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II. THE ELEMENTS
 

 

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1.Action

 
(i) ONE THING AT A TIME
 

If you’re writing in a popular genre, you have to be good at action. We live in an action world, though movies and TV, and you want those dramatic visual effects. But sentences don’t work like images, and a writer can’t just make like a film director …

Sentences concentrate our attention on one thing at a time. Watching a movie, we can see the first warrior thrusting with his sword, while his opponent pivots to parry, while a third warrior rushes up from behind, while a whole battle goes on in the background. In a movie, multiple goings-on can all be present at the same time. But language is successive, not simultaneous.

Sometimes, the writer’s only answer is to back off and announce that ‘Everything happened in the same moment’ – then list what happened. For example

No need for the warning. Riff had been waiting for this very move. She pushed Col aside and burst into action.
Everything happened in a split-second blur. As Col sprawled sidewards, Riff kicked off in a great leap across the opening. Scarface tried to skid to a halt—too late. He slid off the edge of the grille …

It’ll do when there’s no alternative, but you wouldn’t want to be doing it too often. Mostly, you want to massage your action so that it doesn’t need to be simultaneous.

In the battle scene, for example, the first thing to forget is the whole battle as a background. Maybe you could set up a moment for an overall impression, e.g. first warrior gets knocked to the ground, lies half-stunned and out of it, becomes aware of everything going on all around. But you can’t run the whole battle scene at the same time as the close-up action. The thrust-and-parry stuff is more than enough to focus on by itself.

As for the third warrior rushing up, well, maybe you could slip in an unplaced cry: ‘Hang on, Alaric!’ But basically you need to wait until he gets involved and breaks in on the main combat.

As for the main combat, this is where you need to play the choreographer.

As per ...........................

OTHER ACTION TOPICS

(ii) CHOREOGRAPHY

(iii) SPACES & MEASUREMENTS

(iv) FLASH-IMAGES

(v) STRONG ACTION

(vi) CHUNKING

(vii) CUT OR SKIM

(viii) SOUNDTRACK EFFECTS

(ix) IMPACT

(x) PREPOSITIONS

Other Elements Topics

2. Setting   

3. Dialogue

4. Thinking Inside         

 

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Richard Harland.