Coming from the experience of writing a heavily action-based series (think: Lord of the Rings), it can be as stimulating to the imagination as it can drain all of your creativity. And to be completely honest, I am glad my future plots do not rely as strongly on extensive action scenes. But a story without action is nothing more than a postcard. A still picture lacking movement. If you want your narrative to be successful, engaging the reader in moments or scenes of action is vital.
The conflict is always set up before any action comes to pass. And action does not need to be a war or fist fight. They can be an argument or evading capture. Even something as simple as a daily routine is an action. For the purposes of this exercise however, I’ll be focusing on heavy action scenes (aka- combat).
Sure, watching human interactions is one option for the study of action, but I find films to be a better decision. Not only can you pause a film (something you cannot do with real life) but you can note the directional cues for showing the specific action. Directors are like visual writers, they have to determine the best manner of portrayal for every situation. Does the light illuminate or obscure the scene? Is the view from the character or an external shot? Does the event take place quickly or frame-by-frame?
Let’s review the Neo vs. Mr. Smith fight scene from The Matrix. Before they begin to toss punches, the subway is scanned over. It’s vacant. It’s dusty. There’s a tumbling newspaper. Neo has an escape route, but he chooses to stand against the agent. As they fight the perspective changes between Neo and Mr. Smith as well as external shots. Some actions are highlighted while others pass by without further detail. Sure, the atmosphere is tense and the physical exchange is riveting, but you can only learn so much from observation.
When you have chosen a scene to review, watch it several times. Pause to note the intricacies of how it is represented. To sketch an action for practice, use words to describe the same conflict and see how realistic it reads. Sounds simple enough, right? It’s more challenging than you think. After you have executed this sketch several times over, being able to describe your own imagined action will be second nature.