Getting Physical with Action Scenes

June 10, 2012

Some novices begin Nano writing with worlds of their own, some like to dabble in fan-fiction.

In either case, when it comes time to edit, there’s often a denseness to their writing. A bit too many words than are really needed for conveying scenes, especially when it comes to writing action.

Now for Camp NaNo, the more words the merrier. But we’re not always going to be doing a NaNo event.

Any tense situation, emotional, or physical can use words to their best advantage by cutting a lot of them out of a first draft. 

Fist, smashing  though barrier

image borrowed from zoe b.’s website

 

 

 

Here are some examples of tightening a first draft action scene that a fan fiction writer came up with. (because of copyright rules, we’ve changed all the original character and alien’s names and an identifying franchise item or two.)

The Tightening Editing Tool

First we search out “un-needed” words, to see what we really have here, within all our overwriting. Seeing bolded work on the page helps to physically realize how much overwriting we are doing in our first drafts.

Catri accompanied her words with a slight nod of her head in Riaan’s direction.  Without needing to lookshe knew the young woman would be standing there, ramrod straight with her hands clasped firmly behind her back.  The Phorent followed her gaze, looking doubtfully at the woman hovering just behind Catri.

“Is that meant to scare me?” he asked, half-laughing.  “There’s nothing of her!  My son’s pet dato-mouse is scarier than that Katta-Yor.  Now I will have my…”

He didn’t get to finish his sentenceInstead there was a blur of movement past Catri as Riaan grabbed the alien’s wrist and flipped him over onto his back in the dirt in one swift movement.  Catri gave the bodyguards their due, they tried to react.  They just didn’t realize what they were up against.  Before the first one could even get his weapon level Riaan was on him.  Catri thought she heard the crunch of bone as Riaan disarmed him before following it up with a punch to the face.  Such was the power of it that the huge alien was lifted right up off his feet before crashing down on the ground.  Supposing she shouldn’t let Riaan have all the fun, Catri pulled her neutro pistol from its holster and spun to drive the metal butt into the final alien’s throat as he charged past herAs he gagged and doubled over, she cracked it on the back of his skull.

– (thanks so much, Sarah M.)

Seeing bolded work on the page helps to physically realize how much overwriting we are doing in our first drafts. This is what a search for un-needed words can do for tightening your action prose. Look at the bolded stuff. All of it candidates for tightening & heightening your scene’s action quotient.

Now, the How

Did you notice the number of bolded prepositions?  The rest seem to be ‘stage directions’ for the reader’s benefit.  But remember, leave imagining to the reader, not everything needs spelling out for them.  Let’s see what this looks like with some removals and re-phrasings.

First we just removed all the bolded stuff and it looked pretty good, with a few small tweaks. Try reading it without the bolded stuff and see what I mean.

Now, on to the Third Edit: This edit takes a first draft from 241 words down to 198.

Catri’s words, and a slight nod in Riaan’s direction, cautioned the Phorent.  Catri’s deterrent, standing, ramrod straight, hands clasped firmly behind her back, waited.  The Phorent followed Catri’s nod, gazing on this young woman.

“Is that meant to scare me?” he asked, half-laughing.  “There’s nothing of her!  My son’s pet dato-mouse is scarier than that Ketta-Yar.  Now I will have my…”

He didn’t get to finish.  There was a blur of movement; Riaan grabbed the negotiator’s wrist, flipping him onto his back in one swift movement.  Catri gave his bodyguards their due, they tried to react.  But going up against Riaan was fool’s work.  Riaan lept on the second alien before he drew his weapon level.  Catri heard the crunch of bone as Riaan disarmed him. Riaan followed with a punch to his face.  The huge fighter lifted up off his feet before crashing down.  Catri pulled her neutro, she shouldn’t let Riaan have all the fun. Spinning, into the next charge, she drove the metal butt into the final bodyguard’s throat.  Gagging from the doubled over alien ceases when Catri cracked it on the back of his skull.

We’ve whittled the word count down from the second edit by nine more words, but added in much more ‘scene’ in this action.

Paragraph 1 alone went from,

First Draft:

Catri accompanied her words with a slight nod of her head in Riaan’s direction.  Without needing to lookshe knew the young woman would be standing there, ramrod straight with her hands clasped firmly behind her back.  The Phorent followed her gaze, looking doubtfully at the woman hovering just behind Catri.

to our 2nd Draft: (removed the bolded stuff)

Catri accompanied her words with a slight nod of her head in Riaan’s direction.  She knew the young woman would be standing, ramrod straight, hands clasped firmly behind her back.  The Phorent followed her gaze, at the woman just behind Catri.

And on to the Final Draft:(thought about re-phrasing for showing action in more cleaner, tenser ways)

Catri’s words, and a slight nod in Riaan’s direction, cautioned the Phorent.  Catri’s deterrent, standing, ramrod straight, hands clasped firmly behind her back, waited.  The Phorent followed Catri’s nod, gazing on this young woman.

Notice the use of these words to bring the scene to the reader’s eye: cautioned, deterrent, and, waited. They show us as much in scene as in character motivation.  And there’s a shorter ‘burst-like’ syntax in the final draft version.

All the lines re-phrased themselves. But also, notice what was removed between the 2nd and final round of edits; this is what Tightening is all about. Showing us rather than telling us actions in stressful scenes.

Want to dicuss doing these kinds of edits with your work? Comment below.

And be sweet: retweet this blog.

 

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