Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lights! Camera! Action!

Action sequences are probably the most difficult thing for me to write. They combine all the hardest elements in one package--description, setting, mood, dialogue, action and usually multiple characters along with narrative. All the movements must be choreographed (even if they aren't included in the the actual scene) so you don't have Joe slugging Harry while comforting Susie while shooting Vincent). Unless, of course, Joe is a three-armed sloth from the planet Zorcon.

How is the writer to manage then?

It all go back to a collage of maps, photographs, acting it out with people, or in several cases I know, using Barbie dolls. One editor I know checks the action using her frog collection. However, it's done, it usually requires more than a vivid imagination.

Why go to that bother?

Because most of us don't visualize well. Yes, I know, we live in a visual age, but because we do, I think we often have difficulty seeing the scene without props. Why do you suppose we have an easier time following directions when we also have a map to look at?

Right. So after the writer choreographs the scene using whatever manner they choose, then they still have to write it. And it's not enough to write down words. Noooo. The writer must describe the scene so the reader can see the scene without the props the writer used for choreographing. That's not so easy.

In addition to the movement, the author must layer in emotion, description, and narrative in such a seamless manner the reader remains engaged through the entire scene to the end. This is true whether the scene is a multi-partner orgy or a heart-pounding race across the face of Mt. Rushmore. If the reader is bored half-way through the scene, they'll move on to the something watching the grass grow.

What about an example? Below is a sequence from Traveller's Refuge. Can you feel the panic in the village? In this scene, Trav is sitting outside on the patio sharpening knives as he fights the boredom of recovering from terrible injuries...

He put his materials down and took a snack break, studying the terrain surrounding the patio with a calculating glance. If an invading force made it this far, there was absolutely nothing to hinder their progress through the village. According to Dancer’s assessment, the warriors in the valley had next to no experience in fighting as a cohesive unit. Individually they were highly skilled. And that’s exactly how fighting was done in the valley—individually.

But if Fremont Llewellyn succeeded in invading, he wouldn’t be coming in as an individual. Traveller believed he would send in several small elite fighting groups. He tossed the rest of the juice down his throat and swallowed. Time was waiting for no man or woman. He needed to be on his feet and training the warriors to fight together.

Shoving his frustration away, he went back to his chore while he considered the list of skills the warriors needed to develop. His appraisal of their potential deficiencies was interrupted by terrified screams and loud shouts. Struggling up out of the chair, he hobbled over to the stone wall, cursing his injuries and stupid legs.

Trav! Wrenna was shrieking in his mind.

Snarling, a sleek long-haired golden body soared over the wall and streaked toward the tangled knot of human and animals. With horror, Trav realized Wrenna was the human fighting with the grimahrs. Galvanized, Trav stalked down the hill toward the snapping, growling animals, entirely unconscious of the pain in his legs. When he was close enough, he threw the knife in his hands with desperate force, striking the grimahr that had seized Wrenna’s leg with his powerful jaws, squarely between the eyes. It keeled over, dragging her with it to the ground. Seconds later two more flicknives were buried in the heart of the second grimahr, and then Hawke and Llyon ran past him, completely focused on reaching Wrenna’s crumpled body.

Abruptly, help arrived from all over the village. A man Traveller didn’t even know led him to a nearby boulder and gently helped him sit down. Several men dragged the grimahr carcasses away once they were disentangled with Wrenna. Two other men and a woman knelt next to Harmony, working swiftly to staunch the bleeding from her wounds.

And Traveller saw none of it as he strained to see what was happening with Wrenna. Dancer and Eppie arrived and immediately joined Trav, taking charge of him. “Are you all right?” Dancer gasped out as he stared at the chaos on the incline above the river.

Trav watched the healers desperately working over Wrenna’s still body and he started shaking. Robyn brought a blanket from his chair in the garden and carefully wrapped it around him.

“Stay with him, Eppie. I’ll go find out what’s going on.” Dancer trotted down where they worked on Wrenna and spoke softly to Merlyn. After a moment, he ran back up the hill where they waited for word.

“They have the bleeding under control. They’re going to get her ready to carry up to the house where they can treat her better.” He watched slow tears trickle down Trav’s cheeks and he squatted down next to Trav while Eppie rubbed his back. “Trav, she’s going to be okay. They need to do a lot of stitching, though.”

“Harmony?” Trav asked with dread.

“They don’t know,” Dancer admitted. “They’re having a hard time stopping the bleeding. She has a terrible gash where one of the grimahrs ripped her throat.”

Trav gazed down at the scene, not really taking in the reality. “She saved her, Dance. I couldn’t move fast enough and Harmony just flew over the wall and went after them.”

“You saved her, too, Trav. Llyon said they wouldn’t have made it in time.” Dancer shook his head. “Come on. We’ll go inside and wait for her.”

“Not until they carry her in,” Trav replied stubbornly. “I can’t hold her, but I’m not leaving her, either. It’s all I can do.”

1 comment:

  1. Yup - lots of things to do all at once when writing a scene. It's not simply words.