As you may have guessed after our discussion these past weeks on ways to use action to describe people and things, it’s also important to use action when describing…well…action. That may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s easier to forget than you might think.
Here’s an example: The captain swung his sword in sweeping arcs and parried each of the attacking pirates’ stabs.
There’s action going on, but can you really see it in your mind’s eye? I can picture a sweeping arc with a sword, but not the battle itself. As a matter of fact, it brings to mind a host of questions: Was anyone injured? How did the pirates react? Did they attack together or one-by-one?
Milk the tension to get the most out of an action scene
Action scenes like this are ripe with tension and conflict, but you’ve got to tap into it. When you just mention the action, you whet the reader’s appetite, but as he keeps reading, he is left with a curious sense of hunger. He might not be able to describe why, but he realizes something is missing.
Add Details to create vivid scenes
As you can see, a lot of action was left out of the example, which means the readers can’t create a very good picture in their mind about what’s happened. More importantly, it means a great deal of potential tension and conflict has been ignored. Adding details not only allows the readers to see the action play out, but each blow and parry ramps up the tension. And that’s what makes the readers keep flipping pages.
From our example above:
Here’s how the scene might play out with more details:
With his back against the shack he’d just walked out of, the captain allowed the pirates to come within several steps of him, then swung his sword in a sweeping arc.
The blade sliced through the nearest pirate’s shirt and left behind a red line sandwiched by dangling fabric. Caught by surprise, the pirate lost his grip on the double-sided battle axe he held. It hit the ground with a resounding thunk.
As the blade swung, the next pirate lifted his battle axe.
Taking advantage of the momentary exposure of the pirate’s midsection, the captain pulled his sword out of the swing and stabbed. When his blade found its target, he jerked it free and twirled towards the first pirate, who had reached his axe.
The enemy lunged forward, but the captain sidestepped the attack. As the man stumbled forward, the captain pulled a dagger from hi s boot. A quick flick of his wrist sent it spinning toward the pirate as he hit the ground. It found its mark and embedded itself in the man’s back up to the hilt.
Wouldn’t you agree that the second example paints a much better picture of the action? When readers can see the action, it makes them feel like they’re in the scene, experiencing the conflict with the character. And that’s right where you want them, absorbed in your book so they won’t want to put it down.
Next week we’ll look at one last way to describe with action before bringing it all together.