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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Battle Stations!

Please welcome PAN author Annette McCleave as she discusses action scenes.

Some people find action scenes hard to write. Other writers pour those scenes straight from their imaginations onto the page with effortless detail. The paranormal and speculative romance genres lend themselves well to action scenes, so developing a talent for them certainly couldn’t hurt.

Personally, I think writing an action scene is similar to writing any other kind of scene. Lively pacing, strong emotions, and clear cause and effect are all vital to a good action scene. But that would be true in a group conversation amongst your characters, as well.

My favorite kind of action scene is one where the hero, competent and supremely confident fellow that he is, gets his ass kicked. Okay, it doesn’t have to be literal. But think back to Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers. The battle for Helms Deep. The hero, Aragorn, is manning the castle walls with a competent group of archers. Does he succeed in pushing back the hordes of Orcs? Or does he get his ass kicked? For the sake of those who may not have seen the movie, I won’t give the answer, but which result do you think would be intrinsically more exciting?

In my upcoming release, DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, my hero battles his nemesis in the early part of the book and despite his skills, comes up short. That remains one of my favorite scenes in the book. Not because I want my hero to look bad, but because he needs to discover new levels of himself and one of the more emphatic ways to do that is to face defeat.

A dustbowl of swirling red miasma rose up from the damp pavement, encircling the two of them as they dueled. Spinning madly, the crimson tornado lifted higher and higher, until it obliterated every star in the night sky. Then white-hot fireballs began to rain down on Lachlan.
His shield charm took a heavy beating. In a disquietingly short time, the hellish fury pitted the protection spell to rice paper density. But Lachlan had little time to spare for repairs.
He was battling an expert swordsman.
Had he been the same rough soldier Drusus had manipulated all those years ago, his defeat would have been quick and brutal. The demon held nothing back, hitting his blade with powerful, bone-rattling blows, the kind of blows one avoids in practice sessions for fear of irreparably damaging a blade.
Fortunately, though, Lachlan was no longer a backward Scottish knight who only hacked and thrust. With the help of Italian and Spanish masters, at whose feet he had studied for a hundred years after his death, he’d honed his talents to a lethal edge. Talents that now served him well.
He cut and thrust with smooth, almost effortless technique. He broke through the demon’s defenses twice, slicing through the leather jacket and biting deep into flesh. His new sword glowed green with the taste of demon blood.
But victory eluded him.
The sword was not enough. Not only did his opponent’s wounds heal with incredible speed, allowing Drusus to continue fighting without respite, but moments after Lachlan scored his second successful slice, the beleaguered shield charm collapsed, leaving him dreadfully barren of protection. He swiftly called forth another, but it was whisked away before it was fully formed, with no more exertion than a horse swatting a fly.
The swirling red vapor dissolved, carried away in wisps on the night breeze. Drusus paused, staring curiously at Lachlan’s heaving chest and sweat-drenched brow.
“You Gatherers are little better than humans,” he observed, sounding disappointed. “This is hardly the challenging duel I’d hoped it would be.”
Lachlan responded by whipping a restraining spell at him, roping the demon in thick white cords and pinning his arms to his sides.
Drusus broke the binds with a single in-drawn breath. “Very rudimentary stuff, that. There’s a much better spell in the Book of Gnills. Where’s the Linen?”
As the tattered remnants of the binds fell away, the gap in the demon’s leather jacket widened, and Lachlan caught a glimpse of a faint golden glow about his neck—the reliquary. A bitter dose of failure poured into his throat, choking him. Drusus could crush him, right here and right now, if that was his desire. Not without a fight, of course, but slowly, inevitably, courtesy of the indefatigable power the bastard borrowed from Satan. And when he fell, the souls of his family would be cast into hell, never to be recovered.
No. He could not let them down. Not again. He drew deep on his powers and straightened to his full height.
“F*** you.” *****Edited by Blogmistress for public*****

Action scenes give you a chance to show the inner stuffing of your character. They can be a testament to his worth. Despite my hero’s defeat, he comes across as competent, brave, and determined to win. Why? Because the reason he fails has nothing to do with those elements of his character. He doesn’t go down easy and he doesn’t betray his principles in the battle. Principles that become very clear as he fights. How far will he go? What’s he willing to lose? What level of punishment will he endure?

Did anyone here see the updated version of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig as James Bond? A very good example of defeat doubling as a win for the character is the torture scene. An action scene that still makes me cringe, by the way.

Do you find action scenes easy to write, or hard? As a reader, do you enjoy action scenes in a romance, or skip over them to get to the ‘good stuff’? Are there romance authors you think write unskip-able action scenes? Share!


This is one of the stops on my Cross into Darkness blog tour. In celebration of my release, I’m offering one commenter here today a copy of DRAWN INTO DARKNESS. In addition, over at my personal blog, I’m running a grand prize contest. I’ve posted a mystery photo, and at each stop on my tour, I’m giving a clue about the identity of that photo. If you guess correctly and submit an entry over at my site, you could win a silver Celtic cross not unlike the one my hero Lachlan MacGregor wears. Contest details, including the stops on my tour are listed on my blog.

FF&P Clue: May have been the birthplace of Pontius Pilate

Good luck!

DRAWN INTO DARKNESS will hit store shelves on September 1st. The second book in the Soul Gatherer series, BOUND BY DARKNESS, releases in May 2010.

***********EDITED TO ADD*****************
With the help of Random.org, I have a winner for yesterday’s copy of DRAWN INTO DARKNESS: darkangelauthor. Congratulations!

Thanks to all of you who stopped by and commented,


Linda Poitevin said...

I'd never thought of it this way before, Annette -- excellent food for thought as I head into some action of my own this week! Btw, it's great to see your name popping up in more and more places as you near the big day...congrats all over again!!! :)

Ina said...

Hi Annette!
I love your tour through various blogs :) and can't wait for your book... Your hero sounds from day to day more interesting and multi-faceted.
I wish you all the best!
See you tomorrow ;)

Dawn McClure said...

Love the reference to LOTR. Never thought of it that way, but you're absolutely right. If the good guys had won right off the bat, it wouldn't have carried the emotional punch it did. Setbacks are a great way to pump up the conflict and emotions.

Great post! Thanks! :)

Danica Avet said...

This is a very good topic! Action should be fast paced and riddled with suspense. I've had two separate experiences writing action scenes in my completed manuscript. The first scene went off like a rocket. It was fast, furious, and my hero lost! *gasp* In the second scene, it was a little more complex, I had to actually study UFC submission moves in order to find just the right movements for my heroine to use and yeah, she won.

By the way, I'm really looking forward to this book! Congrats and keep up the hard work. I know we'll see your name more and more in the upcoming months :)

Liz Pelletier said...

Hi, Annette! Congrats on the book release! I love a good action scene where the hero loses... And the one in Casino Royal is especially powerful. It makes the scene where he finally triumps so much more meaningful.

I loved The Matrix where Neo not only gets his ass handed to him by Agent Smith, but ends up running away as fast as he can! Then he's outsmarted by the villain who shows up before he can finish his getaway and shoots Neo dead. When Neo rises up to defeat Agent Smith, well let's just say I almost stood up in the theater and cheered! LOL

As writers, we're often told that the hero and villain need to be evenly matched for the tension to be balanced, and allowing the hero to get his ass kicked is a great way to demonstrate this relationship. If the hero always wins... well, where's the fun in that? ; )

Annette McCleave said...

darkangelauthor - Hi! I can't wait for your book to come out, too!

*ina* - Waving! See you at the next stop!

Dawn McClure - LOTR rocks!

Danica Avet - Sounds like your completed ms is an awesome read. :-)

Liz P. - Thanks! Neo's struggle against Mr. Smith is another excellent example! Thanks for sharing!

Becca Simone said...

Hey Annette (fellow Pixie)--
I'm so excited for this book to come out, especially now that I've read an excerpt. :)

You mentioned Casino Royale...Hmm. It's been a long time since I've watched that. I just might need to rent that again--and have a paper towel ready for all my drooling...


Jessa Slade said...

Oh, admit it, Annette. You just like to torture your heroes :)

Wahoo on your first book! He's almost here!

Annette McCleave said...

Hey Becca! I love the newer version of Casino Royale. The shower scene is one of my favorite romantic movie moments.

Jessa - You know me too well! :-)

DBReynolds said...

I think action sequences are both difficult and exhilarating to write. I don't usually write to music, but action scenes are the exception I put on my headphones with some hard rock and roll, close my eyes and just write what I see. I don't worry about typos or style, I just write.

Then I turn off the music,go back and make sense of it! LOL

As a side note, I think Daniel Craig is the best Bond yet. That torture scene was brutal, but he was magnificent!!

Annette McCleave said...

DBReynolds - I've never tried writing action scenes to music. Sounds like it might be worth a shot, just to see what ends up on the page. :-)

Savanna Kougar said...

Late to the blog. Excellent insights and excerpt.

As an author I particularly enjoy writing action scenes.
As a reader I love reading them as long as they make sense to the story and aren't just an overview of what happens.