September 9th, 2001
Mudslinger Writer's Guide - Part V - By Excrucior
Lights, Cameras, Action!
So, you're writing away and you've got people diving in and out of
action all the time. The average reader is used to a regular night of
combat against diverse and unusual beasts. A lot of good fights are going
to interest the reader - right? Unfortunately, this is not always the
case. A rather extreme example is the film Jurassic Park 2 that I saw
some years ago. It came to one point where I almost got up and walked
out of the cinema. The stunts were good and the special effects were
awesome - but there was no let-up for the viewer for far too long.
Catching up on my sleep was a definite option - or maybe going home for a
trade run or something. The action became a source of boredom.
A person can only be excited - and therefore interested - for a limited
amount of time. If you have danger after danger after danger for thirty
pages, it's not going to be effective, and people will just switch
off. You need to have several areas where the style of writing is
sedate or just steady, not fighting against hordes of beasts or devilish
enemies. People usually have nights full of combat but often spend some
time chilling out on clan/town talk or in Medlink - they need a break.
Some areas of dialogue are good to imitate this - ever seen a war film
where soldiers in trenches talk of what they'd do when they got back
home? It's a standard mechanism to lull a viewer's attention and let
them empathize with the protagonists. You'll usually see one of the
actors being shot shortly after this, but acting is a dangerous profession.
If the movie was just continuous scenes of people charging at enemy
trenches, tanks driving through buildings and bombings by aircraft,
it eventually loses its impact. Split your action up a bit - make it
happen now and again rather than every single line. Lull your reader into
a false sense of security.
As to what makes a good break - what is the main theme of your tale?
This whole concept doesn't just apply to action, but it extends to the
whole array of literary styles. If you have a tale packed full of deaths
and disasters, break it up with some areas of calm and tranquillity.
Maybe have a respite from the combat where the protagonists
talk or eat some food - have normal things, but make sure they fit with the piece.
If you have a more intellectual piece dealing with people then try and
add the odd element of danger to add something. If you're trying to
write in a farcical manner, have one or two serious areas - it
provides contrast and relief for the reader.
One of the most often quoted examples of a good break in a tense
situation is the porter scene from Macbeth. Just go to your friendly
neighborhood search engine and you'll find plenty of discussions about it.
It comes at a junction between two very tense areas in a very dark play,
but it brings relief for the audience. Until this point the audience
has been subjected to a near-constant diet of gloom, despair, witches,
temptation and general evil that sets the tone of the play. When this
scene starts, the porter arrives and is revealed to be a drunkard who
chats with the audience while jesting about being the gatekeeper of hell.
His soliloquy contains a few references to the darkness of events, but
in general he is an amiable drunk who entertains the audience with
banter. A couple of bawdy jokes that are funny if the actor uses the
correct body language, a few digs at the fact that he cannot walk in a
straight line and alcohol in general. The audience has a jolly good chuckle
(the original Elizabethan audience would have been rolling in the
aisles - the past is a different world). With the audience's minds relaxed,
Shakespeare could soon return to the darker elements of the human
nature with renewed effect.
This is actually a reasonably advanced technique, but one worth
learning. Think about varying the pace of the action as you work out the plot.
On a related note, the gameplay of Medievia contains many violent
images and activities. Viciously rending, mangling, blasting to pieces,
skin withering and so on. How violent should your piece be? We don't
want descriptions of how you torture your victims, or extended
descriptions of limbs being lopped off. Combat such as your protagonist should
engage in would be fast and furious. Would they have time to notice
these details or would they spin to face the next foe? Save extended
descriptions for when the action is slower and don't dwell on the gorier
elements. Gloss over the nastier elements - you could do an extended
description of how someone was decapitated in a fight (I'll leave the
bloodier mechanics to your imaginations) and spend a couple of paragraphs
doing so; or you could just say that the man's headless body fell to the
floor. I'll be detailing how shorter descriptions give a sense of
speed to the action in the next section.
Mention combat - fine, it happens - but don't revel in it.
Next issue - scales of importance.
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