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Writing Fight/Action Scenes

May 30, 2011 by in category Lyon's Lair tagged as , , , , with 0 and 0
Home > Columns > Lyon's Lair > Writing Fight/Action Scenes

by Jennifer Lyon 
I never thought I’d be forced to do this, but here it is…
I might actually have to thank my brothers. All these years, I have credited my parents and my sister for giving me my love of reading that led to writing. But more and more, reviewers are bringing up the fight and actions scenes in my books. I have a writer friend who sends me her fight scenes to critique…and you get the point.
So how is it I can write fight and actions scenes when I have not taken a single martial arts class in my life?
Because the first years of my life were practically on the job training. One of my earliest memories is seeing my older brother do a flying jump, snapping a kick in mid air, and break a board held by my other brother. I can still hear the crack that board made.
A few years later, one of my brothers went on to become a black belt, and he co-owned a karate studio with a friend. I remember being in the studio one day, I was about eight or nine years old, and watching him and the friend spar. It was terrifying and exhilarating. I remember the long wall of mirrors and the blue mat, the pungent smell of sweat and male, the sounds of flesh hitting flesh, the shouts and grunts, and how fast it all moved.
And most amazing of all, the expression in their eyes when they saw a weakness in their opponent then planned and executed a strike—all at lightning speed!
It’s all vivid and tactile in my memory.
And that’s exactly how a fight scene, or any action scene, should read in a book. It must be vivid and present…not distant and vague. The reader wants to see and feel with the point of view character. Here are some of my tips:
Establish point of view and stay there. This character is going to show your reader everything. It will anchor your reader into the scene and help them “see” everything that’s happening. And the same time, it should be revealing more about your character too. This is an example from NIGHT MAGIC:
Phoenix sprinted around the side of the building, followed the blood trail of the witch to a ladder on the side of the church and started climbing.
It was an A-line roof two stories up. Damn, he wasn’t a fan of heights. Why couldn’t people do their business on the ground? Hell. He grabbed the edge of the roof and silently hauled himself up to the wickedly slanted top. The tiles were slick, and he had to lay flat on the slope to keep from sliding off. He looked around while digging his fingers into the raised edges of the tiles.
In this snippet, first tension is building because there’s going to be a fight on an A line roof—someone is going to fall off, it’s only logical. But as we’re in Phoenix’s head, we’re learning about his fear of heights. And notice that while he mentally gripes, his fear doesn’t stop him.
Never use passive writing in a fight scene (and I can think of a time when I broke my own rule!). Passive writing of Phoenix keeping a woman protected behind his back while fighting his attackers: “In an instant, the rogue was on the ground.”
Yawn. A more active version:
He didn’t want to move and expose the woman. He ripped off his chain, snapped it around the knife hand, and jerked. The rogue fell to the ground, and Phoenix flipped his knife to stab the blade through the rogue’s back—
Choreograph the scene. Draw out the setting and all your characters on paper. It helps you build a visual in your head and then you know where everybody in the scenes is. And more importantly, what they are doing. You must keep track of everyone through your point of view character’s eye. That way you don’t start out with five people in a fight and two just fade away never to be seeing or heard from again. Drawing it out really helps—even with my stick figure drawings!
Action/fight scenes must be building your plot, otherwise they are just filler. Readers recognize filler. Make your action scenes work for you. Gratuitous fight scenes are as boring as gratuitous sex scenes.
Fast paced writing. This is the place for shorter sentences and carefully chosen description. In this example Phoenix spots the rogues and a woman, and goes after them into an alley. This is the entire description of the alley:
The cool air was blighted by the combined stench of rotting food, copper, and urine. Scanning the narrow street lined with weak light that spilled from the street-lights and buildings, he looked left and spotted the tops of the rogues’ heads on the other side of the blue Dumpster.
Just enough to set the scene, give the reader of visual. And notice we get the visual as Phoenix is looking for his prey. Fight scenes should be tight, clean writing using only the words you need.
And that’s all I can think of at the moment. Except to say thank you to my brothers!
Okay now for a little promo: Romantic Times gives SINFUL MAGIC, out May 31st, a 4 ½ HOT and said:
The power of undying love truly shines through here, adding plenty of emotion to an otherwise dark and action-packed adventure. Another Lyon triumph!
SINFUL MAGIC hits the shelves on May 31st, I hope you’ll pick up a copy!
Jennifer Lyon always wanted to be a witch. When her witch-powers didn’t materialize, she turned to creating magic in her books. NIGHT MAGIC and SINFUL MAGIC are the third and fourth books in an enchanting, passionate and supernatural series. 

     

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