Thanks to each one of you, 2014 was a fabulous blogging year!
This happened last night.
Kevin’s project deserves every penny pledged by these 19 magnificent people. The book is set for a May release. If you’ll excuse me, I have a manuscript to edit.
If you missed my first Legends of Steragos post, go here.
Having been a child of 1980’s cinema, I was exposed and became enamored of science-fiction movies with a good dose of action in them. From the eye-popping SLAM!-BANG! of the early Star Wars saga to the bloody shootouts of Robocop, action sequences were the go-go juice that inspired my imagination whenever I sent my heroes on their perilous quests. Just as fitting in fantasy as in sci-fi, pulse-pounding action sees us through classic scenes of knights battling dragons and elves battling orcs.
The task of putting an action sequence in your story can be tricky and frustrating. Not being a visual medium, literary stories don’t have the advantage of simply showing the audience what’s happening; the reader must be told what’s going on. As a lot of the excitement of action relies on a chain of events happening in quick succession, the risk emerges of losing the reader’s interest through wordy, overworked description. Conversely, it’s kind of difficult to sell the heart-pounding suspense of “He swung his sword and almost chopped the other guy’s head off.” The entire sequence can come off as a ‘You had to be there’ moment.
Fortunately, there are those out there who have experienced success in writing action. I’ve done a little digging around and found some sound advice from around the Internet that may help with chronicling not just a battle, but an awesome battle.
One of the key elements of creating another world is populating it with unearthly creatures, the way-out nature of which could distract from the tone of the story. Storm The castle.com has a wise bit of advice about that featured in the piece, “How to Write a Great Combat Scene – Advice for Fantasy Writers”:
Handle Strange Creatures Realistically – When writing a creature into a combat scene, whether it be a Troll, Ogre, Goblin, Orc, or any other type of exotic fantasy creature, it still must follow the rules of flesh and blood. You probably don’t have a real fantasy creature to model combat motions after, but you will have a familiar creature that you can use as a template for motion. Fantasy creatures are almost always distortions of real creatures. Trolls become very large men, Goblins are wiry and quick, and Centaurs follow the template of horses. What you can do is to transfer your thinking about the creature in terms of what it is similar to. How would a horse move in this situation? How would a very large man move in this combat scene? These transferences of physique work well and make the combat realistic.
If you go check out the rest of the great tips listed (there are a number of them), remember to check out the other pages as well. Storm the Castle has a treasure trove of fantasy-based craft projects and other goodies.
Elfwood.com is a massive collection of science-fiction and fantasy on the web. Their stated goal to “provide a place for amateurs from all over the world to share, teach, and inspire a new generation of dreams” is backed up by their large library of stories and artwork, as well as the Fantasy Art Resource Project (FARP), an elaborate series of tutorials intended to aid the struggling visionary in the creative process. In her article “Writing Action”, S. B. ‘Kinko’ Hulsey provides an excellent example of writing action by, in fact, providing an example of written action. She starts with a rather drab, wordy piece of text and uses valuable tools to improve it. A great piece of advice is to carefully choose one’s words, which can really make a difference in presenting action and keeping the play-by-play from getting boring. Consider the following passage:
Janis leapt into the air, clearing the large, granite boulder without touching it with his plain, brown leather boots. He saw a glint of metal out of the corner of his eye and turned to see a huge ugly monstrosity of a troll swinging a large, engraved sword, made by dragons by the looks of it, at the boy. Jumping backwards, Janis avoided the sword and countered with his rapier, its strong, plain blade holding up to the strength of the beast.
Pretty clunky. But once it’s jazzed up with more arresting verbiage:
Janis leapt into the air, clearing the boulder easily. He caught a flash of metal out of the corner of his eye and whirled to see a huge troll swinging a sword straight at the boy. Leaping backwards, Janis avoided the blade, then countered with his rapier, its blade holding up to the strength of the beast.
… it becomes more interesting, and shorter to boot. Brevity in an action sequence is important – and the article even says as much. There’s much more inspiring information in the article, as well as the rest of elfwood.com. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Finally, what better place to learn about something than a site called about.com? I’ve gone there many a time for other issues (everything from food safety to finding the right kind of freeware to do a project), and lo, they even have an entry about writing action, Ginny Wiehardt’s “How Do You Write Action Scenes?” One of the more soothing elements of the article is that it starts right off saying “Action scenes are really hard to write: it’s not just you.” Good to know I’m not alone.
Get up and act out the scenes as best you can (though I realize this is not always possible when writing fantasy novels). As you act it out, you’ll also get ideas for other things you can describe. You might also try watching action sequences on screen (you could even observe or take a martial arts or fencing class). How do people tend to fall, on their sides, on their hands, etc.? What sorts of exclamations do they make? Do they wipe sweat away, or do they ignore it? How does a body respond when a sword (or hand, foot, etc.) makes contact?
Sage words. One of the keys to writing fantasy or science-fiction is to ground the world into some kind of reality. This makes the characters and the situation relatable to the reader. I, for example, have never been to a high-tech park nestled in the jungle of a Central American island that saw bloodshed and disaster after the scientists that brought dinosaurs back to life lost control of the facility, but Michael Crichton provided plenty of effective descriptors of the action and the environments in Jurassic Park for me to relate to the danger the characters were in.
These were just a handful of search results. Action writing can be a hassle, but it can also be a satisfying challenge met. Never give up until you’ve created something that flows on the page as fast as it flows in your mind.
All of the quoted material is copyright their respective authors.
“Yeah, I get this idea of us being a pair of sorta outside ‘rebel leaders’ of a group of neo-Lost Generation types who reap heaps of cash for the quality stuff they do, unaffected by some talent-free corporate big-wig who would ruin everything.”
The above quote, while a bit off-the-cuff, and less tongue-in-cheek than you might expect, captures the spirit and driving force of “A Small Press Life” with humorous perfection.It was said–typed,rather–by my excellent friend and collaborator, Kevin, during a convo on Facebook this past weekend. He lives in Korea;I do not. The Internet is the conduit that keeps our mutual creativity flowing uninterrupted.
While we may practice that creativity in private, as all artists ultimately must, it is through a sense of connectedness and community that we find inspiration, hope and the ability to continue moving down such a difficult path. A support system is vital to the well-being of any artisan:it lessens the isolation in-born of such consuming intellectual yet hands-on endeavors. For some, that serves;it is enough. For others, it is a jumping off point to different ambitions. Such is my case, and Kevin’s.The quote is not the result of an unbridled, flagrant ego:it is born of a positive,open desire to spread talent far and wide, ours and that of countless others.
I have jokingly referred to us as like a poor man’s Elaine May and Mike Nichols. This is probably unfair to us as individuals and artists, as we are distinctly ourselves.Perhaps, as outsiders,we are more akin to Robert McAlmon and Kay Boyle. Everything that we do,separately or together, is small-scale, though well-regarded:and, in following the muse, we try to include others in the ride.
McAlmon and Boyle, to be sure,never collaborated as such, and neither do Kevin and I at this time. They published their goods–poems,stories,articles,criticisms–in the same places. She edited periodicals,so did he:they ultimately printed each other’s work many times over the years. They were friends, insightful to the other’s singular talent and life. Their career-boosting and warm regard were mutual.The lives of both were a long saga of creating,inspiring, and trying their damnedest to spread the work of fellow wordsmiths to as many people, in as many crannies of the world, as possible.
While Kevin and I are unlikely to recreate a Lost Generation-type environment–at the very least we would need Paris and London for that–there is a true spirit behind our intentions and what we do. Our refusal to give in to big media, and remain craftily independent, while encouraging others to do the same, makes at least part of his quote ring true. Every day that artisans embrace their uniqueness, and set to work doing what they alone can do, without ceding to others’ requirements, they are holding true to Lost Generation ideals. Rebel leaders? We all are!