Sunday, August 5, 2012

5 Tips on Writing Actions Scenes

by J.C. Martin

Chopsocky refers to martial arts films made in the 1960s and 1970s. You know, the ones with out-of-sync dubbing, exaggerated sound effects, and all-around cheesiness? Despite their cornball plots, there is no denying that these films can be pretty entertaining.
A writer can learn lots about writing action from watching a classic chopsocky.

1. Keep the action flowingThe choreography for some chopsocky is pretty impressive. When writing action, your sentences should flow as smoothly as the on-screen moves.
Action scenes are fast-paced, so don’t slow them down with flowery words. Simple and short sentences reflect urgency. Use active verbs, e.g. “Bruce punches Jackie,” rather than passive sentences like “Jackie is punched by Bruce.” (Bonus question: in which film did this happen?)

2. Spare the intricaciesThe chopsocky hero is capable of amazing (and dubious) feats, but viewers are so engrossed in the action, they barely notice the physical implausibility of one kick knocking three people down.
Someone in a life-or-death situation has adrenaline surging through their veins. The result: increased heart rate, dry mouth, tunnel vision. They won’t notice the colour of the carpet. Their sole focus is survival, so leave out unnecessary details. They only slow the action down.

3. Cut small talkChopsocky is often guilty of this: the hero and villain engaged in a civil conversation in between bashing each other’s brains in. This doesn’t happen in real life. Use dialogue only in the preamble. Once the fight is on, dialogue should be restricted to shouts and grunts—and no, we don’t need the hero reciting a running commentary of every move he makes!

4. Avoid one-sided fightsAnother sin of chopsocky: the hero takes down twenty goons without a scratch, then struggles against the big boss. Your hero isn’t invincible, and your baddies aren’t shambling idiots. To up the tension, ebb and flow is key.

5. Use layman’s termsJust because you’ve done your research, or have first-hand martial arts knowledge, doesn’t mean you should bog your scene down with unfamiliar terms. Telling readers your heroine executes a well-timed Monkey Steals the Peach will likely receive blank stares—and yes, it’s a real Ninjitsu technique!

By all means, give a rough description of the moves, but trust your readers to fill in the scene with their rich imagination.