Action scenes are notoriously difficult to craft. There’s a fine line between crisp, clean detail, and over-telling. At what point does a scene become gratuitous in its violence? How much detail is enough to make the reader understand, while not dragging it out?
One of the challenges of action scenes is the desire of the writer to craft a scene that moves quickly. They want the pacing of the scene to be fast and furious, just like the fight scene. The problem is, that denies us the opportunity to slow time and include the detail necessary for the reader to experience the action.
On the flipside of the coin, several horror writers drag action scenes out far too long, detailing each drop of blood as it splashes on the floor. This, too, can be distracting and cause an action scene to fail.
The goal is balance. Give us the detail, and a lot of it, but give it to us quickly. Here’s a quick fight scene to illustrate the potential short comings of each action sequence.
TOO LITTLE DETAIL: Bobby punched Sam. The fist hit him hard and Sam staggered backward. Something hit him in the shoulder. He covered his head with one arm and swung with the other. He hit something, so he kept swinging harder. Someone else hit him and he crumpled.
TOO MUCH DETAIL: Bobby’s fist raced toward Sam’s chest like a bullet train. It hit him hard, his knuckles sinking into Sam’s soft flesh. The bones beneath bent, creaked. Two ribs snapped. Sam staggered backward into a wall. The pain in his chest made him wheeze. His lungs were on fire. He spit blood. The crimson red liquid shot out of his mouth and sprayed his assailant’s knuckles as they raced in and crushed Sam’s nose. More blood seeped out of him, slicking the floor in puddles of red…
BALANCE: Bobby’s fist took Sam in the chest quickly, unexpectedly. Sam reeled, his chest on fire. Two broken ribs, at least. He tried to move, but his feet didn’t respond. He stumbled back into the wall as Bobby’s fist hit him again, this time in the face. He clamped his eyes shut tight, as if they could lock out the pain, but the snap of bone told him his nose had been broken. Tears clouded his vision, and he sank to his knees. Bobby lunged toward him again.
One commonality between the two are the lengths of the sentences. Notice they’re a bit shorter. Seldom are there more than two clauses. This is one easy way to increase the pacing of the scene.
Until next week, good writing.