Into the Action: Everyone Take a Turn a.k.a. Multiple Character Action!

Hey folks!  Time to take a moment from the busy review and writing schedule to take another trip Into the Action.  Today’s article is going to look at writing action scenes (DUH!) but, more specifically, writing action scenes involving multiple characters.  When I mean multiples, I mean groups, gaggles, crowds, clutters, mobs, and more!

At first blush, this seems pretty straight forward.  It’s just like writing any other action scene but, you know, with more people.  Simple, right?  Well … no.  No, not at all.

Obviously, the basics of action are the same.  Reasonable conflict, proper fast pacing, and keeping by all your usual rules for building dramatic tension are all just as important to writing these larger scenes.  However, there’s an added layer of complexity once you introduce more than one protagonist and one antagonist.  It may, in fact, seem very intimidating to deal with a many sided engagement but there’s some basic rules of thumb that can help you sort it all out.

First, do not mess with your chosen ‘point of view’ and writing style.  There could be a strong temptation to shift viewpoints to get a better wide view of a large-scale fight scene, especially if you’re working in a limited point of view like first person.  Do NOT do this!  It’s much like breaking any other established rules of your book, fictional or otherwise.  Once you break them, you start to lose the trust and interest of the leader.  Remember, keep to your guns and keep your focus.

Second, make sure to keep track of all parties in an action scene.  It is hard but you need to evoke a sense of presence in your actors, even if they aren’t constantly referenced.  Creating that sense of being will add to the reality of the situation for your readers, allowing them to better visualize and follow the action.  If your readers know where the actors in a scene are, they also won’t be taken off-guard when they do perform actions.  It won’t have a sense of feeling ‘out of place’.  It will flow easily.

Third, avoid falling into the ‘turn based combat’ trap.  Quite often, a writer faced with the challenge of a scene with many participants is to simply describe what they do in the scene one-by-one as if all of the characters were in a turn-based board game or RPG.  Everyone dutifully does their thing in order with no one character’s actions seeming to interact with the other.  Though this is rarely intended, it’s easy to have happen, especially if you confine each character’s actions to their own paragraphs.  The fact is that in a real action situation, people are going to be acting or starting to act in the same time frames and you need to impress upon the reader that sense of simultaneous action, even if there is an order of operations you want to follow.

Those are the top three tips that can be used to help sort out large-scale action scenes.  There are undoubtedly plenty more so feel free to share your own in the comments below!

Until next time, good luck and good writing!

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