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Writing ACTION Sequences
The Plug & Play Method


Lets begin with a Review...
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The flash of pain exploded in my cheek from the slap her hand lashed out at me.
-- WRONG!

Why is this wrong?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you were watching this scene as a movie, that sentence is NOT how you would have seen it happen.

Actual Sequence of events:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1) Her hand lashed out at me in a slap. <Action>
2) A flash of pain exploded in my cheek <Reaction>


ACTION Sequences = Chronological Order

REALITY = something happens to you and then…you react.
Action > Reaction > Action > Reaction = Chronological order

FICTION = the Plot happens to the characters and then…they react.
Action > Reaction > Action > Reaction = Chronological order

If you want the reader to SEE the actions that you are trying to portray, Chronological Order is the ONLY way to write that scene. In other words, if you visualize the characters doing something in a specific order – you write it in THAT order!

WRONG:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The flash of pain exploded in my cheek <Reaction> from the slap her hand lashed out at me. <Action>

RIGHT:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Her hand lashed out in a slap <action>.
My cheek exploded with a flash of pain. <reaction>. "Ow!" <dialogue/action> I balled my hand into a fist and swung for her stomach. <reaction>

Violating chronological order is a Very Bad idea. If you knock the actions out of order, the reader's Mental Movie STOPS because the reader has to STOP READING to rearrange the sentences into the correct order to get the movie back.

The confusion comes in because written chronological action and dialogue tends to be rather curt in phrasing rather than poetically stylish, plus it looks very choppy on the page.

Stylistic turns of phrase, be damned!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Making the story hard for the Reader to PICTURE is a Bad Idea. Anytime the reader has to STOP to rearrange the words to FIT their mental movie, you've made a break. Breaks are BAD, very, very bad. A break creates a moment where the reader can Put  your story Down, and forget to pick it back up again.

Who cares what the words look like on the page? Once you have a Mental Movie rolling, the reader won't even SEE the words. They'll be too busy making pictures in their head to notice what words they're reading. What matters is that the Mental Movie -- the Story -- doesn't stop and the reader keeps reading!

How to FIX this chronic problem:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
VISUALIZE your scenes as you write them. Play them as a movie in your head and write everything down EXACTLY as you see it.  

What about Literary style?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
What about it? If you simply MUST have stylish phrasing in your fiction, save it for the descriptions, but keep it out of the actions.


Next, memorize these Two Rules:

#1 - ONE Point of View per scene.
-- Use the POV of only ONE character per sequence. Why? Because seeing the Same Scene simultaneously from more than one person's point of view CONFUSES the Reader as to who is thinking and feeling what at any given moment in that scene.

#2 - NEVER put two characters Acting in the same paragraph.
-- Make a new paragraph every time a new character ACTS, which includes dialogue. Talking is an Action!


Okay, before we go on to How to Write an Action Sequence, one last reminder on an Action Scene's WORST ENEMY...!


The Evil Nasty Vicious "AS"

In school, they teach you that 'as' is a word used to connect fragments of sentences together, rather in the same way as you would use "and." Unfortunately, "as" doesn't quite work the same way as an "and" in fiction.

-- "As" means, "things that happened simultaneously."
-- "And" means, "this happened too."

In Fiction NOTHING is truly simultaneous because the eye READS only one thing at a time. The only things that can actually be counted as simultaneous in written fiction are groups of things.

Example:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
All the soldiers marched.
~~~~~~~~~~~~

IMPORTANT!
~~~~~~~~~~~~
I'm NOT saying that simultaneous events CAN'T be written. I'm saying that using "as" is not the way to do it. Any group of events listed in one sentence are generally perceived as happening all at the same time -- until you get to the "and". However, they should still be listed in the order in which they happened so as to make the reader's VISION of the whole event crystal clear.

As far as I'm concerned, the only place an "as" belongs is at the BEGINNING of a sentence.

Example:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
As all the soldiers marched, the drums and fifes played.  
~~~~~~~~~~~~

See?

Where "As" goes WRONG
~~~~~~~~~~~~
I consider "as" a red flag word. A word that marks that something has gone terribly wrong in your sentence structure.

What went wrong?
-- In fiction, the word "as" usually marks where a sentence has gone out of Chronological Order.

Example:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The vampire scratched his head thoughtfully as he crouched over his victim.

Think: Which actions actually happened first?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1. The vampire crouched over his victim.
2. He scratched his head thoughtfully.

The chronological way to write this would be:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The vampire crouched over his victim AND scratched his head thoughtfully.

Why does this matter?
~~~~~~~~~~~~
A sentence Out of Chronological Order means that the reader has to Stop Reading to reset their mental movie of your story. That's bad, very, very, BAD. Do this enough times and your reader will stop reading your story to go find something easier to imagine. In fact, some readers will not only drop your story, never to read it again, they'll avoid anything else you write.

How to Grammar Check for "as":
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Do a Search/Replace substituting "as" for "and," then go back and read through your entire work. If "and" doesn't fit right in your sentence, then it's most likely Out of Chronological Order.

Example:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The werewolf flattened his ears angrily as he faced the hunter.
~~~~~~~~~~~~

Search/Replace:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The werewolf flattened his ears angrily and he faced the hunter.
~~~~~~~~~~~

"And" doesn't quite work there, does it? Why not? Because the werewolf didn't flatten his ears before he faced the hunter.

Which actions actually happened first?
~~~~~~~~~~~
1. The werewolf faced the hunter.
2. He was angry.
2. He flattened his ears.

Adjusted:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The werewolf faced the hunter and he angrily flattened his ears.
~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now the "he" doesn't fit, so let's chop that out.

One more time:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The werewolf faced the hunter and angrily flattened his ears.
~~~~~~~~~~~

See what I mean? The word "As" is a devious sinister monster that should be destroyed on sight.


Now, on to the good stuff!


Writing Action Sequences
The "Plug & Play" Method


Life is full of random events. FICTION is NOT. Every element in a story – every character, every situation, and every object, must be there for a REASON, and have a reason to Be There. NOTHING happens "just because" – especially actions.

The Magic Formula!
Stimulus > Physical Reaction > Sensory Reaction > Emotional Reaction > Deliberate Reaction


This order is VERY specific. You may SKIP steps, but you may not change the order.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1) Stimulus
-- Something happens TO the character. (Action).

2) Physical Reaction
-- The character has a knee-jerk Physical Reaction to what has just happened. (Reaction)

3) Sensation Reaction
-- The character feels Physical Sensations and physically reacts to the sensations. (Reaction)

4) Emotional Reaction
-- AND THEN they have an Emotional Reaction reflected in their thoughts and/or a comment about what had just happened. (Reaction)

5) Deliberate Reaction
-- AND THEN they Respond. They DO something about that action. (Reaction)

1) NEW Stimulus
-- External Reaction of the OTHER person or an Outside event. (Action)


The Chain of REACTIONS in DETAIL

1) Stimulus – Something Happens!

It all begins with: Stimulus > Response, also known as Action > Reaction.
Something happens, and the character reacts. It's that simple.

Action: Joe threw the dagger at Sam.
Reaction: Sam ducked, and the dagger flew harmlessly past him.

Or Sam was stabbed through the heart.
Or Sam caught it in his hand.
Or something of a similar, immediate response-nature.

How can something this simple be confusing?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Consider this:

Action: Joe threw the dagger at Sam.
Reaction: Sam grinned. "My, what lovely weather we're having!"

Too many writers think the reader will assume that the dagger missed Sam. Nope. I'm afraid that many, many readers will NOT make that assumption at all. This is a PLOT Hole, a missing piece to an event, triggered by the obvious question: What happened to the dagger?

I'm not saying you can't have that lovely piece of dialogue, I'm saying that you have to show the REST of the stimulus > response FIRST.

Action: Joe threw the dagger at Sam.
Reaction: Sam caught the dagger in his palm, raised his brow at Joe and smiled thinly. "My, what lovely weather we're having."

2) Physical Reaction – The Flinch

Something happens. Your character reacts instinctively. They duck, they flinch , they dodge, they gasp, they choke, they pass out.

~~~~~~~~~
Action: Joe threw the dagger at Sam.
Reaction: Sam reached out to grab the dagger.
~~~~~~~~~

In real life, physical actions usually happen BEFORE dialogue. The finger pulls the trigger and THEN the shooter wonders: "Oh no, what have I done?"

Most people ACT, and then comment, because physical reactions happen faster than thought. Thought happens after the fist has already shot out. Ask any martial artist.

Thoughts that come first FREEZE physical action -- not in the literary sense, for real. Most people stop whatever action they are doing, they pause to process that thought because few people can do both at once. Martial artists are TAUGHT to Not Think when they fight -- No Mind -- specifically to make their reaction time faster.

Fiction should not be any different.

3) Sensation Reaction – Cold Chills

Something just happened. What did it feel like, physically? How did they react physically to those sensations?

Sensory = of the 5 physical senses

Sense of Sight - the appearance
Sense of Sound - the melody
Sense of Taste - the flavor
Sense of Texture - the sensation
Sense of Scent - the aroma

Sensation Reaction is BOTH "what they perceived through their senses," (it smelled like, it looked like, it sounded like, it felt like, it tasted like…) And their PHYSICAL reaction to those sensations. "It tasted like moldy socks, and I nearly retched."

~~~~~~~~~
Action: Joe threw the dagger at Sam.

Reaction: Sam reached out to grab the dagger. (Physical Sensation> The pommel slapped sharply into his palm, stinging his hand. (Physical Reaction to Sensation> He winced.
~~~~~~~~~
Notice that Sam gets his own paragraph?   


4) Emotional Reaction –"Oh, woe is me!" Internal Conflict!

Something just happened. How did that make your character FEEL: scared, happy, angry, lustful…? These emotional feelings are reflected internally immediately after the physical sensations that wracked their bodies with unwarranted stimuli. Ahem, after they feel the physical effects of what just happened.

Additionally, internal observations, internal dialogue and narration happens before they make a vocal remark.

~~~~~~~~~
Action: Joe threw the dagger at Sam.

Reaction: Sam reached out to grab the dagger. (Physical Sensation> The pommel slapped sharply into his palm, stinging his hand. (Physical Reaction to Sensation> He winced. (Internalization> He had known Joe was pissed at him, but he hadn't thought he was that pissed.
~~~~~~~~~

5) Deliberate Reaction – Retaliation!

Something happened, your character has felt the effects, had a thought and perhaps made a comment. So, what is your character going to do next? A deliberate action designed for Retaliation! More commonly known as: Revenge.

Just to make things confusing, Dialogue can be a Response Reaction, an Internalization, an Emotional Reaction or a Deliberate Reaction! When in doubt, always put Dialogue AFTER a physical action.

~~~~~~~~~
Action: Joe threw the dagger at Sam.

Reaction: Sam reached out to grab the dagger. (Physical Sensation> The pommel slapped sharply into his palm, stinging his hand. (Physical Reaction to Sensation> He winced. (Internalization> He had known Joe was pissed at him, but he hadn't thought he was that pissed. (Deliberate Reaction / Stimulus intended to get a reaction out of Joe.> He raised his brow at Joe and smiled thinly. "My, what lovely weather we're having!"
~~~~~~~~~


Ready? Steady... ACTION!
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Fill in the blank!


Stimulus > Physical Reaction > Sensation Reaction > Emotional Reaction > Deliberate Reaction

Stimulus - Something happened
Physical Reaction - Their body's immediate physical reaction
Sensation Reaction - The physical sensations and their effects  
Emotional Reaction - What they thought about what was happening
Deliberate Reaction - How they responded
NEW Stimulus - What happened next.  
- In that order.

External / something HAPPENED
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1) Stimulus  - Physical Action / Action, dialogue or both >
- Will Turner stabbed his sword toward Jack Sparrow.

Viewpoint Character's Reaction:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
2) Reaction: Physical Reaction / Did they jump? Flinch? Catch the flying object? >
- Jack twisted to intercept the oncoming blade with his blade, rather than his body.

3) Reaction: Sensation Reaction / The physical sensations and their effects >
- The swords impacted with a jarring ring.

4) Reaction: Emotional Reaction / Internal or Vocal Comment reflecting what they thought about what was happening >
-  "Will this isn't the brightest idea in the world. I don't know if you noticed, but there are a bunch of cutthroat pirates in the next cave?"

5) Reaction: Deliberate Reaction / What they did or said in retaliation >
- He slid his sword up Will's blade, waggled his brows, and smiled engagingly.  

External Reaction of the OTHER person or an Outside event:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1) NEW Action: Physical Action/Action or dialogue or Action & then Dialogue. >
- Will flinched back and scowled. "I don't care. I want to rescue her now!"


On the Page...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Will Turner lunged, stabbing his sword toward Jack Sparrow.

Jack twisted to intercept the oncoming blade with his blade, rather than his body. The swords impacted with a jarring ring. "Will this isn't the brightest idea in the world. I don't know if you noticed, but there are a bunch of cutthroat pirates in the next cave?" He slid his sword up Will's blade, waggled his brows, and smiled engagingly.

Will flinched back and scowled. "I don't care. I want to rescue her now!"


Get it? Got it? GOOD!

Enjoy!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconimiss2010:
Imiss2010 Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014
Is this ok as an emotional relation? : He then felt shameful guilt inside his heart, he had known this girl since pre-k!
Reply
:icon1st-hashirama-senju:
1st-Hashirama-Senju Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2013

This is really helpful.

 

I felt my fight scenes were lacking something; this helped me figure out what it was.

Reply
:iconookamikasumi:
OokamiKasumi Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2013  Professional Writer
Excellent!
 -- I came up with this to improve my own fight scenes.
Reply
:iconroxie94:
Roxie94 Featured By Owner Aug 28, 2013
Thank you for this tutorial is very helpful, only recently i'm starting to write fanfiction so every tutorial helps. For me is even more difficult since i'm italian, but i love watching a movies and tv show on the original language and read enghlish fic. 

Reply
:iconookamikasumi:
OokamiKasumi Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2013  Professional Writer
I'm glad you liked the essay!
 -- I'm not sure my essays are all that helpful for people writing in other languages, though. English tends to arrange their sentences in ways that are opposite of every other language.
Reply
:iconroxie94:
Roxie94 Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2013
i know but i want to write in english so it's very helpful. 
Reply
:iconookamikasumi:
OokamiKasumi Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2013  Professional Writer
Oh! In that case, excellent! I'm glad I could help.
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:icontheamatuer41:
TheAmatuer41 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Student General Artist
among the most difficult to discribe is the action...thankyou for the tutoraial! it helps!
Reply
:iconookamikasumi:
OokamiKasumi Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2013  Professional Writer
My pleasure!
-- I love being helpful.
Reply
:icontheamatuer41:
TheAmatuer41 Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2013  Student General Artist
You sure did...:}}}
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