Thursday, April 28, 2011

Aspiring Advice: Pacing Your Action

I know. I'm late. The rhythm of this little thing called life missed a few beats. I'm here now. Instead of getting into the details or generating excuses, let's skip to the part that I've been wanting to share for the last week.

When writing action, what does pacing have to do with it? Can't we just go for it, bashing some minion heads or obliterating a legion of starships? My answer--yes and no. By all means, do whatever action needs to be done to get the story told, but with a few simple guidelines, your action will flow better and serve a higher purpose.

Length - take a look at your scene and your sentences. How long does it need to be in order to accomplish the action that you want to pull off while still propelling the story? If it's over too fast, characters seem invincible (unless they just happen to be). Too long, the readers might skip ahead to find out where the bloodbath ends. Neither of the two are pretty. Short and clear sentences will move the action along better than detailed information. Sharp and active words needed.

X vs. Y - size up your characters. If this is a one-on-one confrontation, what qualities do they possess that they will bring to the fight? Unless they're evenly matched or one has a few tricks, the scene will (should) end quick, if you want to be realistic. Give us brains and brawn.

Build-up - before the fight is over, provide some build-up. The start of a confrontation is usually a test to see what the other is capable of. The action escalates from that point. The next move enhances from the last. From a weapons master, I learned that a real fight between two experienced opponents can last between 4 minutes and 4 seconds. Anything more than that is drawn out (for one confrontation--you can always have several).

This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. To conclude this month's theme of Action April, remember to have fun in whatever action scene you want to write. There's always run for improvements and redrafts if it doesn't come out right the first time. Sock it to'em.

Anything I missed? What are some pacing tips that you'd like to share? What's helped you the most?

I'm David, and I better pick up the pace!


  1. The pace in 'The Chaos Walking' trilogy certainly kept us on the edge of our seats! Good post :O)

  2. Those are great rules! Pace and action are so important in a great book. =D

  3. Pacing is so tricky I just found reading heavy action novels to be super helpful. Seeing how masters did it like Jerry Pournelle with his John Falkenberg series made it easy to see that you can blend elements like you mentioned with sentence length and fight duration to make a better scene.

  4. Great advice. (= Spreading out the descriptions so they aren't all in one clump, using shorter sentences and concise words pick up the pace for action scenes.
    I have read so many books that fail at this and I skim to the end like you mentioned.

  5. Great advice. I think I'll link to this post in my blog and then add a thought or two about description and pacing/action.

  6. Thanks, everyone, and thank you Joshua for the link and adding your thoughts on this topic in your recent post. Sharing ideas makes the blogging experience an enjoyable one.

    Steph and Madeleine - I'll have to check those books out. Thanks for the recommendation.