Friday, September 25, 2009

Writing Good Action Scenes

The Blade Itself: Book One of the First Law (Gollancz S.F.)I had never heard of Joe Abercrombie before, and happened to see a pile of his books in the bookshop one day. By a pile, I mean spread across three shelves. Of course, the series that caught my eye (The Blade Itself: Book One of the First Law (Gollancz S.F.)) had no Book No. 1 on the shelf and I couldn't find it in any other bookshop either. Wouldn't you think if you were displaying and spruiking Books 2 and 3 that you would make sure Book 1 was there for the curious new reader like me? So I went online and bought it. Cheaper.

I'm not sure what attracted me to this book. I do read fantasy but not a huge amount. However, I think it was the list of characters on the blurb combined with the first page - always a good test.
Logen plunged through the trees, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wet earth, the slush, the wet pine needles, breath rasping in his chest, blood thumping in his head.

That, and the rest of the first page, raise a number of intriguing story questions, and I also admired the author's obvious ability to write action.

As we do now, I went and checked out his website, and when my book arrived, I settled down to read. And was not disappointed. Abercrombie calls his hero, Logen Ninefingers, 'the thinking man's barbarian'. But Logen also has a bit of dry sense of humour, along with his ability to cut people in half. What made the book much more interesting though is the array of other viewpoint characters. Jezal is a knight who fancies himself as a fighter and a hero, and is soon shown to be be neither. Glokta is an inquisitor who has been severely tortured, lived to return to the city and is now an Inquisitor who is excellent at torturing others.

By now, if this kind of book is not your 'thing', you're about to stop reading this. But as well as several other intriguing characters (and JA manages to control at least five viewpoints in the novel without losing the reader), there are also plenty of examples of how to write good action scenes. This is a lot harder than you think. It's easy enough to imagine a fight scene where A hits B and B slices A with a knife. But trying to get a whole fight down on paper and make it seem real, fast-moving and exciting, as well as putting in description and character, is a challenge for most writers. Try this as another example:

Logen sprang at him but his ankle twisted on a stone and he tottered like a drunkard, yelping at the pain. An arrow hummed past his face from somewhere in the trees behind and was lost in the bushes on the other side of the road. The horse snorted and kicked, eyes rolling madly, then took off down the road at a crazy gallop.

This might not seem out of the ordinary, but JA does it continually, interspersed with other scenes that are slow and detailed in comparison. His books don't get all good reviews - one reviewer said "Instead of making this an exciting tale of adventure and discovery and colourful world building -- let's make it nauseatingly violent, overwhelmingly bleak, relentlessly depressing, while coming this close to being utterly pointless." Well, yes. But sometimes that's what some of us like to read!


Lisa said...

Sounds like an exciting read Sherryl...I may have to find myself a copy :)

Maree Kimberley said...

I'm not much of a fantasy reader either, Sherryl, but I'm looking at writing with several viewpoint characters - looks like this could be a good series of books to get some tips from!
thanks :)