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Storytelling and Writing Craft > Crafting Action Scenes #3 - Focus: Wide or Tight

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message 1: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Principle #3: Focus: Wide or Tight.

This will be a discussion on what is visually in focus during the scene. Is it essentially a wide shot view, or are we focused tightly into a small area.

This is about what you are presenting to the reader, where and to what are you drawing their mind's eye.

Thoughts?


message 2: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11781 comments In a fight scene, as opposed to a battle scene (separate thread needed) I think it is better to be tight, and seen through the eyes of MC. I guess a brawl becomes somewhere between a fight and a battle, so it could be more difficult, but again, I think focus on what MC sees and does.

Action scenes don't have to be about fights. In one of my novels, the problem was going from A to B, on Kerguelen, with a storm from the southern ocean closing in. The scene started wide as MC had to take in what had to be done while he could still see it all, then it became tighter as the weather closed in. Fighting the elements also permits longer scenes. You don't want to bore the reader, but you can present a sequence of further hazards without causing a credibility problem, as anyone who has actually been out in a storm will know.

As you go tight, it is best to look through the character's eyes. My opinion, anyway. Imagine it is you there, and imagine what you would do, with the advantage that sitting at home behind the computer you won't personally get hurt :-)


message 3: by Graeme (last edited May 31, 2018 12:04AM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan To make this topic more explicit, I'll provide a worked example. Gang Wu, Order weapons grandmaster vs two of Crane's praetorian vampire warriors. Sword fight.

[WIDE] Gang’s sword crashed against the praetorian’s blades.

[WIDE] The praetorians fought with skill and power, they pressed hard against Gang and he had to give ground, shifting backward toward the melee along the dock. A dozen yards away, Chloe Armitage waited with glistening eyes, her attention focused on him. The Red Dragon was unsheathed, its point carried in perfect stillness an inch off the concrete surface of the dock.

[INSERT Gang's Internal monologue] First these two, and then the Demon.

[WIDE] Gang reassessed the battle, as the two vampires circled around him, probing his defenses without success.

[INSERT Gang's internal monologue]I can’t allow her to get to Li and Anton - they are not ready to face her - I must protect them.

[TIGHT] Plunging his mind deeply into silence he became one with space, flow, and time. He felt power surge through his body as the White Dragon arced through the air, shearing through the red-headed praetorian’s sword in a shower of brilliant sparks. The vampire’s eyes widened in terror as Gang’s blade continued past his shattered defenses, driving deep into his chest. Gang drew the White Dragon back, cutting the vampire’s heart in two.

[TIGHT] The second praetorian’s blade whispered through an overhead arc toward Gang’s head like the hammer of a dark god.

[TIGHT] Blurring with blinding speed, Gang continued the motion of drawing the White Dragon from the dying vampire. Sweeping it through a horizontal arc and striking the second praetorian beneath the armpit. The White Dragon continued easily through ruptured armor, flesh and bone before exiting in a spray of bright red blood.

[TIGHT] The vampire, his mouth gaping with shock, slid off the lower part of his body, crumpling into a writhing heap.


DEFINED:

[WIDE] = Anything that can be generalized. This is where you allow the reader to 'fill in the blanks,' what happens here is set up for the tight shots where you will...

[TIGHT] = [1] Detailed view of irrevocable actions that result in consequences that cannot be undone. Serious wounds, destruction of weapons, reveals, maimings, kill shots. The point here is that the action shown in tight view is moving the narrative forward in concrete ways. [2] Close view of ongoing combat.


message 4: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2328 comments Of course you can use the transition from wide to tight as an analogy to the fact that the MC's world is closing in. Having read one of Graeme's books, I'll use the fact that you've done group fights. Imagine a fight where the hero's friends get knocked out of the fight one-by-on until only the MC remains against all the evil. As each friend falls, the focus gets tighter and tighter to mirror the ever-shrinking group of active good guys.


message 5: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Hi J.J. that's a very good point.

I think it's a really skillful display if you can use techniques like that alongside the narrative.

It's like you have multiple story frameworks converging on the same result and as a consequence the reader's imagination is completely reinforced to produce a great story effect.


message 6: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11781 comments I think what J.J suggests has to be carefully done. If you go wide and gradually contract to allow for the good guys getting bumped off, it is in danger of being read as a partial statistics set-up. I prefer only to follow the characters that I have invested a lot of time bringing to the party, so to speak, and in one of my space battles, even the second most important character only got relatively peripheral attention. I find it easier to focus on what one character sees.


message 7: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan It might be managed in terms of contracting spaces, or a loss of room to maneuver.

For example, retreat into a cave, mine, building stairwells, spaceship corridors, etc.

It also sounds like a 'last stand,' situation if a lot of the hero's friends are being knocked off.


message 8: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2328 comments Graeme wrote: "Hi J.J. that's a very good point.

I think it's a really skillful display if you can use techniques like that alongside the narrative.

It's like you have multiple story frameworks converging on t..."


I'm currently doing graphic novels under a different pen name. They're more drama than action, so it gets to be a lot of "talking heads" at times. A number of times, I'll use this in the conversations where the shot gets tighter and tighter as I switch back and forth between the characters. Sometimes the constriction of the scene coincides with with a character's growing frustration during a conversation, other times it draws is in as we're about to get a revelation.


message 9: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2328 comments Ian wrote: "I think what J.J suggests has to be carefully done. If you go wide and gradually contract to allow for the good guys getting bumped off, it is in danger of being read as a partial statistics set-up..."

Do you mean, you don't want to go overboard with the hero taking on, say 10 guys at once? I think the scenario could be effective if, as I talked about in another thread, you're setting up for something like the hero being taken prisoner. Imagine a group melee with the secondary heroes being knocked out as the scene gets tighter and tighter around the main hero and suddenly...the hero realizes the fight is lost and surrenders while he still has his life!


message 10: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11781 comments J J - there are different views on this, but in answer to your question, no I don't do that. If the hero is outnumbered 10 - 1 (unless he is sniper at a distance) he is going to lose. I try to make my fights at least plausibly possible that the hero can win, or he retreats while he can. If the hero has to be taken prisoner, I tend to get him to surrender early, so he is not too hopelessly injured, But I guess there are situations where a good fight to earn their respect is in order.


message 11: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2328 comments Ian wrote: "J J - there are different views on this, but in answer to your question, no I don't do that. If the hero is outnumbered 10 - 1 (unless he is sniper at a distance) he is going to lose. I try to make..."
Been scouring my SciFi lately for quotes to use in new Twitter promo images and find myself getting swept up in my own stories! This series of topics has drawn attention to the fact that I tend to approach these kinds of conflicts/battles/fights in different ways in different stories.

The 10-1 scenario is fun if the 10 are weaker/inferior and get picked off too easily, but the 1 is still challenged by the numbers and may or may not get picked off in the end. I used a variation of this in The Siege of LX-925 when the military sends in a virtually unlimited army to take out a collection of miners holed up in the mining facility. The military strategy has to be one of the worst imaginable...just send in wave after wave of men until the defenders are overwhelmed. They march in with little protection, so the miners can pick them off easy enough, but the numbers mean they will get in eventually.

I'm appreciating the David vs. Goliath theme I used in Covfefe Syndrome where a couple different times, the MC and his crew encounter alien threats that are vastly inferior. True, this falls in space battle territory, but the threat/danger/stakes is not win or lose, but can they get picked off before they puncture a hole in the hull? Can they be stopped before a member of the crew is killed? The idea is that the outcome of the fight is guaranteed before they ever engaged, the real question is what kinds of wounds will our heroes have to lick when it's over.

Throughout my Depot-14 series, the "villains" are often relatively common people, but so are the MCs. They deal with relatively common criminals after a score, and the advantage is entirely in who has the gun at the moment. Some of the stories build to a fist fight between characters, but in a series where you know the hero will come out on top, you have to throw in some creative twists to the fights.


message 12: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2328 comments Ian wrote: "J J - there are different views on this, but in answer to your question, no I don't do that. If the hero is outnumbered 10 - 1 (unless he is sniper at a distance) he is going to lose. I try to make..."

I guess I'm of the opinion that you can really do anything you want, even if that means doing the cliche, the ridiculous, or the downright impossible if you do it in a way that plays on the cliche, the ridiculous and the impossible.


message 13: by J.N. (new)

J.N. Bedout (jndebedout) | 104 comments There is always a place for chaos, too. If you want to convey the chaos of combat, a tighter view is better. If you want to convey the "strategery" (borrowing a Dubya-ism there), like a general orchestrating his army's movements, wider is better. That said, there is no set formula. Plans go awry, and there can be chaos in the general's tent or command center, too. :)


message 14: by Terence (last edited Jun 22, 2018 01:03AM) (new)

Terence Park | 44 comments If the scene is action the focus narrows. Wide area view is either a prelude to new action, or sufficient to remind the reader where the MC is and whether there's been progress.
If no one's about, the MC proceeds with his or her work.
In Guide the MC hunts perdokhi (sub-humans) in the hope of bagging new breeds. There's a substantial bonus involved as each breed carries a communicable xenogen which has to be analysed to be inoculated against. He chooses his ground with care, relying on the baser instincts of the perdokhi to work to his advantage. The POV for the opening ambush that introduces the MC, focuses on where they think he is and their bloodlust. The reader is given no clues that he isn't there but as they prepare to jump him, the POV switches to his actual location and boom!

...

Social get-togethers mean abandoning the MC's POV in order to colour in the scene for the reader. The Ball in Guide is an opportunity for leaders of the remaining powers on Earth, to meet informally (ditto the aliens). There's no violence but neither are all exchanges cordial. The order of the day is: an ongoing backdrop – chattering socialites – older folks reminiscing about when America was great etc, while plot snippets play out.

Dream is different in that although all elements are up for grabs, they play on what is relevant and what has passed


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