New writer needs help! Action scene intensity and conveying the right atmosphere in scenes.

#1
Hi, sorry if this is posted in the wrong section.

I recently started writing fiction for the first time and I am struggling slightly when it comes to action scenes and getting the correct atmosphere when describing a new scene. I was hoping for some advice. 

I'm a complete novice when it comes to writing stories so I know I'm making mistakes. The examples I give will be unedited so forgive the grammar.

My issue with action scenes is when I write them they seem to feel, for the lack of a better word, generic. I struggle to get the intensity I feel a scene needs to grip the reader. I'll leave an example of what I wrote recently below.

“Get up, something’s here,” He said as he grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him to his feet. Thomas looked up in surprise as Alister lifted him off the floor before steadying him.

“What is it?” Thomas asked quietly as he tried to spot what Alister had seen.

Alister kept his gaze on the area he had seen the figure moving. “Don’t know, I saw something” He said, a shifting movement in the corner of his eye made him focus just in time to catch a glips of something moving to his right before it disappeared again.

“Their surrounding us”

Thomas retightened the traps on his shield before tapping his armour plates to make sure they were secure. “Do we fight?”

“Might not have a choice”

The two moved back to back alert for any incoming attacks as the movement became more noticeable as more and more figures darted between the pillars.

Alister raised his sword just in time to catch a hooked blade that came spinning around a pillar as they passed it. The blades met with a clang of metal that made Thomas spin in time to see Alister reach forward to grab something just out of sight and pull.

A small figure of around five feet tall came tumbling around the pillar with a beastly cry of surprise as Alister pulled it into the open, driving his blade through its stomach he twisted before pulling it free and decapitating it with a swift slash silencing its wail of pain.

Thomas recoiled from its head as it rolled free revealing its lizard like-features. “Kobolds,” he said in disgust as he kicked the head away. “Cave vermin”

The wail roused its companions as they gave up stealth to rush the two warriors in a frenzy. Setting his feet, Alister braced for combat as Thomas readied himself at his side. The first kobold was met with a sharp blow from Thomas’s blade neatly removing its hand at the wrist before he kicked out and struck it in the chest, sending it falling back before raising his shield to catch an incoming blow from the side. The enchantment flared briefly causing the kobold to stumble back before he took a step forward with a quick slash to its snout before it could recover. Stepping back into position, he met the next kobold head-on.

Alister danced forward as the kobolds reached them moving more aggressively as he darted between two of the attackers. A kobold screeched as it jumped with its sickle raised only to be met with a sharp thrust cutting its warcry short. Kicking the kobold off his blade and into the oncoming crowd he took a step back as a blade hissed through the space he had just occupied. Spinning slightly to the left, his blade whistled through the air as it cleaved through the attacking kobold before he brought it around to the left, cutting through two more approaching enemies in a full-bodied swing.

The number of Kobolds was quickly thinning as they rushed mindlessly towards Alister and Thomas in their blood frenzy. As Alister finished dispatching yet another kobold a grunt from Thomas caused him to disengage and spin to see one clinging to the surface of his shield while another was on his back, trying to work a small rusty dagger through the gaps in his plate armour.

Dashing towards them he grabbed the kobold hanging on his shield before throwing it away. Thomas now freed from the extra weight on his shield dropped his sword and reached behind him to grab the kobold on his back and throwing it over his head to the floor and driving his boot down on its skull.

Alister turned and dispatched the last of the oncoming kobolds. Taking a look around to make sure they were clear he saw the kobold he had thrown scurry, chasing after it he just managed to see it disappear into a slightly hidden door set into the wall.

Making his way back to Thomas, he reached him just as he finished dispatching the injured kobolds.





For scenes, whenever I describe a new scene I seem to struggle to get the right atmosphere for the characters and the reader that I've felt myself when reading a book. Whenever I write a scene I always try to convey some type of atmosphere or emotion through my descriptions but I always feel they just end up feeling flat and dull. I'll post an example below.

The passage through the door was relatively short, passing through it cautiously the pair found themselves once again stunned by what awaited them in the next room.

A bright forest spread out in front of Alister as trees towered high above them, the upper parts of the trees dead and bare compared to the densely packed forest floor. Light beamed down from above as the ceiling disappeared to reveal a mist-filled void, the light appeared to be without a source as it filled the surroundings without leaving a single shadow.

Surprisingly it wasn’t the fact there was a forest in the middle of a cave that stopped Alister in his tracks.

It was the colour. Everything was bleached a stark white that seemed to glow, the trees and leaves appearing to emit light from within preventing any shadows from forming. The colourlessness of it making it difficult to distinguish details as everything blended into a white canvas that distorted the senses and left one feeling discombobulated.

“Well, this isn’t disconcerting in the slightest…” Thomas said as they gazed over the bizarre forest.

Alister took a tentative step forward into the room. The second his foot hit the colourless soil he felt a slight sinking sensation as something was drained from inside him. Taking a quick step back, he stumbled back onto the stone pathway.

The pair watched as the spot where he had stepped flared brighter before a wave of vivid colours radiated outwards briefly bringing life to the forest in a dizzying array of brown, green, and blue. The colour lasted only a second before it passed out of sight into the foliage as the stark whiteness was once again left behind.

“You alright?” Thomas asked as he looked at Alister quizzically as he stood taking deep, shaky breaths.

“Give me a minute,” he said breathlessly as he calmed himself. The echo of the feeling when whatever it was forcefully drained his mana still tormenting him.

Taking a final breath to steady himself, he looked out over the forest to contemplate how to pass. He could see that the entire forest was completely devoid of mana like a dark, all-consuming void. All living things had mana, even if they couldn’t use it, and this forest must be so empty of that vital life energy that it drained it from any who dared enter. This also meant the trail of mana that had led them here was gone, the imprinted mana already consumed by its hunger.


 
So, where am I going wrong? I've been on this chapter for a while now and it's bugging me I can't get it to feel the way I want it to. Think I've spent more time on this chapter than I did on the rest of the story.


Maybe I'm being too self-critical. Any advice on any issues you spot in the examples would be appreciated, Thanks.

Re: New writer needs help! Action scene intensity and conveying the right atmosphere in scenes.

#3
Read your work out loud. If you run out of breath while trying to read one sentence, it needs to be shortened. You can try restructuring your sentences for better flow. I notice you tend to use "as" a lot. Try avoiding it. If the sentence sounds awkward when you read it, try restructuring it.

For intense moments, switching to shorter sentences can help communicate a faster pace (useful for action sequences).

Quote:"Get up, something’s here,” He said as he grabbed Thomas by the shoulder and pulled him to his feet. Thomas looked up in surprise.

“What is it?” Thomas asked quietly. He tried to spot what Alister had seen.

Alister kept his gaze on the area he had seen the figure moving. “Don’t know, I saw something.” He said. A shifting movement in the corner of his eye made him focus just in time to catch a glimpse of something to his right before it disappeared again.

“They're surrounding us.”

Thomas retightened the straps on his shield. He tapped his armor plates to make sure they were secure. “Do we fight?”

“Might not have a choice.”

The two moved back to back. They were alert as the movement became more noticeable as more and more figures darted between the pillars.

Alister raised his sword to catch a hooked blade that came spinning around a pillar as they passed. The blades met with a clang. Thomas spun to see Alister reach forward to grab something just out of sight and pull.



Some basic changes that would improve the flow a bit. I underlined the areas where I made changes. In the passage I edited, I changed it so "as" is only used a few times, and I shortened and separated some of the lines. 


Quote:The passage through the door was relatively short. Cautiously passing through it, the pair found themselves once again stunned by what awaited them in the next room.

A bright forest spread out in front of Alister, and trees towered high above them. The upper parts of the trees appeared dead and bare compared to the densely packed forest floor. Light beamed down from above. The ceiling was gone, revealing a mist-filled void. The light appeared to be without a source. It filled the surroundings without leaving a single shadow.

Surprisingly it wasn’t the fact there was a forest in the middle of a cave that stopped Alister in his tracks.

It was the colour. Everything was bleached a stark white that seemed to glow. The trees and leaves emitting light from within prevented any shadows from forming. The colourlessness of it made it difficult to distinguish details. Everything blended into a white canvas that distorted the senses and left one feeling discombobulated.

“Well, this isn’t disconcerting in the slightest…” Thomas said. They both gazed over the bizarre forest.

Alister took a tentative step forward into the room. The second his foot hit the soil he felt a slight sinking sensation as something was drained from inside him. Taking a quick step back, he stumbled back onto the stone pathway.

Removed a bunch of "as" from this section as well. Also separated some more sentences. 

You're doing pretty well for a new writer, just gotta watch out for those run-on sentences and that pesky "as"! Every writer has that one word they constantly repeat without meaning to. I recommend running your writing through a writing program that help you identify repeating words. I use Smart Edit Writer. It's free and let's me search for which words or phrases I've repeated a little too often. You can also look for them the old fashion way (eyeballing it or reading out loud) if you want.

Re: New writer needs help! Action scene intensity and conveying the right atmosphere in scenes.

#4
Too many blow-by-blow sentences do bog down a battle scene. Generally, a fight should be a tug of war between two sides, focusing more on progress. Does the MC get thrown to the ground and put at a disadvantage? How does he get back into a neutral state against his foes? What does he do to outfox the enemy and put them at his mercy, forcing them to flee?

It should also be noted that if the main characters don't struggle in a fight, then it comes off as a curb-stomp battle with no real stakes. The excitement comes from when the character is put into danger's way and has to find a way out.

As for the scene provided... that actually seems pretty interesting to me. You did that part nicely, your writer's bias is just flaring up. Sometimes you'll write something and think it's awful, but readers actually enjoy it.

If there is an issue, it's that you have a couple of redundant sentences and some run-ons too. Some sentences can be hard to read because they go on for a while. Here's an example:
Brierley Wrote: A bright forest spread out in front of Alister as trees towered high above them, the upper parts of the trees dead and bare compared to the densely packed forest floor.


That can probably be rewritten to "Trees towered high above them, their upper branches dead and bare compared to the densely packed forest floor." This makes for less redundancy by avoiding repeated word choice and saying things the reader already knows (no need to point out there's a forest, the tall trees and a forest floor will let the reader conclude as much). It also makes the sentence a little shorter and easier to read. Another way to make long sentences easier to read is by using commas and periods in the right places.

Hope that helps. Good luck with your writing.

Re: New writer needs help! Action scene intensity and conveying the right atmosphere in scenes.

#5

Brierley Wrote: I recently started writing fiction for the first time and I am struggling slightly when it comes to action scenes and getting the correct atmosphere when describing a new scene. I was hoping for some advice.
[...] My issue with action scenes is when I write them they seem to feel, for the lack of a better word, generic. I struggle to get the intensity I feel a scene needs to grip the reader.
First off, you're doing great for a beginning writer. All that reading must have paid off for you, you're further along on your journey than you might think.

Before we get started, some small piece of advice that makes a huge difference. Focus on what you want. Instead of saying that your scene feels generic, say that you want to write a scene that feels unique. In this case you didn't really state what effect (or in this case atmosphere) you're actually going for. I'll take a small guess that you want this scene to feel intense by way of being threatening - getting the blood pumping in the face of combat to the bitter death. 

I'm going to rewrite your scene without changing too much about what is happening, but the narration is going to undergo some drastic changes. The most drastic of those is the perspective. You narrate events as an outside observer and therefore struggle to portray the inner world of your characters as they experience it. What happens isn't important however. What impact it has on the characters is what matters. For that to happen I'm going to switch to a personal third person narrator that sees the world through your MCs eyes. 

Quote:"They're here." Thomas awoke half frozen where his armor plates had sapped him of warmth and a hand around his wrist already heaving him up. The last remnants of sleep faded as Alistar shoved a sword into his numb fingers. 

"Show me," he said, voice a whisper as his eyes tried to make sense of the darkness. His eyes strained to see further than a swords length, his ears picking up the scraping of claws on stone. The sounds were almost silent, so quiet that they remained half imagination. How many were there? 

Alister was beside him, also listening. How'd he picked them up so early? "They know we're awake. I wouldn't have noticed if one of them hadn't kicked a rock loose. Keep watch of our backs, they'll surround us soon," Alistair said, slowly unsheathing his blade, the sound of steel on leather as he cleared the scabbard almost a battlecry in the silence of the cave. Movement was the first thing he noticed. They were fast, their silhouettes like the shadows dancing around a campfire. 

"Can we run for it?"

"No."

He unsheathed his blade and raised his shield before him, the edge of the wood the rampart. He the castle, preparing for a siege. They'd last or they wouldn't. He wished they'd had more time for preparations. He moved his fingers in his gauntlets, trying to get a bit of warmth into them. They still felt numb. He could hear his pulse in his ears, felt his muscles coiling, preparing, his body burning off the sluggishness.

Slowly as to not make a sound they assumed positions, back to back with each other, the tabards almost touching. So close they could almost feel each other, but out of each others sight. The soft grating of nailed soles as they shifted their footing the prelude of attack. No use to attack them. The opening move belonged to them but still they waited. His eyes darted left, right, back again, searching the darkness for their opening move. 

A crash of steel behind and Alister had started the fight. He felt the leather creak under his fingers as he gripped his own blade, but he kept his vigil. 

They came. Five foot of bestial rage stormed him. The darkness receded as the kobold ran towards him, its weapon poised to strike. He stepped forward to meet it and used his entire body to put his strength behind his shield arm. He interrupted the kobolds strike and rammed the shield into its face. He drew his shield arm back and rammed his sword through the throat of the dazzled opponent. Swift step back and his back lightly touching Alistar's to reassure him that their perimeter held. The sounds of battle became deafening, the closed cave sounding like smithy as steel struck steel again and again.

More kobolds filled the gap he had cut into their ranks, attacking in pairs. He swung wide, his footing shot, just to keep them back. He was larger, his reach faster, but it was fear and hesitation that was his biggest weapon. As soon as they matched him in combat they would overwhelm him. They came for his shield and he knocked out their teeth with it. They came for his feet and he stomped them into broken heaps. Stance and form long forgotten, he raged among them, his blade growing dull on the gristle and bone of a dozen fallen. He kept swinging it, the kobolds raging, his muscles screaming as he broke their bodies with brute force. 

A smaller kobold rushed his left side with a spear, a lightning fast jab going past the guard of his shield, meeting his hip where only chainmail covered it. The mesh held, but the strength of the strike drove the rings into his flesh, bruising it. The kobold pulled back and he could not retaliate. His right side was threatened, another kobold with a hooked blade trying to work his way past his shield arm. He pulled back the slightest bit and reclaimed the lost inches with a shield bash, but the kobold had braced itself and absorbed it. Sidesteping he rammed his blade into the face of an attacker on the left, then switched targets to the one on the right. Overhead strike, the skull of the hooked blade wielder caving in, switching back left, turning into the strike of the spearwielder adding his own strength to the kobold's paltry one.

This time the mail gave and he felt tip part his flesh and scrape over his bone. His leg buckled and the kobolds saw it, attacking again, fiercer now, doubling the pressure. He clenched his teeth, fighting back the pain. The tip of his swords was still sharp and so he rammed it through the chest of the next kobold trying to get closer, its ribs giving way as he rend its heart apart. Another quick thrust, splitting a kobolds eye on its through its skull, the blade scraping against the bone as he pulled it out. It cost him. They closed in, grabbing the shield, putting their entire weight on it. He tried to pull it free, but he didn't have the strength anymore. He let go and the kobolds vanished into the darkness with it. The respite lasted for but a moment and they came back. 

He kept fighting. His sword hilt was too short to wield it with two hands so he drew his dagger with his right hand. Fighting commenced, growing ever more bloody. Without his shield the kobolds landed more and more hits. His armor held, but he bruised. Then they found the gaps in his armor and he started bleeding, just like them. His breathing grew ragged. He started panting as all the breath he could take was not enough and his reactions grew sluggish. 

Throughout all of it, the kobold runt with the spear kept just out of reach, striking again and again. He above all the others was slowly killing him. The fire in his muscles was replaced with acid and the warmth turned into freezing cold as he bled from half a dozen puncture wounds. Attacking the runt meant leaving Alisters back open and that he could not allow, so he endured it. 

He lifted the deathgrip on his sword for a moment, bringing the unused side to the front. There were no more reserves, he was surrounded by five kobolds and then it would be over. He raised his sword to meet another opponent and they locked blades. The kobold was still fresh and strong enough to bear one of his strikes. He pulled back for another one when the runt's spear appeared from the right side and found a chink to drive its point deep into his elbow. He dropped the sword and one of the kobolds grabbed it and fell back, its new owner pointing its tips against him. The rushed him. 

A dozen wounds and they had bled more from him than just his strength. He felt the last of his reasoning grow cold and die as he left his spot protecting Alisters back and rushed to meet them. 

His gauntleted fist met the first kobold and pulverized its jaw. He barely noticed that his dagger was gone. The kobolds surrounded him but he did not stop. They climbed on his back and he threw himself on the cave floor, crushing them under him. The rest of them threw themselves atop him but he rose, the exhaustion for one precious moment forgotten as his body mobilized the last reserves of his reserves, his vision narrowing down to a point, the blood pounding in his ears the only sound remaining. The kobolds worked to drive their weapons into the gaps of his armor but he fought like a berserker, smushing fragile limbs where he could get a hold of them, breaking bones however he could manage. 

He screamed. The kobolds recoiled but did not run. Two remaining, one with his sword, the other one with a bloodied spear. The swordstealer approached, its hands small enough to wield the sword with both its hands. There was no fear in its inhumane visage, but it hesitated as he dragged himself towards it. An overhead swing tried to carve sideways into his throat but he focused on his attack, breaking the kobolds kneecap with a kick that downed his opponent, but allowed the spear wielder to strike his weapon into the bend of his knee, forcing him down. Even dropping, he kept himself in a kneeling position, one hand in front of him to ward of attacks, the other choking out the swordstealer. 

The spearwielder remained at a distance. It was too smart to commit to any attack that allowed him to counter, trying to poke him from afar where he could not reach it. Strike after another it tried to land, but with his focus on it there was no distraction it could use. It aimed for the slits in his helmet. It tried to work the point around the gorget. It panted, tiring itself.

He grabbed the spear on a badly aimed thrust and dragged the kobold towards him before it could let go. It tried to get away, but his armored hand around its throat denied its escape. He could wring its neck, but he did not. He punched it in its reptilian face. His strikes were greatly weakened and so the small goblin survived it. He did not mind. He struck again. And again. It did not scream and neither did it beg. Its claws scraped over his gauntlets, trying to pry his hand off as he continued to break it. He did not know if it was so small because it was a runt or simply the youngest of the bunch. He did not care. Slowly, methodically he broke it apart until like a cheap toy it gave way, completely ruined. For the briefest moment he held it before he tossed it away where he could no longer see it. 
This was a new experience for me. Never wrote anything like this before, so I can't guarantee for quality.

What I was hopefully able to illustrate however was a few key points. 

The first and most important one is that to make a fight exciting your opponents must be actually dangerous. If the scene's antagonist is far below the protagonists capacities it's boring, no matter if he wins or loses. If your protagonist is larger, stronger, better equipped and more proficient your opponents must still have something to measure up to that. In this case, the kobolds are relentless, fearless, pragmatic and have the numerical advantage. They are willing to sacrifice themselves to grind their enemy into submission. They fight to the bitter end. They may have no honor, but they are not cowards. When it comes to their warriors spirit, they are Thomas' and Alistar's equals. 

The second is cadence. I played around with this a bit to make this point obvious to you. As long as Thomas is calm and collected he can formulate strategies and think about his surroundings. His sentences are longer and his thoughts are mixed in. During the height of his struggle for survival there was no place for thinking. Extremely short sentences that sometimes left words out. No commentary, no feelings, only action. By the point he gets exhausted the sentences get longer, now because he can't keep up the breakneck pace of before. 

The third is making it personal. Whenever there was space I wrote how sensations felt to Thomas, how he experienced them and how they made him feel. You can see this better in the beginning. In the end I tried to portray his state of mind only through his actions, especially in the last paragraph. Everything that happens is still filtered through him first and foremost. Without him to give these events their weight and meaning it has no impact. 

The forth is economy. What that means is that you enter the scene as late as you can, leave it as soon as feasible and try to get as much done in between as possible. That also means that you want this scene to drive the plot and advance (or simply reveal something about) the character. In this case I chose a theme of 'he who fights monsters' and alluded to what could very well be Thomas' (negative) character arc. 

So the major takeaway here is this: Decide what you want your reader to feel and then make your POV character go through that emotion. If you want your audience to be tense your MC must be under a lot of pressure as well. If it's just a walk through the park for him nobody else will care either.

Hope this helped!



Re: New writer needs help! Action scene intensity and conveying the right atmosphere in scenes.

#6
Thanks for all the great responses and advice!

I'm noticing some of the errors I've been making from your advice and plan to work on them. Currently, I'm starting to write a small second story where I can focus more on getting the grammar and sentencing right. I also need to work on writing in a more personal third-person rather than how I previously did as I like that style better.

Again, thanks for the advice! Hopefully, I'll improve to the point I feel comfortable posting my stories here!

If anyone else has any comments or advice please let me know!

Re: New writer needs help! Action scene intensity and conveying the right atmosphere in scenes.

#7

Brierley Wrote: Maybe I'm being too self-critical. Any advice on any issues you spot in the examples would be appreciated, Thanks.
I didn't read your example. Life is way too short for that. That being said comma I often get complemented on my own action scenes. I would say blocking is very important in an action scene. Blocking is when you describe who or what is where and what they are doing. In an action scene it's important to give a clear visual representation of what's happening . Often action scenes can be very confusing because you can't tell who is where and who is doing what. My other tip is to write action scenes as fast as you can. The reason for this is that you will feel a sense of excitement while you're writing and that excitement will translate onto the page. It will make the scene more frenetic.

Re: New writer needs help! Action scene intensity and conveying the right atmosphere in scenes.

#8
I agree with the advice above about sentence-length and variation, especially concerning action-scenes. For example, pacing fight-scenes correctly is crucial. Remember that you don't have to describe every little movement to get the point across. "They exchanged a flurry of blows" can be far more effective for pacing than describing every blow individually. There is a time for that, too, though--critical moments when an important action or event is happening. This can apply generally to most action scenes.

Another thing you might want to look into is using more of the five senses to get a scene across. Everything you write is very sight-based with a lot of gestures--I personally draft this way a lot, but when I edit, I be sure to bring in more details to spice things up. Sounds, smells, and textures will bring more variety to your writing.

You also "tell" a lot in your writing. You might want to read some atmospheric paragraphs from your favorite story to get the right mindset for it. (Horror stories are great for this.)

Another thing I noted: You could bring more adverbs into your descriptive writing (not to be confused with adjectives). The stone path mentioned in one of the samples you provided above could be smooth or jagged or cracked or uneven. That small detail contributes to atmosphere. Just be careful not to overuse adjectives.

Great example from autocrit that covers both of these topics (sensory/telling)

Telling:
The house was creepy.

Showing:
Only a single dim candle lit the room. The house smelled like dust and rotting wood, and something faintly metallic that made John think of blood. Stuffed animals were mounted around the room: a wild-eyed buck, a grizzly frozen in fury, a screech owl with sharp yellow talons.