Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Château Soleil Update 16: Action is Boring

Current word count: 161,029
Chapters done: 48/52
Projected length: 174,448 words

This is the actual, honest-to-goodness home-stretch for this draft. In fact, I don't anticipate writing another post until the draft is complete. Right now I'm dealing with the climax of the novel, resolving character arcs--all that good stuff. This has included a number of action-sequences. And in putting them together, I've had to keep one bedrock principle in mind the whole time: Action is not inherently interesting.

A few years ago I was an alpha-reader for an acquaintance who was writing a space opera, and it was pretty much un-relenting action. This worked well enough for a few chapters, but it quickly became exhausting. In fact, I started using the term "combat fatigue" to describe the reading experience, because it really was just fight scene after fight scene. If you think this sounds painful... it is way more painful than you think. And it's even worse on paper. A movie or a TV show can at least use visual spectacle to its advantage. In a book, on the other hand, it's just a never-ending fight between two people that I have no reason to care about.

This was reinforced recently when I watched Captain America: Civil War. It's a movie with a lot of action sequences in it and some of them are really huge fights, but there's a lot more standing-around-and-talking in that movie that you'd think. In fact, a lot of most action movies involves standing around talking, or sitting around talking, or making dinner while talking. This is because most of what human beings do is talk to each other. It's how we build relationships with each other. And it's the building of those relationships that gives the action sequences weight. And then those action sequences work because they contribute to the story of the characters that we already care about.

So when I'm writing a fight between a thug with a bionic arm and a man piloting a giant mechanical spider, hopefully the reader enjoys the spectacle more because they care about the combatants and the bystanders and the outcome.



Kathy Schrenk said...

So why did we all like Mad Max so much? It was at least half chase scene.

Kurt Pankau said...

A) Visual spectacle and OMG what visual spectacle. It would have been a very boring book.
B) Furiosa is a ridiculously charismatic character. We wanted her to succeed without her having to say very much. That movie would have fallen apart without Theron's performance.
C) It was half chase scene, but the other half was a lot of standing around and talking. Or driving around and talking.
D) The stakes were very high, so it didn't take much explanation to engage us. Beautiful women, one of whom is noticeably pregnant, escaping slavery? Direct routes to audience heart-strings. The stakes were NOT--notably--starvation and poverty, which are harder to engage with.
E) Previous association with the world and its title character. Viewers knew what they were in for going into it.

Finally, I would add that Mad Max: Fury Road is an outlier put together by an auteur with a unique vision and lot of experience telling just this sort of story. Most movies would not be able to sustain that level of action and still be interesting.