Into the Action: Don’t Look Too Close, It’s Just A War! a.k.a. Major Conflicts As Background

Hey folks!  So, the most recent chapter I had to write included a massive action scene, involving a large number of characters in an extended fight scene.  The big thing is there really was only one or two major characters whose actions and fates were vital to the conclusion of the plot.  I sat back and took an hour to ponder the best way to go about this and I came to the epiphany that this was much like writing about a character in a war.

I know it sounds crazy but writing about one character’s fate in a war is much like writing about a person in a disaster when the primary conflict is not man vs. nature.  The disaster is not quite the focus of the situation but at the same time constantly effects the actions of the character.  In essence, a war or major conflict acts in much the same way: a continual background radiation that permeates the scene, no matter the focus.

So when you write this focused scene, you concentrate on what is in front of the character’s face.  This giant conflict raging around becomes your background.  It must be described and it must make its impact on the scene as anything given narrative time must, but the only parts of that background that should eat up your direct writing real estate should be the enemies and conditions in the character’s personal sphere.

In this way, you can have your cake and eat it too.  You can have the gravitas of the conflict but only deal with the slices of it that you actually need to.  It prevents the huge battle or big fight from overwhelming the important plot points you need to convey in the scene.  The important thing is to keep your camera locked on that main character, just don’t be afraid to pull out your focus to get a glimpse of the bigger picture from time to time before focusing back in on what is vital!

Until next time, good luck and good writing!


  1. In my limited experience playing certain first person shooters, you can only watch so many things. One, two if you’re really good. If you’re giving orders, and looking at a map, you need to tune out everything else around you. There’s the difficulty of trying to stay in the moment with what’s happening and accomplish a complex task (read a map, determine the enemy location, see who is available to task for that and then sending them to the location in a coordinated manner).

    And thus the war thing breaks down to being in a battle, which is very focused. You don’t have the ability to know what’s happening over there or even understand half the things that are happening, because no one is kindly explaining them to you. They just happen, without explanation. Like when you’re in your house and you hear a loud bang outside. You go outside. No smoke. No evidence of explosions. What was it? You’ll never know. Or you may find out later someone’s propane tank exploded.

    But yes, you get hyperfocused on what’s happening to you in the here and now. You may look at certain things with clarity that aren’t important in the bigger picture, but it’s you there now and that’s what you find yourself looking at.

    Good advice on keeping the camera focused.

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