Thursday, January 9, 2014

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

by Allison Pang

So here's the thing. Years ago I took a workshop that spent time on writing action scenes. Eventually it became a jargony task of beats and breaks and a bunch of other stuff that I pretty much tuned out since I don't write that way. One of the main things I took away was that one should never put your characters to bed - they should always be moving forward, and thus, moving the story forward.

Snap. Snap. Snap.

But personally, I find that sort of thing exhausting - both reading it, and writing it. When there's no pause in the action at all, it can become tiresome. I'm thinking back to some of those fight/battle scenes of some of the classic high fantasy tomes I devoured in my youth - pages upon pages of the valiant hero snicker-snacking his blade through hordes of enemies, or a duel that feels like it lasts for hours. (And the paragraphs slowly devolve into "And then he did x. And then he did y. Suddenly, he rolled and did a. And b. And c.")

In reality, most fights between people are pretty short and usually end up on the ground sooner rather than later - but obviously every character is different. If the hero is a preternatural being with crazy stamina, I get it - but otherwise, I sometimes find it hard to suspend disbelief when a character has been living rough for days in the woods, only to stumble across the enemy and battle them all with nary a bit of winded breathing.

That doesn't mean I don't like action in my media. Of course I do - but there are times when some scenes drag on for so much longer than they probably should. And there are a few different lines of thought on this - some writers will say that each chapter should end with a hook, something that makes the reader want to keep going. On the other hand, I've seen some readers mention they like it when chapters end with a pause - because that way they can put the book down and go make dinner without feeling like they're being interrupted.

Depends on the book, I suppose. I tend to do a little of both - some chapters need a hook. Some chapters I look at my characters and think...sheesh. They could probably use a little break. I'm gonna tuck them into bed for a few.

(I suspect sometimes this is because I myself was tired when I wrote the scene. Yes. Bed. Bed is good. Bed for everyone. The end.)

I suppose it comes down to the same thing as everything else when you're writing. Does it need to be there? If not, it's time to pare that action down a little.

I leave you with this uncut version of The Bride fighting off The Crazy 88 from Kill Bill. (The theatrical version was a bit shorter, and in black and white due to the gore factor.) But watch it...and then imagine actually writing a scene like this out in a book. While I love me some Kill Bill and its obvious homage to action films everywhere, even watching a scene like this can become boring after a while. Reading it? No thanks.


  1. I giggled at putting the characters to bed at the end of a scene because the writer is tired. I've done that!

  2. I wrote Rogue's Pawn over the course of *cough* a couple of years during snatched time - usually by getting up at 5am. When I went back for a revision later, I noticed my heroine was forever exhausted and barely dragging herself around. Eep. *So* easy to do.