Today on The Dark Phantom I have a wonderful guest post by Mark H. Phillips, author of The Resqueth Revolution. To promote his science fiction book, Phillips is touring the blogosphere this March. This post pertains to the second part of his article. To read the first part, visit Write First, Clean Later.
How to Write Exciting Action Scenes – Part 2 of 2
Today we continue our discussion with the second rule of action writing: do your research and make sure the details are convincing. Do you know the difference between a roundhouse and a spinning back fist? What’s the difference between a side snap kick and a hook kick? How does one use a kubotan or a manriki-gusari? How much different does the recoil feel between a 9 mm Luger and a Smith & Weston .500 caliber revolver? While personal experience is the best research, you can absorb a wealth of convincing detail from the Internet, gun and sports magazines, watching action films, reading action novels, and watching real mayhem such as martial arts, boxing, and even pro wrestling.
This brings us to our third and last rule. For those of you out there who have been spared the awful curse of testosterone poisoning or for those of you who have fully absorbed the civilizing influences of culture, writing action scenes may mean deliberately and meticulously pondering feelings that you will find repellent in the extreme. It seems, to many of us, both counterintuitive and morally wrong that our audience desperately craves to know what it’s like to slam the edge of your foot hard enough into someone’s kneecap for it to snap. Why would anyone, except a psychopath, revel in the opponent’s screams as his shattered leg folds beneath him? The third rule of action writing, at least writing about violent confrontations, is that you must open yourself to bloodlust. I doubt anyone can write consistently arousing pornography who feels no arousal when they write. I doubt anyone can write consistently convincing villains unless they have opened themselves, at least temporarily, to truly evil thoughts and feelings. You can compose jazz without feeling much of anything, but only those who have felt deep, dark anguish and pain have ever written quality blues. I doubt anyone can write consistently exciting action scenes involving violent confrontation without feeling bloodlust.
Without opening yourself to your inner bloodlust you still may be able to write convincing chase scenes or fights against natural disasters, but writing about violence, including violent action, requires being open to bloodlust. This is true, even if your first person protagonist explicitly rejects the bloodlust within her, feeling appalled at the carnage she reluctantly must mete out. You, the writer, had to dwell on the carnage and your reader will lap up the details of it with relish. Many of you cannot watch boxing, nor understand the avid fascination of its fans. But if you were going to hire someone to write about a boxing match, wouldn’t you hire an expert who was both literate and an avid fan?
While writing action, remember the three rules. Imagine you are witnessing the action in real life or a movie and try to capture every necessary detail. Slow everything down so your reader has the time to become caught up in those details, while making your prose as “ripped” ands lean as possible. Do your research so the details are either accurate or convincing. And with violent confrontational action, access your suppressed bloodlust. If you can’t become excited by the action you are writing, I doubt your reader will either. Learn to like action. Come over to the Dark Side.
Here is an action scene from the next entry in the Eva Baum detective series, The Golden Key, written with my brilliant co-author and lovely wife Charlotte Phillips. I’ve actually considerably condensed and simplified it, eliminating about half the protagonists/antagonists. In the finished work, this fight with a prefight setup and postfight wrap up constitutes an entire chapter.
I dragged myself off the pavement and stood. I staggered as the asphalt below me seemed to roll and tilt wildly. The boy who had thrown the heavy chunk of curb laughed as he emerged from the hedge on my right. His voice was a cruel growl. “For such a little bitch she can take a hit.”
The two who had faced me originally congratulated him on his throw. They were the St. Thomas jocks I had fingered for the police as the gay basher source of the threats to Chaps. A wave of nausea and pain washed through me leaving me shivering in a cold sweat. I knew the night breeze was cool, but it felt warm on my skin. I spit out a mouthful of blood along with some fragments of teeth.
The largest boy, Unibrow, slapped his baseball bat against the palm of his other hand while his comrades moved to surround me. Despite my nausea I slowly turned to watch the others. Slackjaw held an ax handle like a samurai sword. Good posture; perhaps some martial arts training? He looked the most nervous of the bunch, glancing constantly to Unibrow for moral support and directions. Mouthbreather, the one who had clocked me with the chunk of curb now had a crowbar in each meaty hand and was nearly skipping in place, rolling his shoulders, trying to stay loose but also jacked up on something.
I centered myself, controlling my breath, lowering my body into a horse stance. I flicked the catch on the ‘jewelry’ wrapped around my right forearm. The weighted ball fell into my palm as the 10-foot steel chain of the manriki-gusari unwound. I made sure that its inner slipknot loop was tight around my wrist. With my left hand I pulled the kubotan free from the string around my neck. Grasped firmly in my left fist, its fat blunt steel spike projected below the base of my fist and the two thinner spikes projected between my clenched fingers.
By the time they charged I had entered the zone Sensei was always talking about. No time for thought or fear—just act. I threw the ball sidearm, letting the chain unwind, practically sensing Unibrow’s nose pulling the ball towards it. I heard bone shatter and saw blood fly as Unibrow staggered back. The bat fell to the pavement as his hands clawed at his face.
I jerked the chain back and caught the ball high in my left hand, rising instinctively into a cat stance. With the loops of chain pulled taught between my hands I blocked Slackjaw’s downward slash, diverting his rush to my right and throwing him off balance. When he extended his right leg forward to keep himself from falling I slammed the edge of my right foot into the side of his knee. There was a wet popping as his knee folded sideways, followed by a hideous high-pitched scream. The scream cut off instantly as I whipped the weight and loops of chain against the side of his head.
I rolled behind Slackjaw’s crumpled form, then slid left, trying to put Slackjaw between me and Mouthbreather. Mouthbreather chose to leap over his fallen comrade. He stretched himself into a half-moon, feet trailing, with both crowbars far over and behind his head, pelvis and belly thrust forward. I planted my right foot and threw my whole body towards him. My left foot locked into place under my forward knee in a classic deep front stance. I channeled all my forward momentum into my left arm, twisting it as it lashed out. The thin spikes of the kubotan tore through the flesh just above where Mouthbreather’s left leg met his torso. Steel met pelvic bone just as my arm locked into place. I was unmovable. I felt the pelvic bone shatter as he folded around my fist. The crowbars went flying to clatter down the street. His left knee just brushed my left cheek. He fell mewling onto Slackjaw.
Unibrow had found his bat and returned to the fray. I backed him up with short-loop figure eights, and then pirouetted to extend the last loop low. The chain wrapped his feet together. I jerked hard and sent him to the pavement. The back of his head bounced off the pavement with a dull thump.
Do you have any questions about writing action scenes that have not been answered? Use the comments link below to ask and I’ll do my best to provide an answer.
BIO: Mark H. Phillips grew up in central Illinois reading the classics—especially Greek mythology, James Bond novels and lots and lots of Batman comics. He is a graduate of both the University of Illinois (BA—Philosophy) and Northwestern University (MA—Philosophy). Mark currently lives in Houston with his wife, Charlotte. He teaches pre-calculus and political philosophy at Bellaire High School. Mark has been a member of Houston’s The Final Twist Writers for two years.
Mark, who has been writing stories and political tracts for as long as he can remember, submitted his first stories to a magazine editor when he was twelve years old. That editor’s kind and encouraging response fueled the fire that was already burning.
Previous publications include the mystery novel Hacksaw, First in the Eva Baum Detective Series and an Eva Baum short story in A Death in Texas (an anthology). Mark is currently working on the second Eva Baum novel and a short story for an anthology titled A Box of Texas Chocolates.
The Resqueth Revolution blog tour continues tomorrow at Book Talk Corner (www.booktalkcorner.today.com) where Mayra Calvini interviews Mark. If you enjoyed the article on writing action scenes, you may want to check out Mark’s article on violence in fiction and film on March 24 at Brain Cells and Bubble Wrap (http://vivianzabel.blogspot.com/). See Char’s Book Reviews and Writing News (http://charsbookreviews.blogspot.com/) blog for the full tour schedule and information on how you can win an autographed copy of The Resqueth Revloution.
Followers of the 2009 Resqueth Revolution blog tour will have two opportunities to win.
1) Everyone who leaves a comment on the tour will receive one drawing entry per comment per blog site. Two entries will be drawn at random and the winners will receive their very own, signed copy of The Resqueth Revolution.
2) Everyone who answers all quiz questions correctly will be enterred into a drawing for the grand prize – a signed copy of The Resqueth Revolution, a Resqueth pen, magnet and calendar, and a signed copy of Hacksaw, First in the Eva Baum Detective Series.