Saturday, July 9, 2011

Aaaaand, Action! How to write it well

Lisa Green, my talented writing buddy and critique partner, recently had her awesome short story, IDENTITY CRISIS, published in the cool anthology GODS OF JUSTICE. Woo hoo, Lisa!


One of Lisa's many writing talents is squeezing lots of heart-pumping action into her stories, even if they're small. She's kind enough to share her secrets with us.


Take it away, Lisa!


How do you pack a lot of action into a small word count? You’ll have to pardon the pun, but you have to make every word count. Short stories are an art unto themselves. Not only do you need a clear-cut goal, motivation, and character arc, you also need to entertain, which in some cases means action.


Fight scenes are physical. It can be difficult to put down on paper the details you see in your mind. My

recommendation is to use the highlights. Look at The Date by Ty Wilson:


See how the artist lets you fill in the blanks? That’s what we have to do only with words. Did you know that in

Hitchcock’s Psycho, you never actually see the victim get stabbed in the shower scene?


But what DO you put in? Here are the steps to a good action sequence:

  • Set the stage: We have to have a good idea what the space is we’re working with. In IDENTITY CRISIS I use the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier. I mention the sights and sounds, the smells even, but I don’t have to say too much because we all have a general idea what a Ferris wheel is like. The description I do use reflects my character’s feelings and the tension of the moment.
  • Make ‘em wring their hands with anticipation: Good horror movies withhold the monster until the last minute. Tension is the key. If you’re writing a western, and the whole thing culminates in a shootout, you better build up to it properly. I want to feel the nerves of the MC as the clock in the town square chimes twelve.
  • Show the audience the big moves: Does the MC get a punch in the gut when he fails to move out of the way? What does the force feel like? How does his body react? If it’s a big moment, slow it down. Show us a bit of internal dialogue. The MC’s reaction if it’s more than “Ow.”
  • Keep your sentences clear and concise: If it’s action, too many words can slow it down. Watch your sentence structure. Use strong verbs and clear actions so we know what’s happening.
Awesome advice. Thanks, Lisa!

Writers, what do you think? Have you ever written an action story with a limited word count, or created action-packed scenes in your books? Please share your secrets!

And if you're a fan of super hero stories, be sure to let me know you'd like to win a copy of GODS OF JUSTICE. To celebrate the book release, I'm giving away one copy!
(Please comment by midnight on July 16th. US residents only for print copy, international for Kindle version)


38 comments:

  1. Great points, Lisa. I find writing action scenes, especially fights, some of the most difficult writing. It's so difficult to know what to include and how to say it without sounding cliche. I like the way your points focus on the emotions involved as well.

    And let me say again how much I loved your story Identity Crisis. Great job on the actions scenes, too!

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  2. Lisa has some awesome tips. I have a few action scenes that I have to revise, I'll have to remember these. I especially have a hard time keeping my sentences clear and concise. Great tips! :D

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  3. I definitely agree about slowing the moment down, and love the line to show the MC’s reaction 'if it’s more than “Ow.”'

    Weird question, Julie, what template do you use on your blog? I want to keep my blog's 'framed' header but the template doesn't allow a background and you seem to have somehow managed both!

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  4. Action scenes have always been difficult for me, I think. I've only really written novels, so I can't say much about short stories. In novels, I always want to describe things well, like all of us, and sometimes I'm worried that they'll be confused. However, I think simplicity is good when a lot of things are going on.

    BTW - I tagged you in a meme! :) Whenever you get a chance, head over to my blog to check it out.

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  5. Great tips - and I love the one about holding the monster out until the end. Even if you're not in horror, the bad guy's presence can linger and build until the end. #lovethepicturetoo

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  6. Big congrats to Lisa!! Rah! Great advice for action scenes, too. I imagine it's more challenging with a smaller word count. It's difficult enough with a bit of freedom. I usually use shorter sentences, trying to keep them clear. Not necessarily a blow-by-blow account of the action, however. That can slow the pace. :)

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  7. Thanks for having me, Julie! I'm loving the comments! :D

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  8. Super advice, and "Identity Crisis" is a super story. The fight scene on the ferris wheel is super cool. I agree with you on super word choice. Those words that snap a visualization in our heads are super effective.

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  9. I liked the last two points. I shall ponder this a while- thanks!

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  10. Congrats Lisa! I wrote a short story by accident that ended up in an anthology, but this advice is great when you are doing it on purpose :)

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  11. Hi Lisa! I'm going to write a short story this weekend, so your timing is perfect. I read every Edge & Adam Steele book I could get my hands on as a kid - now they're collectibles & I left them in NZ! Foolish 20 year old! - and they're all action & entertainment. Word choice, brevity, slow down the blood letting & pain, & get inside the head of the mc. Thanks for the wonderful advice. Congratulations on the anthology news. Hi Julie :)

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  12. Very good, thought-provoking points, Lisa. I'll definitely keep this in mind.
    Thanks for the post, Julie.
    -Jimmy

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  13. Thanks for hosting Lisa on your blog, Julie.

    Congratulations, Lisa! These are wonderful tips, and I'd say they apply to novel writing, too. I hold a black belt in karate and feel so silly for procrastinating writing a major fighting scene. Your post has been super helpful to me. Thanks so much!

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  14. Oh, perfect timing, I'm writing some right now! And they're not my natural environment, so I'l be using these tips!

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  15. Great timing for me too. I want to whittle three chapters down to two while increasing the tension.

    Showing the big moves is great advice. Thanks Lisa and Julie. :D

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  16. Great point made with that illustration! I remember when I went to re-read some of my favorite actions scenes in books to prime myself for writing one, I was surprised at how short they were - less than a page! - in my memory they seemed like they should be pages and pages long.

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  17. As always - great advice Lisa! Action scenes are tough - I'm going to use your tips!

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  18. You mention Hitchcock. He's a master at giving just enough and then letting the imagination do the rest. I think one could study good poetry also to see how to do "brush strokes" that gut punch the reader. Your "steps" here, Lisa, are excellent. Thank you, Julie, for hosting her.
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

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  19. I love action scenes! I've only written them in my novel, and not in short stories, but this is great advice.

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  20. great advice! this'll come in handy for some upcoming action scenes i'm about to work on!

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  21. Wonderful guest, Julie. And congrats to Lisa for the publication of that story.

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  22. Good points here, especially for short stories. I'm writing a ghost story now and the tension is definitely key and something I'm still learning. Thanks, ladies!
    erica

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  23. The challenge of limited words to tell a story is a great exercise. Might be the reason Haiku can be so powerful.

    As usual L.G.G. is spot on with her advice...now am I wise enough to follow it?!

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  24. New follower ~ I like the blog. Look forward to reading more.

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  25. Great points Lisa. Thanks Julie!

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  26. Great article, Lisa! I love that picture, and the comparison you draw (har har) to the importance of letting the reader fill in the blanks. I keep hearing this lately, so I'm trying to grab hold of this truth in my writing. Thanks for the reminder! And thanks, Julie, for sharing your blog for the day.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  27. I used to be awful at fighting scenes. It's taken work, but I'm better now! I love your tips. :)

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  28. Great tips Lisa! Thanks to Julie for this great post. :P I hope you both are enjoying the summer despite your busy schedules. :P
    nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  29. first congrats to Lisa...and those tips are great. I'm writing something out of my realm and need these kinds of tips. thanks Julie for posting this.

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  30. Hi Lisa! These are really great points. :)

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  31. Thanks for the advice, Lisa. Fighting scenes are hard to write.

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  32. Action scenes are tough. You give excellent advice, Lisa. It's not that we need to know every last movement and detail, but we need to FEEL it: smell the blood, taste the sweat, feel the nerves pulsing.

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  33. Great tips. Writing short stories is an art form! Definitely.

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  34. Congratulations, Lisa, and thanks for the pointers. Short stories are hard for me. I'm still struggling with them and this advice is great!

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  35. Oh, I missed this one when it first posted. Thanks for the great tips!

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  36. This is such a great post Lisa and Julie. Thank you!

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