Sunday, September 21, 2014

On Writing Action

As mentioned in my recent blog post on the Chaser publisher's website, one of my friends asked me a while back to teach her how to write action scenes. Having never taught anyone anything before, I'm still figuring out how to go about it, and I'm just coming up with ideas and trying them to find out what works and what doesn't.

It's been a while since I've worked on this little project, since I've been letting lots of everyday-life things keep me sidetracked, but this afternoon I came up with another thing to try. I thought a look at how I get ideas and how I put a scene together might be helpful, so thought I'd post it here as well.

I started with this trailer for a new Saints Row IV expansion coming in January.



There's a bit showing a character named Johnny Gat fighting a random mook, and he pulls off a particularly nice move--sweeps the guy's legs out from under him and stabs him in the chest while he's still falling. This is good if you're going for over-the-top action like a lot of the stuff I put in my stories, especially ones like Freelancers.

So, I see something like this, and I get an idea. Then I add to it and expand on it.

Let's take a character...I think we'll go with Valeria Terakkis because it seems like the kind of thing she'd do, and I've been having tons of fun giving her stuff like this, anyway. Now, instead of fighting one guy, let's give her, say, three enemies to fight at once. They're only armed with knives, including Valeria. One of the goons closes in on her with a knife while the others hang back, staying out of arm's reach to avoid getting stabbed by accident. Val and the goon slash and thrust their knives at each other, block and deflect and dodge blows, and finally Val kicks the guy's legs out from under him. He starts to fall, and she plunges her knife into his chest while he's still dropping.

Now, here's where I really start embellishing. She rams the knife in, and with her other hand, at the same time, snatches the guy's knife from his hand. Before he hits the floor, she spins around and throws the second knife at one of the other goons. It could hilt in his chest or neck and he'd fall, and that would be that.

But if you're looking to crank the fight Up to Eleven, you could have him standing near a wall, or leaning against it, when the knife hits. The knife rams into his skull with enough force to go in to the hilt, with the blade coming out the back of his head...and embedding in the wall. Then his twitching body just hangs there, supported by the knife through his head.

Both kills happen in about one second. Valeria turns to face the third goon, who's still processing what he just saw. He starts to panic and backs away, gasping, starting to hyperventilate, maybe even starting to cry as he realizes just how screwed he is.

Then Valeria lunges at him, and he pisses his pants and faints. Val turns and walks past him, continuing on to wherever she's going.

So, that's the basic outline. Let's flesh it out into a full scene. Here we go:

"I'm here for your boss, not you." Valeria speared each of the three males with a brief scowl. One human, one krogan, one turian, none of them armored but each carrying a huge, serrated dagger. The blades were easily the length of Val's forearm. She was carrying a similar blade, still sheathed--so far. "Stay out of my way and I'll pretend I never saw you."
The three exchanged a glance and snorted. The turian stepped over to her and raised his knife.
"We know you're here to arrest him or take him out. Can't let that happen." He traced the tip of his blade over the side of her face and down the length of her left mandible. "Not that we can't have a little fun first."
Val swatted his arm away, head-butted him, and gave him a shove that sent him staggering into his buddies. She pulled her knife out while they regained their balance. The turian shook his head, focused his glare on her, and strode forward.
"Just for that, I get the first turn at you. Preferably while you're still alive, but if not, it'll take a while for your body to cool off." He tapped a control on his Omni-Tool. "In fact, I'll record this and send a copy to that pathetic human you married, so he'll know that his seed wasn't the last you ever had inside you. And then he can watch my friends take their turns. And then he can watch us kill you."
Yeah, that'll happen. Val prepared to strike and waited for him to make his move.
He lunged suddenly and thrust his knife straight at her. She deflected it with a swat to his forearm while dodging to the right. He recovered instantly and slashed at her. The blade hissed through the air and came within a centimeter of her throat. She twitched backward and pistoned her left leg into his chest. The kick sent him reeling and knocked her off balance. She threw herself back, picking a direction before she ended up in an uncontrolled fall. Her back hit the floor and she lifted her legs and brought her knees up to her chest. Then she kicked up and forward, the motion snapping her back upright, and landed in a crouch. Her feet planted firmly and she held her left hand out, ready to block another strike, and cocked her knife back, ready to thrust it forward again.
The human blinked, shook his head, and stared at her, as if unable to get his mind around what had just happened.
The krogan laughed and walked over to lean against the nearest wall. "I'm next." He reached down with his left hand and rubbed his crotch slowly.
Oh, yes, you are. Val kept her glare on the advancing turian. He growled and slashed at her again. She parried with her right arm, whacking it across his wrist and forcing his arm up and to the right, exposing his side. She drove her left fist into it and he staggered away again. He released a frustrated growl and lunged at her again. She knocked his arm aside and drove her foot into his knee. It bent sideways with a sickening crunch and he howled and slumped toward her. She leaped to the right, lashed out with her left foot, and swept his legs out from under him. He flailed his arms as he hung in the air for a split-second before gravity pulled him down.
Valeria flipped her knife over and plunged it straight down into his chest just as he began to drop. At the same instant, she yanked his knife from his right hand with her left, whipped it around so she could throw it, and spun to face the krogan. His eyes had just started to widen and his jaw drop.
She cocked her hand to the right, whipped it back to the left, and released the dagger. It spun through the air and drilled the krogan in the softer tissue behind his left eye. The blade punched clean through his skull, out the other side, and into the wall.
The turian's body hit the floor and he cried out and clutched weakly at the dagger in his chest.
The krogan's roar of pain faded into moans, whimpers, and incoherent muttering as his twitching body hung there, supported by the blade in the wall. Over the next few seconds, he stopped moving, let out one last breath, and dangled silently.
The human drew in a series of rapid breaths and backed up until he bumped into the wall behind him. His dagger slipped from his fingers and clanged to the floor.
The turian continued moaning, though each one was fainter than the last.
Valeria glared at the human, braced her left foot on the turian's chest, and ripped her blade out, tearing his carapace wide open and yanking one last scream out of him. She stood and focused her stare on the human. His face twisted up and tears flowed from his eyes as he scooted along the wall.
She took a step toward him and he whimpered again. One more step, and he sobbed and held his hands up.
She raised her dagger and lunged at him.
The human shrieked and collapsed. A dark stain spread across the front of his pants.
Val watched him for several seconds. He remained motionless, his breathing deep and steady.
Huh. He fainted. She glanced at the blood dripping from her knife and tossed it aside with a heavy sigh. They never learn. Why don't they ever have brains enough to just stand aside? Why does it always come to this?
She shook her head and walked on toward her destination.
So, that's something I came up with in about forty-five minutes. It'll need quite a bit of work, but I'll find a way to fit it into the story at some point. Might as well see if I can get some mileage out of it. XD

I'm planning to write up more posts about doing action scenes. Since Freelancers: A Personal War was written specifically to use as an example of action-writing, I've been wanting to do a breakdown of it and talk about things like showing your character analyzing her situation and working out tactics on the fly. So I'll probably be doing a post on that soon, and following it with other related topics.

Not sure if I know what  I'm doing when it comes to teaching, but trying stuff like this is fun. :D

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