Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Prep for Writing Action

I'm getting ready to write the big final action scene in my novel, and one of the things I do to prep for it is sketch out a map of the area in which the action takes place.

That's the map for my action scene, above. You can't see much detail, (I snapped it with my camera phone) but it'll give you the idea. I like to know the layout of buildings, terrain, and the location of characters in the scene before I write it, and a map is the easiest way. You can see I've got a road, a parking lot, and a bunch of buildings drawn very poorly here. But who cares if I can't draw a proper rectangle? As long as I know where the warehouse is in relation to the landing strip, I'm good.

Part of this comes from my training as a Game Master (or GM or DM) when I play Dungeons and Dragons or other roleplaying games. Whenever the players encounter a monster and a big battle ensues, I usually sketch out the terrain for them, including buildings, roads, position of the monster, and anything else that their characters would be aware of. That way they can decide where to move. If they want to have cover, they can point to the corner of a building and say "I hide behind that corner." Then we all know whether or not they'll get burned when dragon breathes fire.

So first thing I do for an action scene in a novel is to sketch out the area - in pencil. (More on why later.) Then I decide which characters will be in this scene - protagonist and her allies, antogonist and his allies, any innocent bystanders, etc. Then I decide where to place them on the map before the battle begins. Looking at it from the bird's eye POV helps me figure out who needs to go where and do what in order to achieve their goal.

In this case, the protag and her allies are trying to rescue someone, so I marked where that person is on the map, figured out what obstacles lie between him and them, and then imagined it like a movie, listing (yes, that's my awful handwriting in the picture above making a list) the events as they progress in the scene while I look at the map.

Usually that first list of events doesn't quite cut it. This one sure didn't. so I flipped this page over and made another list, then another. I insert other actions, subtract others, and sometimes even revise the map to make the scene work better. (Hence the use of pencil.)

Once I have a map and a series of events in decent shape (not visually decent, obviously, since that's not possible for me, but decent story-wise) then I feel I can start writing the scene. Keep in mind, this map and the list of events are a sort of outline. As I go in and actually write the scene, I often realize I need to make changes and do. don't get too invested in the map and list of events. They are tools, not a mandate.

More on the things that make for a good action scene in the next post.

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