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Storytelling and Writing Craft > Crafting Action Scenes #1 - Progression

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message 1: by Graeme (last edited May 26, 2018 05:38PM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Hi All,

Many of us will write action scenes, so I'm shooting out some threads to kick of discussions.

Principle #1: Progression: aka "Increasing the stakes," aka "Turning the screws."

[Method #1] Implementation across multiple scenes: If your writing anything with more than one scene, you can apply this principle across multiple scenes as a progression of risk/threat/difficulty for the main character.

For example the following set of scenes demonstrates the principle.

Scene 1 - Initial contact b/w MC and opponents - verbal conflict only, inneuendo, hidden meanings and threat, outright threats, harsh language.

Scene 2 - Brawl - definent threat of serious injury, risk of death, use of "at hand" weapons, e.g. chairs...

Scene 3 - Combat - MC and opponents try to kill each other. Real weapons used.

Scene 4 - Combat - 1st Escalation - Increased numbers of opponents, increased quality of opponents (i.e opponents are tougher), a change in location (or environment) where the advantage shifts to the opponents of the MC.

Scene 5 - Combat - 2nd Escalation - Direct combat with senior powerful opponents, very high risk for MC.

Scene 6 - Combat - Climax - Direct combat with Nemesis character, or major power directly opposed to the MC.

NOTE #1: In a novel, the above principle can be applied across sequences of scenes. I.e. You may have multiple scenes to do each of the steps above.

NOTE #2: It's extensible - you can add as many steps as you like as long as it is progressively more difficult for the MC with each step - forcing the MC to lift their game with their response to the increasing risk/threat/diifficulty.

Easy Author Error #1: Opponents are too easy = low risk = boredom.

Easy Author Error #2: Opponents are too tough and yet the MC keeps surviving - risks believability. (interesting combats are balanced - the reader is not sure who will live and who will die).

Easy Author Error #3: Lack of progression = scenes with similar level of risk, one after the other, again and again, etc, etc = boredom.

Advice: make use of the environment to increase the risk, threat, difficulty levels. i.e. Have the lights go out, have it rain, have the engine on the getaway car not start, have it be foggy, have a key ally betray the MC, have a key ally be captured (and taken off the board...) - don't just rely on having tougher opponents.

[Method #2] Implementation within a scene: Break your scenes down into the following elements.

MC's Goal - what do they really want right now.
Obstacle #1 - something bad happens
MC Response #1 - solves first obstacle
Obstacle #2 - something worse happens
MC Response #2 - elevated - has to work harder/take more risk/think faster, etc - solves 2nd obstacle
Obstacle #3 - something even worse happens,
and so on.

There is a rhythm inside the scene of obstacle/response that the MC (or POV character) has to deal with a progression in risk/threat/difficulty of the obstacles.

Thoughts?


message 2: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11797 comments My thought is you do not want too much progression against the same opponent because it tends to look like padding. By all means have a warning, and if that does not work, then you can have a fight, but it is very seldom useful to repeat the fight against the same opponent. I also think any action scene must be where one character is trying to achieve something else, and that something else should be important to the story. In my "Dreams Defiled" I have one MC get a beating the squeamish won't like, but the purpose is not to have a violent scene, but it is necessary to show him he is not the worst guy on the block.

I think actual fights should be relatively short. You can extend them by having someone running away, etc, but if you want to keep it real, a body can only take a limited amount of damage, and before you start talking about 12 round boxing matches, they have breaks, gloves, rules, and the boxers are very well conditioned. I have nothing against a fight being one-sided, as long as the fight has a clear purpose to the story. What I really dislike is the MC fighting overwhelming odds - he should be overwhelmed. I also dislike the MC having "miraculous recovery". You sometimes see he gets knife to the gut, and keeps up superhuman efforts for the next day or so. Yeah, right.

Graeme's third error should be noted. The same sort of fight over and over again is just boring.

The above is for fight scenes only. Battles are different, and need a separate thread.


message 3: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Ian wrote: "I think actual fights should be relatively short. You can extend them by having someone running away, etc, but if you want to keep it real, a body can only take a limited amount of damage, and before you start talking about 12 round boxing matches, they have breaks, gloves, rules, and the boxers are very well conditioned. ..."

Agreed. I read a fight once, which was an extended series of punches, over and over, over and over, over and over..... and over again. I was bored 1/2 way through and waiting for this 'dumb,' fight scene to finish.


message 4: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2329 comments One trope (see what I did there? :D ) I see often, and I've used myself is to have the hero/heroine and the villain/villainess square off twice where the hero gets his ass handed to him in the first fight, so that when the second fight comes up, there is that whole aspect of the hero having to step up his game if he wants to survive a second time.


message 5: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2329 comments One example of increasing the risk, and I'll enter the realm of movies here, is that the hero climbs up the ladder, taking on the villain's sidekicks in sequence until reaching the main baddie...you see this in the James Bond franchise a lot, and it's a similar pattern in video games too...where each sub-villain is more powerful/challenging than the one before.


message 6: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan J.J. wrote: "One trope (see what I did there? :D ) I see often, and I've used myself is to have the hero/heroine and the villain/villainess square off twice where the hero gets his ass handed to him in the firs..."

I'm absolutely using this technique.


message 7: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11797 comments J.J. wrote: "One trope (see what I did there? :D ) I see often, and I've used myself is to have the hero/heroine and the villain/villainess square off twice where the hero gets his ass handed to him in the firs..."

Interestingly, I avoid this. In my fights, either the two reconcile, or one gets sidelined thereafter, e.g.. dead or in jail. The exception is battles, where the opposition decide to retreat, and the other guy escapes.


message 8: by Graeme (last edited Jun 15, 2018 10:14PM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan J.J. wrote: "One example of increasing the risk, and I'll enter the realm of movies here, is that the hero climbs up the ladder, taking on the villain's sidekicks in sequence until reaching the main baddie...yo..."

Escalation of risk/threat is critical, but I take the view that you can also use the broader environment to effect.

I.e.

Dirk Striker, his pistols empty, faced off against his arch-nemesis Dr. Agon.

The doctor laughed, a wild shriek of triumph. "You may have slaughtered my ninja's but you will not escape my little friend."

He punched a big red button on the wall. The ground heaved. The volcano beneath the Dr's secret lair exploded, a river of magma engulfing the one remaining helicopter on the roof helipad.

"Ha," the Dr. laughed, activating his jet pack, and zooming upward into the sky.

Dirk twisted about. The magma was everywhere, the helipad a shrinking island within a fiery sea.

"What the hell do I do now?"


message 9: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan (Perhaps I have a secret desire to write pulpy superhero action... of course, some would suggest that's already happening.)


message 10: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2329 comments Graeme wrote: "J.J. wrote: "One example of increasing the risk, and I'll enter the realm of movies here, is that the hero climbs up the ladder, taking on the villain's sidekicks in sequence until reaching the mai..."

That is great! I love it!


message 11: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11797 comments I disagree with continual escalation. My approach is to build to a climax, then let go, have something a bit quieter, then build up again, a bit like music. You cannot just keep up a crescendo or it gets tedious.


message 12: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Hi Ian, agreed. The build up is to a climax, post climax is normally quieter.


message 13: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11797 comments Hi Graeme, In my opinion, the more difficult part of writing is to make the quiet intervals quiet, yet at the same time drive the story forward without getting boring or looking like fillers. The quiet bits are just as important for the progression of the story, but maybe not as easy to write.


message 14: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan I see your point. I call them "breathers," to allow the characters and readers to catch their breath.


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