Into the Action: Clean Up Aisle Five! a.k.a. Action’s Aftermath

Oi, I feel like a million miles of bad road.  This starving author has just spent one hour too many on late night writing binges.

But that’s not YOUR problem, dear reader, and so the show must go on!  Today, for your edification and entertainment, let’s touch back on an article series that’s been gathering dust for a bit.  That’s right, it’s time to get back Into the Action.  For today’s episode, let’s touch on something that can be an issue in writing action adventure tales: what happens *after* the action concludes.

This may sound like a no-brainer.  The action ends, the plot continues, life goes on.  That may be true, but I’m trying to steer us into looking at all the collateral effects of an average action sequence and how those things should be included into and woven into the story.  This includes the big stuff (damage property, crimes committed, injuries given and taken) and the little stuff (aches, pains, fatigue, getting a new shirt to replace the blood-stained one).

Now, you could simply take a page from the action movie genre and pay lip service to these things and then brush them off.  A short dramatic scene of patching up a wound, daring to show the character actually reload a gun, or a scene as the protagonists dust the debris off themselves from an explosion and walk away, we’ve all seen things like this in movies and either just accepted it as part of movie reality or been put off by it.  It would certainly be valid to use the tropes of the action genre to explain the aftermath away with a few sweeps of the pen.

The problem is that literature and movies are two different forms of media.  Those media carry different thoughts and expectations as well have radical differences in how information is delivered.  What may work for, say, an ’80s action movie may not work for your book and, in fact, I’d wager it won’t.  However, at the same time, dealing with the effects of a major action sequence in a fully realistic fashion could take more research and pages of your book than the actual action did.

The key, as with most things in literature, is to strive for a balance based on the level of realism in the world of your story.  If you are going to have people bouncing back from broken bones and bullet wounds, make sure there’s support for that in your fictional world.  Advanced medical technology, superhuman powers, magic, mutations … all sorts of things could be imployed in a universe-by-universe basis.   Even in a mostly realistic world, you can still employ some of that movie magic, just apply a lighter brush.

The fact is that humans can be scarily resilient at times and also that other real world systems are prone to breakdowns and mistakes.  Why aren’t the cops chasing down the protagonists after they were part of a high-speed chase?  Maybe they couldn’t positively ID them.  Maybe the pursuing officers were too focused on the chase and never got the license plates.  Maybe there’s just a breakdown in the system and red tape keeps an APB from being issued.

I suppose what this boils down to is that you can deal with all of the problems a big action sequence would incur in the real world in ways that won’t cripple your plot, but will also help the reader keep a healthy suspension of disbelief.  We’ll believe the action hero can shrug off a bullet wound in his/her shoulder so long as there’s blood, treatment, and reminders of that wound impairing his/her ability for the rest of the story.  Remember, as in all things writing, the devil AND the angel is in the details.

Good luck and good writing!