Monday, August 15, 2011

When in Doubt, Act It Out

Posted by: Rayna Vause
There is nothing I love more then writing a good action scene. Those fast paced scenes keep the fingers flying over the keyboard. One of the big things I think writers need to keep track of when writing an action sequence is the positioning of the characters bodies. Let me give you an example.

I was editing a fight in one of my WIPs. In this scene, one of my heroes (I write both M/M and M/F romance) is  grappling with a crazed attacker. As I reread what I’d written, I realized that one of the moves I had my hero performing wasn’t physically possible based upon his position.  It’s kind of hard to knee someone in the groin if they're sitting on your chest. Realizing my error, I wracked my brain for an escape maneuver my hero could use to get away from his assailant. I was about to completely rewrite that part of the action when the light bulb went on. During a women's self defense class I attended they'd demonstrated a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sweep. These are moves that are designed to uses body weight and leverage to help you reverse positions with your attacker and gain the advantage. Since I hadn't yet been taught how to perform the maneuver, I was having a bit of difficulty bringing it to life on the page. Sure, I could just call it a sweep, but unless the reader was familiar with the move it wouldn't mean anything . Plus, that does nothing to put your reader into the moment. So I turned to my writing partner, Melinda Leigh, for help. She's taken BJJ classes and teaches women's self defense and is very familiar with the move. Still, no matter how clearly she described it,  I just couldn’t visualize the motion. One of the upsides of having black belts as friends is that they will happily throw you around on the karate mat and let you do the same. That's just what we did. The next time we got together at the karate studio for class we took a few moments so that I could actually perform the sweep.

Performing the move as both attacker and victim proved to be a huge help in the writing process.  It enabled me to accurately describe how my hero's felt being pinned and gave me a clearer image of his range of motion in terms of fighting back. I also knew how he felt to successfully perform the sweep and and turn the table on his attacker. Melinda and I  tried variations of the sweep giving me other options to use when appropriate. By the time we finished our practice session I knew exactly how my hero and villain would move through this section of the scene.  I could then write a fight scene that flowed smoothly and made physical sense.

More than fights can benefit from acting out the scene.  Anything that involves a complicated series of movements, especially of more then one person, can benefit from having those steps rehearsed before they are put on paper (or computer screen).  Another type of scene that comes to mind are love scenes. (Minds out of the gutter and no laughing.) How many times have you read a love scene and couldn’t wrap your mind around the description on the page.  I can think of a few occasions where I’ve been pulled out of a story because I got sidetracked trying to figure out if it was anatomically possible to bend as the author had just described.

So when in doubt, act it out. We want our readers turning the pages of our novels not diagramming our characters movements. Has anyone else ever done this or am I the only crazy one?

~Rayna Vause


  1. My CP made her husband act out a sex scene in a bathtub with her, starting with jeans on. I told her I didn't think it would work. I guess they proved me wrong. {shrug} Good advice, Rayna!

  2. The closest I've gotten to martial arts is some tai chi a few years ago. So fight scenes are a struggle for me. Acting it out is good advice... but not with me as an actor :) Good luck with the BJJ

  3. When my husband says, there's no that person could do X, Y or Z, we act it out. I'm often right, but when I'm wrong he's patient enough to work with me until it's plausible (for a paranormal or urban fantasy).

  4. Hi Barbara,

    Glad you enjoyed the post. I find that sometimes I have to try out the action or my description of it is murky and lacking. I can bring it to life better if I clearly know the steps. Plus it can be a lot of fun. :)


    Even if you don't act it out yourself, there are tons of YouTube videos that you can watch. That way if you can at least see the move you may have a better idea of how to write it.

    It's great that your husband will work it through with you. Great to have a regular partner to practice with.

    Thanks for stopping in ladies!


  5. Not sure about the bathtub stuff and the Youtube combo, but this is a great idea! Many of my scenes have swords, but I'm thinking of investing in some foam boffer weapons to test things out. Great post Rayna!

  6. Great post. My son's just started ju jitsu so I'll be rehearsing fight scenes from now on.

  7. Jessica,

    That sounds like it could be a lot of fun. I took a little fencing when I was younger and loved it.

    Thanks for stopping in.


  8. I don't know how you can write an action scene without acting it out. I've even grabbed a broom and mop and had one of my kids play sword fighting scenes out with me. Kinda fun. How awesome that you have a self-defense class, and the moves that come with it, to add realism to the scene.

  9. Janni,

    You'll learn a lot for your fight scenes even by observing. Ju Jitsu moves use a lot of leverage and is actually a great martial art for women to learn. It teaches you how to use an opponents body weight and position against them. I hope your son enjoys the classes!


    That sounds like a lot of fun and an excellent research tool for your writing! I've been lucky because I take karate and my writing partner is a black belt, a women's self defense instructor as well as a few other martial arts. She's total action girl. LOL!

    Thanks for stopping in!


  10. Nope, you're not crazy. I've had to do this for one of my books and an article I'd written about defense moves for the heroine.

    I can't write it unless I can picture myself doing the moves myself.


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