Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How do you write your action scenes?

Quick mini-blog before I snatch a quick nap after writing, before heading to work out before school.  But I've been thinking A LOT, lately, about the philosophy or practice or mechanics of writing action scenes.  And for a change, I'm asking a direct question of y'all, hoping for some response and opinions on this.

So, writing action scenes.

More and more, as I read and read and read and write, I've developed specific ideas about HOW action scenes should be written. Or, I should say, how I like to write actions scenes, and when I read novels, especially, how I'd prefer those action scenes be written.

Now, everyone has their own preference or style or whatever.  In some ways, I'm reacting more as a reader than a writer, but of course, my preferences as a reader directly influences my practices as a writer.  And I find that there - for me, anyway - exists a direct and almost tangible connection between scenes of swift, brisk action and how the actual words are played out across the page.

For example, a recent horror novel I've read (and it was a good one, don't get me wrong. Very well written, for the most part.) lost me quite a bit on its action scenes.  And I'd consider myself a pretty well-read guy who doesn't get lost, often.  But when you've settled yourself down into something like Grapes of Wrath (which I hope to read this summer), your mind comes to expect a certain pacing, you adapt to it, know you're reading something longer and perhaps slower moving, and adjust.

But when I'm reading a novel that's moving something like that - and then the action scenes appear - if the actual style of the writing doesn't change to mimic the shift in mood and atmosphere, I actually lose track of things, a bit.  I've read several  "action scenes" over the  years, then thought: "Wait.  What did I just read, there?"  

It annoys me.  On a purely aesthetic level, because part of me feels: "Wait, the mood, situation, circumstances, emotion and even basic movement of the characters has just changed drastically.  Shouldn't this affect the very structure itself, so the brain can adapt and get into the new mood?"

What do you think? Should it? Or am I just crazy?

This is why I've come to love Norman Partridge and Charles L. Grant more and more.  Both these guys are superb stylists - masters of writing style.  Both these guys manipulate the very words on the page to mimic the mood, atmosphere, and energy they want to impart in their scenes.  They shift back and forth between styles - from basic and maybe even detailed exposition to terse, staccato, rhythmic or lyrical prose - with ridiculous ease.

So this isn't about writing in really short, choppy, "See Spot Run", Hemmingway-esque style all the time.  It's about knowing when to shift, and to change your style accordingly.

How about all you folks?  Anyone have similar feelings as a reader or writer? How do you handle action scenes in your prose?  All thoughts and opinions appreciated.

*There are exceptions, of course.  I've found Ramsey Campbell's action scenes to be largely paragraph oriented, but they still flow with a sense of balance and ease lacking in other writers.  Same thing with the little bit of Tom Piccirilli's work that I've read, also.