From swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery to motorcycle chases through cyberpunk neon streets, well-written action scenes are an integral part of many sci-fi and fantasy stories. Good combat sequences and action scenes happen fluidly and are part of the story’s flow. Satisfying action scenes are simple to read but not so easy to write. In this series, I’m investigating what goes into a successful action sequence.
The narrative’s time and place are the first things I consider when writing an action scene. I’m going to talk about character ability soon, but the story’s circumstances can sometimes dictate a character’s skills, so it’s an important consideration. There may be a particular set of physical or societal conditions that give all characters a base physical skill set.
For example, members of a post-apocalyptic society where everyone fights for resources will have a different skill set than a group of elf nobles from a high-fantasy novel. Characters from the post-apocalyptic might all be able to sprint while carrying heavy loads. That skill may come into play in an action scene, and the “winner” of the combat would need more than those base skills.
Next, I consider the character’s physical abilities and if they’ve had any specific training. I use my prewritten character profile for the main characters. If I’m writing about an ancillary character, I might need to write up a quick character sketch to flesh out the combatant. When I write out this brief background, I focus on her combat skills and how she got them.
A character’s combat style is often about skills they have gained from training. This is what makes the combat or action sequence interesting. Maybe they are skilled at swordplay or at martial arts. Perhaps they fight with laser guns or with magic missiles. The setting you create during your worldbuilding will also affect your character’s ability to gain these skills. A world where most contact is digital may not have much hand-to-hand combat, and there aren’t many firearms in sword-and-sorcery settings. However, none of these rules are hard and fast. But, if your sorcerer has a gun, you better be able to explain why (see my entry on Deus ex Machina).
Other Blogs in this Series: