I don’t like action scenes. There, I said it. Feels good to get that off of my chest.
I’m referring to the ones in books. I mean, I just caught the last episode of Game of Thrones on HBO, and WHOA! Now that was some awesome action. So I suppose action scenes in movies and TV are often exceptions to my rule. And even in books it can depend on how you define “action.” I’m not talking about commonplace actions, like driving to the store or folding laundry—though those can be dreary, too. I’m talking about fight scenes, battle scenes, chase scenes, etcetera. I feel like I should like ‘em, but I usually don’t. Heck, even an Indiana Jones-like tunnel-to-cliff-to-river-rapids “who’s-got-the-stolen-sacred-relic?” type scene can tempt me to start skimming. And the older I get, the more I skim ‘em.
Of course it’s an exaggeration to say that I dislike all action scenes. I occasionally find my pulse rate rising and my page button clicking faster while reading an action scene. But it’s rare. And it seems to be getting rarer. I hear readers praising authors’ action scenes and action-writing capabilities often, so I just might be in a minority. Perhaps it says more about me than the current state of literature.
And of course I write action sequences myself, and hope that readers enjoy them. (Does that make me a writerly hypocrite?)
But I’ve come to feel that my taste as a reader in this matter provides writer-me with some guidance, so I thought I’d share. Perhaps you’ll find it useful.
On the Edge of Our Seats
Does this sound crazy to you? A fantasy writer who doesn’t like action scenes? I mean, we writers are supposed to make things happen on the page, right?
I remember when I first started writing, I LOVED writing action sequences. I would put on dramatic music and oh, how things played out so cinematically in my head as I poured my swashbuckling action out onto the page. I would get so pumped up—physically and mentally—as I opened the spigot on a fount of minutia that I presumed would make my scenes cinematic for others, often adding ever more detail with each editing pass.
I think it was from my longtime mentor, WU’s own Cathy Yardley, that I first heard the phrase “It had me falling asleep at the edge of my seat.” I still love that phrase (it was you, wasn’t it, Coach?). And yep, you guessed it—she was talking about those meticulously-crafted action sequences of mine. I can see it in hindsight. Readers read to find out what happens (as in results), not to research specifically how an elaborate event unfolds.
No one cares if my hero grips his saddle pommel with his left hand, with the wind whistling through his helm, so that he can lean to his right and, starting from over his shoulder, bring his broadsword down in a roundhouse swing, utilizing his mount’s momentum. They just want to know if he hits anything, and if so, how it affects the fight. More to the point, they want to get to the outcome. [Read more…]