There! To the right! You see those two awesomely-outfitted dudes there? The guy in the air is Vedas (one of the main characters in No Return, my upcoming novel from Night Shade); he’s about to land a concussive blow to the other guy. Why is he going to do this? Because he’s in the arena, refusing to lose. It’s what he does.
Last post, I said I’d show you cover art if I had it.
And I do, so I am!
Isn’t it fucking brilliant? Sorry for the language and all, but seriously… Fucking Brilliant, right? It came out of the artfully awesome brain of Robbie Trevino. It’s his first-ever book cover commission, adorning my first-ever published novel!
If it seems like I’m crazy excited, good; it means I’ve properly communicated my exact emotion.
The funny thing is that, when I first saw the cover art, I had a moment of doubt – not about the coolness of the art itself, which is undeniable, but about my novel. For a moment, I doubted that there was enough action in my 110,000 words to support such an awesome image. I had to remind myself of all the ass kicking and running around, not to mention exploding, that occurs in No Return. And after reminding myself of that, I had to remind myself that over time I’d grown to think of the action scenes as some of the best in the book.
That’s a lot of reminding about material I after all wrote – but you see, I don’t typically think of myself as the kind of writer who places a lot of emphasis on action. In fact, when I saw what this week’s theme was , I got a little nervous.
Damn, I thought, I’m not really good at action scenes.
It’s largely an issue of difficulty, I guess; my default setting is to go internal and avoid the external, because navel-gazing feels relatively easy for me while describing a bar brawl doesn’t. Making any scene active is hard, of course, but crafting a true action sequence – which may include not a word of dialogue to break it into more manageable bits – causes me to break out in an icy-hot sweat.
Still, that doesn’t mean I’m bad at action scenes, does it? I mean, just because I enjoy writing a conversation in a coffee shop more than writing a car chase, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I’m better at the former and worse at the latter. I enjoy skateboarding, for instance, but I still suck at it; conversely, I hate office work, but I’m pretty good at it.
When I started outlining No Return, I knew I had a tough task ahead of me. The most I’d ever written on a single project before giving up was 20,000 words. My short stories rarely rose above the 7000-word mark. All of these pieces, the finished and the unfinished (there were many more of those, by the way), contained only about 3 or 4 really active scenes. The thought of crafting a NOVEL, not to mention an EXCITING NOVEL FILLED WITH ASS KICKING AND RUNNING AROUND AND EXPLODING, filled me with some profoundly well-deserved dread.
Still, with great fortitude (otherwise known as fear of looking like a fool for committing to something and failing) I got through a first draft, and overall wasn’t too displeased with the action scenes. They were pretty good, actually.
We call this denial, or if we’re being very kind, charitable forgetfulness.
My action scenes stunk! I realized this pretty early during my first revision (okay; on page 1). Of course, in my first draft a great deal of the writing was crap, but when the idiot-me of a couple months earlier got around to describing the kind of physical movement you need in order for action scenes to work, it was like the worst thing I’d ever read.
All right, it wasn’t Eye of Argon bad, but it was bad.
“Wait, what? Whose arm is doing that? Where is her leg right now? The statue exploded into its own shadow? How the hell does that work? What was I thinking?”
Unfortunately, writing action scenes was not like doing office work. I hated doing it, and I stunk at it.
During that first revision, I had to keep reminding myself that removing the action scenes was not an option. I couldn’t have my characters just walking slowly from place to place, thinking deep things, talking now and then, and never getting into any physical encounters! A good portion of the novel involves professional fighters traveling over dangerous ground to attend a fighting tournament.
I wanted the reader to see, to feel, to hear muscles stretching and pulling, fingers curling into fists and smashing faces! I wanted the reader to live acts of acrobatic sex and sudden violence! Hell, I wanted explosions!
I resolved to improve my action scenes, and then went about it in kind of a barbarian way. If it required heavy thinking to identify just why a certain physical action didn’t make sense, then clearly it should be rewritten from the ground up; the resulting sentences should be clear, concise, uncluttered. Simple. Basically, I decided that heavy thinking should be avoided in action scenes. Maybe some genius writers can brain it up in their action scenes, but I decided that mine should reflect the state of mind I experience while engaged in action in real life.
The writing that resulted was, at best, bland.
But at least I understood what was happening. I had a framework upon which I could expand. Over the course of revisions, I did expand the scenes into something more interesting (I think) than a step-by-step instruction manual.
Understand, though; despite the fact that I’ve found a way to write action scenes that please me, I don’t recommend my technique – which, in case I haven’t made it clear, consists of writing confusing scenes the first time around, scrapping them, rewriting them in caveman-simple sentences, and then going back to add detail enough to make them interesting. It’s a long, annoying process.
My recommendation? Write action scenes well the first time around. In fact, this is my overall writing recommendation: Do it right the first time. And be quick with it.
Just be an abnormally talented person, basically.
Of course, this is not practical advice. (Unless it isn’t for you, in which case you’re awesome and I hate you.) Unfortunately but most likely, the majority of writers struggle with action scenes. Yes, even if they like them.
Why? Because they’re hard to get right. You can flub some dialogue and people will likely forgive you, but if you confuse the reader during a high-speed bank robbery getaway, or simply break that headlong flow, they’ll be awfully disappointed. Remember, action scenes are supposed to propel the reader forward without too much cerebration. (Which is not to say they’re mindless; merely that they’re primarily stimulating a non-analytical portion of the brain.)
Let’s admit it, we like action scenes, don’t we? And for good reason: done well, there are few things that get us readers as pumped up. Though I haven’t placed a heavy emphasis on action in my writing (that is, before writing No Return), there are few acts that will make me more jealous than reading an awesome action scene – the kind that makes my fists clench, my head nod, my mouth form a tight smile of encouragement.
The sort of scene that makes me root for someone, that makes me hear power chords.
Damn. I didn’t intend for this post to be so Zack-centric, so this-is-how-I-overcame-ish. I don’t want to keep talking about MY NOVEL all the time, bringing the conversation back around to me AND DID YOU KNOW I HAVE A NOVEL COMING OUT AND NOW I’M GOING TO EAT YOUR FACE AND *GROWL GROWL GROWL* *CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH* … *RIP* *TEAR* *SCREAM* …
*DEMOLISHES ENTIRE TOWN WITH OWN SELF-INVOLVEMENT*
…because that can get old, real fast.
Still (to bring this post full-circle), I’m excited about my book coming out, and the excitement spills over into everything I do. I hope, if you’ve been struggling to write an action scene, that my perspective, as self-indulgent as it may be, makes your own struggle a little easier. Or at least a little more bearable.
Take care! I’ll see you next week!