Hi all, I've noticed recently a few folks are saying they aren't so hot at writing action scenes so I thought I'd start an exchange group for those needing help.
Here's the "rules".
5k word limit. (try to keep much shorter, a 20 page action scene would wear out even the most steadfast reader.) Choose a chunk of your story, give us a brief background, and let 'er rip.
I'd like to try to crit based solely on the action and the sequencing. Delving into what works, what doesn't, and why on a technical level.
"Kinsei growled and swung his sword. Johann jumped, the blade narrowly missing his feet. Thank goodness for that because Johann had a big date this Friday with his girlfriend. They were planning to dance at that new club down on 43rd. It was tough to get in there and he'd made reservations a month ago. Johann swung at Kinsei, connecting with his jaw..."
Why doesn't this work?
Anyway, if you're interested, post your name. If we get a few folks then I can set up some kind of round-a-bout exchange. ____________
I'm sure that's fine as long as you don't go over the word limit. Just set us up ahead of time. i.e. let us know before we start reading that there's two and what they mean to the story.
"Jason is going to fight an assassin whose been sent to kill him. Then, when he learns the truth behind Treadstone, the top secret super-soldier project he's reluctantly a part of, he'll be fighting the armchair warriors who set him up."
Honestly, it's totally up to you guys if you want to send your revised action scene to the other group, or send something totally new in order to get more overall feedback.
My thoughts on the revision stems from the WotF forum where we get new eyes on the revised story, but if you don't feel the need, or don't want to revise just now, or you've received feedback as helpful as the feedback I gave to Crank, which is to say "good job" then by all means, send a different scene to the other group.
quote:Honestly, it's totally up to you guys if you want to send your revised action scene to the other group, or send something totally new in order to get more overall feedback.
I like that idea. When we first started this group, I was debating on which action scene to offer up, and I chose a ship-to-ship confrontation at the last second. As it turns out, I like what I've done with it (not including one of two slight adjustments, and not including whatever Wylde has to say about it), so I'm thinking I'll send my other choice to group 2. I'll get that out sometime tonight.
RoxyL, I'm not the group moderator, but, if you want to send your action scene directly to me, I'll send you one in return. I've got two scenes that I'd like reviewed. Which one would you like: a science fiction ship-to-ship battle, or a contemporary young adult sports scene?
I really like the idea of taking a particular type of scene and critiquing a series of them. Doing a half dozen similar scenes would be much more informative than doing a half dozen unrelated ones, or one or two similar scenes. We'd start to see patterns of things that worked or did not work, rather than the quirks, good or bad, of individual authors.
I don't think it's quite as necessary to submit as many scenes as you critique; it might be best to have a ratio of a half dozen critiques per submission, but then to get more critiques in return.
RoxyL -- *why* is it boring? Make it un-boring, and then you'll know you have learned something.
Everyone -- let's try to draw some lessons from what we've read and comments we've received.
My scene was dull on the first iteration, then was praised on the second. The story was pretty much the same, I just changed the narration style. I think the main difficulty with the first version was that it was to "hot" -- that is detail oriented. Kate gets shot with an arrow, and then her actions in response to that are told in great detail. However readers weren't enough into the story yet to handle that, so I cooled the narration (doing more telling rather than showing) in the front of the story. It's still detailed, but the bandage spray just appears in her hand when she needs it, rather than coming out of the pocket in her coveralls, getting the nozzle sprayed to clear debris, etc., then going back into the pocket.
The later parts of the scene are less changed, and at the climax the narration still runs about a hundred words per story-time second, but it wasn't noticed by readers. At that rate a whole minute of action would take up a fairly long chapter. The lesson I learned was to turn the narrative heat up slowly, easing the reader into the scene before overwhelming him with details.
There are some issues I saw in the action scene MSS:
(1) Lack of structure. An action scene should tell a discrete, self-contained story. That story has a beginning, middle and end.
(2) Lack of character motivation specific to the scene. Wanting to win is not enough. Ideally each participant in the scene should have distinct and possibly individual motivation for taking part.
At the very least the POV character should have something to achieve other than making it to the next scene. This could be part of his story arc (to prove he's not a coward or a barbarian), or it can be some kind of McGuffin the participants are struggling over. The McGuffin gambit is common in classic 80s Hong Kong fight choreography. Fighting over a McGuffin gives each thing the participants do a clear significance specific to *this* scene.
(3) Too much irrelevant action and detail. My own MS had too much detail that didn't signify anything to the reader. In some manuscripts the characters did lots of things, but the things didn't move the scene forward. They could have been deleted without changing the outcome of the scene. Anything that is described, whether it is an action or prop, should do something that moves the participants to the climax of the scene.
(4) Failure to paint a picture of the field of combat. Sometimes even actions are hard to make sense of because the stage upon which they take place is only vaguely defined. A character observes a following party, or overhears a conversation. Is he close enough to make that observation? Likewise in one-on-one combat, what is the fighting surface like? Does the opponent have reach or weight advantage? In a battle, who has the high ground, and what kind of cover do the defenders have? How far do the attackers have to run to get to the defenders, and are they exposed? Is there plenty of room to swing a sword?
Rather than slow the action with endless dribbles description, consider quickly panning the narrative camera over the scene to pull in just the necessary details.
(5) Inconveniently chosen narrative POV. An action scene where the POV character is an observer, not a participant starts at a huge disadvantage. It *can* be effective when the POV character has an important personal stake in the outcome (e.g. a parent watching his offspring in a death match).
(6) Awkward or nonsensical inner monologue. You know that ham-handed world-building "technique" where two characters have an informative discussion on things both of them already know, but the reader doesn't? This is the action scene equivalent. Between lightning-quick exchanges of saber cuts and parries, our hero reflects on what he's been doing in the battle so far, what he had for breakfast that morning, and his not-so-fond memories of his fencing teacher.
I'll admit to using this technique for comic effect, where a character has spate of outside-the-scene narrative thought that's almost, but not quite a flashback, then is rudely brought back to the present. But it doesn't work so well if the action is supposed to be uninterrupted. Remember that all that background information takes us out of the present scene. If you must have a flashback, give the POV character a break in the action during which his past life can pass before his eyes.
Matt, thanks for sharing what you learned. You've made some excellent points.
I'd like to add that pacing is really important. The faster the scene reads the more intense it feels, but the pace seems to slow at the climax of the scene which signifies to the reader that this is what is really important, the crux of the entire scene.
Hey MAP, Thanks tons. Send your stuff on over. And anyone else who'd like to, too. (Axeminister, oh WOTF finalist, I'd feel like a preschooler trying to proofread a thesis if you gave me anything, but I'd be happy to try anyway.) I can't promise I'm good at critting (as Crank is now finding out...) but I'll try my best. Thanks again.
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My apologies to all for falling behind with my critting.
Thanx to everyone for their crits of my two excerpts. For those interested: the young adult story is within a week of completion, and I have a few of my son's friends who are willing to check it out for me. The science fiction excerpt was from a novel I wasn't planning on starting anytime soon...but, because of how well it worked (and how much fun I had writing it), I might change my schedule around.
MattLeo: I've read your excerpt once, and will read it again tonight and offer up a few thoughts.
MAP: I've received yours. You are next in the queue.
MartinV: I have not received your excerpt. Did you get mine? Are you still participating?
RoxyL: Critiquing, just like writing, gets better with practice. That your first solo flight was with one of my excerpts is actually kinda cool for me: your approach was slightly different than everyone else's, which means you picked out one or two things nobody else mentioned. Plus: two of your comments were about aspects of my story I very much wanted to know about, so as far as I'm concerned you did a good job. I am going to hold onto this copy; then, when you critique something else of mine sometime in the future, I can see how much you've improved.
Eek! Roxy, I set up this group because I need help too.
Last Saturday I had two rejections sitting in my inbox. I'm just plugging away like everyone else - learning as I go.
Plus, you're forgetting something important. You bested me in the Hatrack WotF contest just a few weeks ago.
I didn't send my story out to the 2nd rounders because I was pretty embarrassed by it. I demand better of myself, and since I don't have the time to implement the changes suggested by group one, I am just letting it sit for now.
I'll be glad to look over your action scene, (or anyone else who wants to send my way) but I'm no master at writing them.
However, that is my goal. This group - is a step toward meeting said goal.
[This message has been edited by axeminister (edited September 22, 2011).]
Axe -- you're totally missing the point. Remember what William Strunk said in The Elements of Style:
quote: If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!
I say: If you've got a lousy scene, share it! Then improve it. A pat on the back is nice, but it's not as rewarding as self-improvement.
I you don't think you know where to start, it it's really, really horrible, then send it to *me*. I can give constructive criticism on *anything*. I once critiqued a 20,000 word chapter of a MS which most of the action took place in the Jungian Collective Unconscious. Clever, huh? But wait, there's more. Because egos weren't sharply delineated in the Collective Unconscious, if a character A killed character B in page ten, on page eleven it might be that actually B killed A, or C killed D, or somebody simply *imagined* something like that happening. I read all twenty thousand words, actually figured out what the author was trying to do (which was not easy), and gave concrete and constructive advice to the author.
I guarantee your scene is better than that chapter.
Nobody is born knowing how to succeed. So embrace failure. It's a necessary step toward success.
I would love to trade an action scene with someone for critiquing. I have read through the prior posts to get a feel for what's going on here and have a scene from the novel I am currently writing that I can submit. If there is still an active group looking for another member and/or just one other person that would like to trade action scenes for critiquing please let me know.
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I'm slammed right this minute because of WotF, but I can look at it in a week.
@Matt. It wasn't that I felt my scene was good or bad per se, it's more that I got some good feedback, but didn't want to implement it right now. Thus, I don't want to send out the original version again knowing its flaws, without having fixed them.
However, you've given me an idea. I shall send you my bar scene. It's not standard action shoot em up, it's about tension. You would be a great read on that one.
Thanks Matt and Roxy. I will Email the scene soon and I'd be happy to critique something from both of you also. I would like to learn just as much or more from critiquing other scenes as I hope to learn from having my own critiqued.
Edit: I have Emailed the scene to both of you. let me know if you didn't get it.
[This message has been edited by RyanRussellLunde (edited September 26, 2011).]
Is this group still active? I have a novel on hiatus, but reading here has got me itching to tinker with it. I have several action scenes in it, and no idea if any of them work. I'd be happy to reciprocate.
FYI. I cut my teeth on Robert E. Howard, so my concept of an action scene is not exactly tactful.
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I doubt it. I was a part once but then I figured it was not the best approach for me. My actions scenes need too much background to be read. If you're interested, I can take a look for you.
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