very original, I know) and must fight not only to accomplish their task, but to survive. this will probably span about thirty pages or so; it's not the main conflict of the story, just one of the many mini-conflicts.
Whew, what a mouthful. Anyway, there you go. I'm going to go research some wolf hunting tactics now and see if I can't tinker with them to my liking.

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pantros
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I cannot imagine any human, in hand to hand combat against a pack of regular wolves, winning. Against one wolf, maybe. Two, possibly, but three wolves working together? NO way in heck. Wolves in a pack that large will hunt together. If your people are alone...munch.

Without doing the cheesy movie, attack one at a time, trick, it would take one heck of a bit of writing to make it believable.

Make sure that the scene is necessary to your story and not just a diversion to fill pages. Ensure that aspects of your characters are developed that are important later in the story.

As a general rule, do not watch movies to learn how to write.


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Elan
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My comment is do NOT belabor the blow by blow details. That isn't what the conflict is about. It's about the emotional reaction, the fear, the desperation, the cunning. THAT is what will engage us in the story.

Character X pulls out his katana and swings for 1d8 hit points of damage.... bleah. I bleep over "the weapon stabs, is withdrawn, stabs again, he bleeds, he swings, he ducks" crapola. In fact, if a story is too full of that, I toss it out. I want to read about the characters emotional reactions, not about the minutia of how he wields the weapon.


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AndrewR
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I have to disagree with Elan, while completely agreeing with her(?) at the same time.

The few actions scenes I've written, I gave a pretty detailed account. For instance:

Rakk ties her shoe. The guards poke at her with their swords to move along. She jumps over them (she's pretty strong). She lands in the tuck-and-roll and runs into the castle. Knocking over a guard, she dashes into the courtyard. She sees some boards and grabs one, using it to keep back the circle of guards surrounding her. She hits one, knocking him out. She rushes through the gap in the guards to escape the circle...

You need to provide enough detail so that the reader can imagine the scene in his mind.

Of course, too much detail can ruin the story. As Elan said, "she hit him once, she hit him again, she hit him again"...[yawn]. "She hit him three times" is quite good enough.

The alternative (that I've seen) is to summarize the action. "He pummeled the guy with three quick jabs and walked in" is also workable. Depends on how important the action is.

So cut the description down as much as you can without loosing the reader. Be original. Tell it from the character's POV if possible. Seeing the character run for a tree from the wolves at a distance is fine. Putting the reader in the shoes of the guy running for tree is much better.

And, most important, as Elan said, make sure the reader has an emotional connection to the character. When the reader cares and sees that the character might die or be hurt, then the action is important and they want to know every salient detail.

[This message has been edited by AndrewR (edited December 15, 2005).]


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arcanist
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Well yeah, I hadn't really planned on them engaging in hand to hand with the things...I dunno. I *do* know that a head-on group-rushes-at-the-pack all-out-brawl isn't what I'm going for.
I'm thinking I'll basically have it go something like the group of characters finds the pack of wolves in the clearing and remains hidden, and begins making plans for how they can draw the wolves out one or two and take them on that way, something like that. Something invariably goes wrong and pack gets wind of the humans' presence, and go after them. The group of humans split up (one person can take a wolf or two but four people don't stand much of a chance against a pack...that makes sense, right?) and the pack does the same, sending a few wolves after each person to, as Encarta put it "drive and trap pray, possibly pincer-attacking from several sides"
Anyway, this is all getting the creative juices flowing, I think I'll just have to sit down and write, and read, and hammer the delete key until I get it.
Thanks for the help, guys.

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Elan
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I must respectively disagree with Andrew R, and agree with him at the same time In fact, your snippet was the perfect example of what I dislike... boring action with no emotion.

If you don't mind, using your example, here is how I would edit to add some emotional content:

Rakk bent over to tie her shoe, keeping a wary eye on the guards. The ugly guard poked at her with his sword.

"Move along!" he snarled.

With her heart in her throat, she sprang upward and rammed him in the chest. He staggered backward and she jumped over his prone body.

'Don't look back,' she thought as she ran toward the castle. 'If he gets to his bow before I get to the gate, I'm dead.' She sprinted the distance, her heart pounding wildly.

She grabbed one of the boards stacked near the gate and swung it in a wild circle, clearing a path through the knot of guards before her. She felt like cheering when it connected with the captain's skull, knocking him out. She rushed through the gap, leaving the rest of the louts to eat her dust. 'I'm free!' she thought with grim satisfaction.

See? This conveys the same amount of action detail, but by using internal dialog you can go deeper into the character's POV to reveal her emotions. The other way, action only, is just a snoozer for me.


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sojoyful
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They split up? Hmm. Safety in numbers, yo.

What I mean is this: your wolves are obviously smart, because they send multiple wolves against individual people. If your people split up, then I (as a reader) will immediately think they are morons. If they are studying the art of combat, would they really split up when they might stand a chance if they bond together?

Then again, I may know nothing.


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arcanist
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It's just that, the wolves outnumber the people. Safety in numbers, yes, but the wolves divide their group because the people do. One person can take on a wolf or two. This seems logical and probable, considering that it's a fantasy setting. But stick four characters in the middle of a pack of eight wolves for an all-out brawl, and it seems to me that the outcome is obvious.
Besides that, it's easier for four individuals to sneak around seperately than a group of four sneak around together. No one among them is going to be stupid enough to confront the two wolves that come after them; they're all going to be sneaky and cunning in their own way. It seems like the formula of 1:2 (one person, two wolves) works better for this than 4:8.
Safety in numbers is true, but as they say, the only real rule is there is no real rule. Circumstances decide the best course of action, and splitting up isn't always neccisarily a bad thing. I guess I'll just have to genetically engineer some wolves to be big and smart, kidnap my neighbors' four kids, stick 'em in a forest and see what happens.

[This message has been edited by arcanist (edited December 15, 2005).]


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Inkwell
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^^^
Unless these four people posess some unnatural abilities in the realm of stealth, or are able to magically dispose of their scent...the wolves will know where they are at all times. Normal canines have an olfactory receptor capacity 25 times that of humans. They can detect odors at concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than us. And, as far as tactics go...if the party splits up, the wolves will merely attack each one individually (in numbers). It wouldn't make sense for the wolves to mirror the humans' actions, practically and tactically speaking.


Inkwell
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"The difference between a writer and someone who says they want to write is merely the width of a postage stamp."
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sojoyful
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Yes, Inkwell got at what I was trying to say. If the people stick together, at very least they can watch one another's backs. Alone, they don't stand a chance because the wolves will just pick them off.
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arcanist
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Hmmm...I think you're right. As it is, the wolves outmatch them, so I was thinking I could just have them do what I said before but...I think I'll just have them call in for backup from the main party of good guys at the headquarters place, and then just participate in the hunt with them.
Anyway, thanks for your help; I've ended up having my whole idea shown how illogical it was, and that's kind of annoying, but I guess that's just part of writing; it'll be better in the end.
Thanks guys!

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Corky
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quote:
pack gets wind of the humans' presence

Do you realize what "gets wind" actually means?

The humans can only avoid being detected by the wolves if they can magically get rid of their scents so the wolves won't smell them (as Inkwell pointed out) of if they can control the wind so it doesn't carry their scents to the wolves.

Whenever you hunt something that can smell you, you do your darnedest to stay downwind of it (so the wind carries its scent to you). If the wind shifts at all, your prey will "get wind" of you and know you are there.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
I've ended up having my whole idea shown how illogical it was

But that's part of the beauty of this place. You can brainstorm here with other writers and hammer your ideas into stories that will work, instead of embarrassing yourself by sending a story that has poor logic in it off to an editor.


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arcanist
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corky, I was using 'gets wind' in the expressive sense, not the literal. If you're going to browbeat someone, use your full brain.
And I agree with that Kathleen, thanks. I found this place like a week and a half ago and I've been on it like the whole time since

[This message has been edited by arcanist (edited December 15, 2005).]


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Corky
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Browbeat?

Sorry, I had no intention of doing that.

I just wanted to point out that what you were saying figuratively applied literally.


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arcanist
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I guess I misread. My bad ^_^
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Survivor
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I think that something has gone slightly un/under-stated in this discussion, after it digressed onto the wisdom of splitting up to fight an enemy that is expert in cooperating to hunt lone animals and has inhumanly good tracking abilities.

While the wolves are instinctive pack hunters, we can assume that they all have similar abilities (i.e. being dire wolves) and are not as individually powerful as your warrior-trainees (particularly if the latter are armed and alert). If the various warrior-trainees specialize in slightly diverse fields (say one is a standard line swordsman, another is an archerer, a third is a ninja, and the last is a sapper of some kind), they could probably evolve a plan that would allow them to pool their various talents in a way that could be highly effective.

Just for instance, the ninja could act as bait, moving through the tree-tops to both wear down the dire wolves by inflicting a few injuries and to engage their attention so that they can be led into an ambush, a killing field set up by the sapper and covered by the archerer (with some support from the ninja once the dire wolves get there) with the line swordsman covering the close combat once the surviving wolves break through (perhaps helped by some prepared defenses devised by the sapper, as well as whatever close combat skills the other team members can lend in the final pinch).

Or perhaps the order would be different, the archerer pulling the wolves in with long range shots so that they pass through various traps, then are surprised by the ninja and sapper, both of whom have been held in concealed reserve. There are ways to defeat the canine sense of smell, after all, particularly if you have a really great distraction. If this is a fantasy milieu, perhaps a couple of the members could be mages, and they might have enchanted weapons.

Anyway, as I mentioned above, the hunters could split up in a limited sense as part of an overall plan, perhaps taking deliberate advantage of the wolves tendancy to gang up on solitary prey. You can still do great stuff with that, even more so as not only does the bait have to worry about getting killed, but also about screwing up the overall plan. It's true that there is a lot of need for refinement of your essential idea before it can become remotely useable, but that's true of all ideas.

Anyway, don't give up just because you got a lot of tips you might not have thought about yourself.


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TheBishop
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Wow, great topic so far. I'll admit I'm guilty of skimming the last few posts, but here's an idea.

Wolves travel in packs and those packs have a very strict heirarchy to them. There are alpha or dominant males and females (you will want to research this a bit more since I'm vague on the details). As I understand it, a newcomer or intruder to the pack can gain dominance or respect by defeating the dominant leader.

Maybe your characters don't need to take out the whole pack, but only a single fighter needs to outwit and kill/subdue the pack leader, possibly while the others hold off the remaining pack if wolf "protocol" is broken and they charge. The leader will show submission by rolling over and exposing his or her belly and neck to your fighter.

By the way, I'm a big fan of William Horwood (Duncton Chronicles, animal books, mole POV, which I have read) and he has what seems like a great series called The Wolves of Time (which I have partially read, thanks for reminding me to pick this up again!). I'm sure some the wolf behaviour is quite romanticized, but he brings the animals to vivid life.

[This message has been edited by TheBishop (edited December 19, 2005).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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A good book on real wolf behavior is NEVER CRY WOLF by Farley Mowat. They based a movie on the book, but I'd recommend getting the book and reading it first.
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Survivor
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Hmmm...wolves, by their nature, don't tend to allow other animals high rank in their dominance heirarchy. They would almost certainly never let a strange animal take the top spot by ritual combat. That's probably the defining difference between dogs and wolves, if you think about it. And it wasn't suggested that these were dire dogs.
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Zodiaxe
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To me it would be the setting. I would think it would take yu to really describe the setting and the mood of the story, especially, int he hunt phase.

Strictly my opinion, the best predator/prey type of thing was the original Alien movie. Limited space to roam but a dump truck load of hiding places. What made it so damn scary for me was the setting. Here are these people on a space ship and suddenly this "thing" gets lose and while they are hunting it the tables get turned on them and you realize that this thing just isn't hiding but is stalking them as well. What also helps is that the crew and the movie goers make a critical mistake... they think this thing is stupid, just acting on instinct but rather, it is thinking and plotting and stalking and hunting....

Maybe if you take that viewpoint it might be easier. An animal that thinks, and rationalizes, stratigizes like a human or a higher form of animal but yet still retains its primal instinct.

Peace,
Scott


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HuntGod
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Heh, here are my recommendations for examples.

The film Rambo (just the first one) great examples of visual hunting and prey/predator tactics. THe author that wrote Rambo David Morrell also rights action very well. In his book Brotherhood of the Rose, they is a scene of 2 knife fighters going after each other in a completely black room, he pulls it off masterfully.

Don't anthropomorphize the wolves, they are animals and act instinctually. There instincts are to attack from strength. If you group splits up, the entire pack will go for the perceived weakest or most vulnerable member. This can be exploited by the characters, which inmho is the only way they would survive, if they attempted a straight up fight against that many wolves, much less Dire Wolves, they would lose and lose badly.

I strongly recommend reading up on wolves before revisiting the scene. Also the bite force for wolves is more than sufficent to break bones, so only rigid armor would provide much protection, leather, padded or chain/padded, would stop the wolves from ripping them open, but would do little to prevent cruched bones.

Wolves also attack from multiple angles and use distraction. Several wolves will come in from the front while others creep behind and attempt to hamstring or bear down the targest.


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