Mr. Clacky's Friday Forum #1: Starting an Action Sequence.

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Mr. Clacky's Friday Forum #1: Starting an Action Sequence.

Postby Mister_Clacky » Fri May 04, 2012 12:11 pm

Hello fellow writers! It's your favorite arachnid abomination here! And welcome to the first Mr. Clacky's Corner!

Before we dive into the topic at pincer, let's take a minute to go over the point of this weekly exercise. When I first started Homecoming, I had a vision, but the execution was poor. I was alpha reading for Wild Sky Yonder at the time, and Mysecsha directed me toWriting Excuses. I would suggest anyone starting out in writing jump on over there and give them a listen. Their information is going to be far better than what I present here, just not quite as niche relevant. It is there general format that I intend to use here. There will be a topic I will do my best to address and a writing prompt. I hope to engage you all in a lively discussion about the topic. It is also the goal to give critical, honest feedback and advice on the prompts posted.

I want to stress that this is not an “attaboy” zone. The purpose of these prompts is to practice writing. I would like to encourage you to keep some emotional distance between yourself and your prompt work. I know as a writer I can get defensive about my drafts, and as an editor I sometimes find it hard to give harsh criticism. But this is a place for harsh criticism for the purpose of improvement. Participating here symbolizes an agreement between you and the community to give honest and fair feedback with the intent of helping your fellow improve, and an agreement to take that feedback and honestly consider it.

First post formalities out of the way, lets dive in!

Not too long ago, I saw a forum post asking for some general tips for writing action sequences. So today I want to talk about how I plan action sequences.

~Spoiler Warning: To illustrate my process, I am going to use an action sequence from the end of Homecoming's first chapter.~

~Note: The following ended up being pretty long, as I pretty much recreated the entire creative process for the scene. Bear with me, as defining and debating the process is the point of this post.~

When I write action scenes, I use SOTPOW! Which stands for Setup, Outcome, Tone, Perspective, Outline, Write it!

1. Setup. Setup is an umbrella term for what came before. Before you can start working on the scene proper, you need to have a solid foundation. You need to know the Setting, Characters, and Circumstances.


Setting. Where is it taking place?
-A neglected storage room in Engineering.


Characters. Who is participating, who is nearby?
-Security Chief Heads Up, Zip Tie


Circumstances. How are the characters connected? What brought them here?
-Chief and Zip Tie were an item before he left Engineering for Security. They have unresolved issues. Zip Tie has a history of “getting around” after their messy break-up. Chief needs to open the Orchard's bulkhead, to do that he either needs something that can cut through the door or someone who can fix the controls. Zippy is feisty and flirtatious, but offers to take him to the tool he needs. She takes him to the neglected storeroom. She is infected, so once she gets him alone, she attacks.



2. Outcome. Once I have a firm grasp on the setting, I jump straight to the outcome. I work my chapters off an outline, so I already know who needs to end up winning. I try to answer Who Wins, Who Loses, and Relevance.


Who wins? Pyrrhic to overwhelming, there should be a victor.
-Chief needs to overcome the monster.


Who Loses?
-Zip Tie shows herself to be a monster and dies in the attack on Chief.


Relevance? Action for action's sake is bad. If you're outlining your story and jot down “No action in a while... Raider attack” it is insufficient. That isn't to say at adding an action scene to spice up a dry spell is always bad, it just needs to have enough depth to be justified. Violence in the Wasteland can come off arbitrary, but the characters involved should have a some reasoning.
-This scene is very important to the first arc of Homecoming. It is the first reveal of the plant-thing and it is the climax of the first chapter. For Chief, this attack elevates the risk to the Stable from an unnamed threat to a visible enemy. It also shows the mimic ability of the plant-thing and just how real they seem. He knew Zip Tie, intimately, and was fooled. This is a cornerstone to building paranoia among the cast and with the reader. It also establishes Chief as a character that can handle himself.


3. Tone. Now that I know the setup and what generally needs to happen, I can address the tone. By tone I mean the feeling of the scene. Is it dark, slow, and ominous? Is it frantic, jumbled, and panicky? What emotion do I want the reader to feel?
-This was the big reveal scene of the first monster. I've been hinting at what could be going on throughout the chapter, and this is the payoff. I want to instill a sense of dread into the reader. What happens here needs to be impactful enough that the reader will instantly be put on edge when group members are in small groups. I determined that this was not a time when “less is more.” I needed to be detailed and methodical in the presentation.


4. Perspective. This isn't something that many of you will need to give too much thought to, as the predominate medium in FoE fiction is first person. Homecoming is in third person and it is a part of my process, so I'll mention it. Once I know where they are, who they are, what generally needs to happen, and what the tone is, I chose my viewpoint character. In who's mind is the most interesting stuff happening? Who has the best “view”?
-In this scene my options are Chief and Zip Tie. A perspective from the monster could be fun, but if I want to build dread in the audience, the choice is Chief. He gets to experience the horror, he gets to feel the confusion, worry, and fear. His mind is the best place to be to get the tone across.

5. Outline. (digging out some of my old outlining for this scene)

-As I said before, I work off an outline. In the outline for the chapter this scene started out as a line like this: “Cut back to Zip and Chief in the storage room. Digging through stuff. Chief sees Plasma Cutter in corner. Starts digging it out. Zip things out. Oh shit! Fightidy, kill, kill. What else? Lights go out.”

-Obviously not enough to go on. So I expanded it.
a) Chief and Zip enter. Continue banter. Chief shows some concern?
b) Looks around a while. Finds Plasma Cutter. Starts trying to get to it.
c) Gets well into the pile. Zip has been flirty. She turns off the light and giggles? Chief is pissed.
d) Chief shows concern for her. Hint that he still has feelings? Too much?
e) Creepy sounds. Looks around with flashlight spell. (Thanks Solid Sparkle!)
f) “Zippy?” Holy shit that's creepy! More icky transformation stuffs.
g) Shotgun the bitch! Flechettes... that didn't work. Goodbye shotgun.
h) Run, hide, brilliance. Use Persuader to shock her to death.
i) Not dead yet? Make her burn a good long time.
j) End on cliffhanger? Schools his emotions, calls for Doc on PipBuck. “What else could happen?” Lights go out.


6. Write it! With a good outline to go with (that went through more iterations than I showed here) it is just a matter of getting the scene down. Finding what works and doesn't and adding and subtracting as the story dictates. The whole “Not dead yet” section came into being because the first ending seemed anticlimactic after the long buildup. I also wanted to give Chief an early hint that the plant-thing can split itself into pieces.

---

The Prompt:

Write a short action scene. Your perspective character gets ambushed by a trio of melee wielding raiders! The PC is out of ammunition (for some reason) and must rely on their melee weapon of choice. I would encourage you to try using SOTPOW in starting the scene, so that we can understand the choices you made.

---

Method Discussion:

You've seen how I do it, how do you do it? What are your tricks and tips to get an action scene going? I'm a blathering idiot because? Let's get this discussion going!

---

Parting Shots:

I'm hoping that outlining my method might help some people, but I also worry this first post might come off as self indulgent. Did seeing how someone else organizes his scenework help you? And suggestions for me in creating these in the future? What topic should we address next?
War is cruelty, and none can make it gentle. ~Gilbert Parker

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Re: Mr. Clacky's Friday Forum #1: Starting an Action Sequenc

Postby Shukin » Fri May 11, 2012 8:35 am

Setup: There’s three melee raiders: Two earth ponies, one with a crowbar, the other with improvised talons in every hoof. The unicorn is using a sledgehammer. The three of them are lightly armored with the usual straps. The perspective character is an earth pony specialized into magic weapons. The fight will happen inside a gas station, which is the raider’s nest. The PC is out of ammo and tired from a previous encounter that doesn’t matter right now.

The gas station itself is divided by sand bags, guiding everyone through a small corridor before arriving in the proper nest. Two of the raiders will be at the nest; the other will be putting guard. To the right of the door, many empty crates hinder their movement, and the nest has a central table, two bunks close to the walls and three shelves: One between the bunks and the other two across the room.

Outcome: The PC will come out victorious, but seriously wounded, leaving her fate uncertain.

Tone: Frantic, since it’s a fight for survival and she’s already tired from earlier.

Perspective: First person, PC’s view.

Outline: She’ll enter the gas station and come face to face with Crowbar, he swings and his crowbar is stuck in a nearby crate. The sounds alert the others from behind the sandbags. She hit Crowbar with the laser pistol’s butt and makes him drop his weapon. PC kicks Crowbar and picks up the crowbar. Sledgehammer arrives, breaks the crate with a failed attempt to hit PC, followed by another swing of the sledgehammer. She rolls to safety, knocking some crates. Talons will try to kick her in the corridor, PC jumps over him. Another kick from Talons bruises PC’s hindlegs and creates small cuts.

PC uses the crowbar to push the sandbags, cutting part of their movement. Talons jump over them; PC seizes the moment and cuts him open in the air with the tip of the crowbar. Sledgehammer misses and finishes Talons. PC tips the left shelf, Sledgehammer jumps on it. Crowbar flanks PC, kicking her against the table. PC hits Crowbar and is thrown against the shelf across the room by the sledgehammer, breaking her ribs. Ammo falls from the shelf to her side, she rolls and recharges her laser pistol, finishing first Sledgehammer then Crowbar, then try to breathe in one of the bunks. It doesn’t work.

Write it!

’Finally some quiet and peace’ was the only thing that went through my head when I saw the abandoned gas station in the horizon. My legs were faltering, my vision couldn’t keep up with my head. I had every right to say that I was tired, more than ever after that. The rusty metal door was hastily closed, but still it wasn’t rusted shut or locked, and that only meant I was even luckier to have found out that place. I’m sure nopony would—

Oh, there it is. An earth-brown pony with an orange-peeled crowbar stared at me for a second before his chip fell. I pulled my trusty laser pistol as fast as I could and pressed the trigger. The faint sound coming from my weapon-of-choice made me whimper. A smile ran through the crowbar, and the raider swore something behind the metal piece in his mouth, throwing himself against me with his crowbar. I threw myself to my left side, the tip of his weapon scraping my face and passing through one of the wooden crates right of the entrance.

I didn’t think twice: With both hooves locked into the barrel of the pistol, I unleashed all of my power into a powerful butt attack, breaking at least a few teeth from that ugly mouth and—why am I thinking about his appearance? I kicked him away, throwing him against the sand bags behind us and picked his crowbar, trying as hard as I could to not think about where it was moments ago.

“There’s that bitch!” I heard to my right flank, moments before a floating sledgehammer nearly crushed my skull against the crates I’ve thrown myself into. The purple pony with white magic ran across the little corridor made from those sandbags in my direction, swinging the sledgehammer frantically and pushing me against the corridor. Without options, I ran through it and found another pony with metallic boots in his hooves. He rose his strange weapons and tried to kick me in my frontlegs, probably trying to hinder my movement.

I was faster. With a smart jump, I flied over him and instantly regretted that when his hindlegs connected with mine. The pain was blinding, both his kicks hit me in the knees, scraping their backs with the metallic blades in the tip of his boots. I rolled over their nest and hit two of those sandbags in his direction, to at least catch some breath. They were raiders, it was obvious he wouldn’t stop at that.

And, this time, it was him who regretted. I turned my head and jumped against him, ripping his flesh from the bones and raining gore all over me when his chest ripped open. I tried not to think about it, and I didn’t have the time anyway, with the sledgehammer again floating against me, aiming for my spine. It was complete luck that saved me, that raider’s blood ‘helping’ me to trip and making the sledgehammer-wielding unicorn to miss me… Couldn’t say the same about the one with a smashed head and opened guts in the ground, though!

While I got up, I kicked one of the shelves, trying to block their movements, unaware to the second raider, the first I hit earlier, the one that jumped over the sandbags and kicked me in the chest, throwing me against the central table. I retaliated with a crowbar to his fac—That was one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt, my flesh torn apart and my lungs stopping to cooperate. The hit from that sledgehammer tipped the table and threw me against the other shelf, crossing the room from the blow.

“Oh… goddesses…” I whipered, my vision blurring, the unicorn in front of me cackling maniacally and the nice comforting shine of an energy cell by my side… Wait.

“Make your prays, bitch!” The crowbar rolled through the floor, my mouth lacking the power to hold it, but that didn’t matter at all. I dropped to my side, blood dripping from my mouth. Oh goddesses I couldn’t breathe. I opened the pistol and slid the energy cell inside it. Why couldn’t I breathe?! With a flick of the tongue, I brought him down. I heard his screams, I felt my chest burning and noticed his whole left hindleg burning. I shot again. I needed to breathe.

Couldn’t… keep… up… I hit one of the bunks, puking blood, the pistol dropping from my mouth uselessly. I shuffled through my saddlebags…

Oh goddesses… no hea…ling… potions…

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Re: Mr. Clacky's Friday Forum #1: Starting an Action Sequenc

Postby LuckyLeaf » Thu May 17, 2012 4:16 pm

I found some interesting advice in the Writing Excuses podcast for this exercise: S02E21: Fight Scenes

Still working on my piece (very late, I know), though I may have to rewrite it, keeping this in mind.

It would be nice to have more contribution here. The more people participate, the more we can have to compare and learn.
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Re: Mr. Clacky's Friday Forum #1: Starting an Action Sequenc

Postby Mister_Clacky » Thu May 17, 2012 9:25 pm

It's alright, with graduation and packing I'm behind myself. I'm still hoping to get the next one up by the end of the day tomorrow, and finish commenting on the submissions here.
War is cruelty, and none can make it gentle. ~Gilbert Parker

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Re: Mr. Clacky's Friday Forum #1: Starting an Action Sequenc

Postby LuckyLeaf » Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:35 pm

Nails and Bones

Setup
Setting
The ravines of Golden Canyon, a road going from the settlement he originally lived in to the Crossroads Reach Trading Post

Characters

  • Wishbone, young earth pony, raised by a medic.
  • Raiders:
    • Prick, blue unicorn suffering from Dash withdrawal;
    • Slam, bulky grey earth pony;
    • Spindle, red unicorn mare.

Circumstances
Wishbone was just expelled from his adoptive father home after having a psychotic episode and killing a patient, a gang leader. The settlement sheriff gives him some words of support, a few resources and send him off to the Trading Post, promising a friend would help him there. Wishbone goes down the road, fearing the gang would come after him for vengeance. The small raider group is coming from the opposite direction.

Outcome
Victor

Wishbone, keeps going his way.

Defeated
Raiders. One dies, one is severely hurt and one runs away.

Point
Wishbone personally faces for the first time the dangers of the wasteland. He experiences the uncanny cruelty of the raiders.

Tone
Desperate struggle.

Wishbone is poorly-prepared, outnumbered and doesn’t know how to fight.

Perspective
1st person. It’s important to emphasize his fear.

Outline

  • Wishbone panics and kills a radhog
  • He walks down the road and is ambushed by raiders. Try to talk them down.
  • He tries to keep them away with gun, notices one of them is hurt
  • He is attacked and tries to run.
  • He is cornered, stabs Slam in the weak leg, Slam falls.
  • Wishbone is almost hit by Prick, tackles him and drops his weapon, a nailed bat.
  • Wishbone is tackled and pinned by Spindle. She start to torture him, but he kicks her and leaves her writhing in pain.
  • Wishbone rushes to the bat, Slams goes after him. Wishbone kills him with a nail to the head.
  • Prick tries to get his weapon back, Wishbone pulls, then charges, driving the needle through his throat.
  • Spindle gets up, realizes she is alone and runs away.


Write!!!
Wishbone, the bounty hunter badass. Name to be feared by the scum of the wasteland. If the sheriff really thought that, he was crazy. I was Wishbone, the earth pony running like a dog with the tail between my legs after having killed a gang boss in a freak accident.


Can you even call an accident when you black out and wake up with a scalpel on your mouth, covered with blood of somepony else. The acrid smell still haunted me.

I walked, expecting that at any moment the gangpony hordes would surround me and tear me into pieces.I could almost hear their hooves hitting the cracked dirt, trotting down after me. My ears twitched.

I turned to see the yellowy grass ruffling and dustclouds forming at a distance. I froze, my heart beat madly. It was too late! I bit the grip of the six-shooter, my chattering teeth firing the gun wildly.

A swined squealed and the dust cloud slowly dissipated.

“Haystacks” I cursed.

The ravine road was silent, the wind whistled over the walls of the gorge. Nopony. Maybe I should have been thankful for that, but my nerves were stretched almost to the breaking point.

I couldn’t let myself daydream like that, not until I got to a safer place. The afternoon light dimly lit the rocky passage. I kept trotting carefully, not ever putting my gun down.

What would I do when I got to the Trading Post? All I had was a hooffull of old food and a dusty doctor bag. The caps I got from the sheriff wouldn’t last long either. Who was the the pony I was supposed to meet anyway?

My ears twitched again. Voices, they were coming from my way. Unless some freak mutant beast learned how to talk, there was no mistake this time. I threw myself to the shadow behind the tall grass tufts.

“Uh... what was that?” said the tall blue unicorn, just out of the ravine turn.

I held my breath. The steps stopped. A glance was all what I needed to confirm my fears. Those faces distorted by a life of rage and madness, the clothes covered by spikes, the stench of death that reeked from them.

Please don’t come here! It was a shadow, the wind, a beast, anything!

The blue unicorn snorted. “Huh... that ass think he is hiding.”

I saw their eyes moving to me. Their maddened glare filled my stomach with lead. I struggled with my own weak legs, but got up. My heart seemed to be about to run away without the rest of me. I had to do something, anything.

“N-no reason for trouble...” I couldn’t control my breathing anymore, all the air in the world wasn’t enough to escape that suffocating sensation. “... life, life is difficult for everypony so...” I wasn’t my father. My words did nothing.

They laughed to each other. The red unicorn mare took a threatening step towards me.

“Stop! Stop now!” I pulled the revolver and pointed at them. The mare was no longer enjoying herself. All they had was a nailed bat and a rusty blade, I had a gun. They wouldn’t come closer, would they? She took another step forward.

*click*

The gun fell from my chattering teeth. I couldn’t contain the shiver, the death’s hoof was already over my head. I saw the giant grey pony on the back slouching forward, the rage in his eyes, the back leg covered by filthy bandages. If only...

“Wait! I-I can help!” I fumbled opening my doctor bag, trying to find the bandages in that mess.

The cold rusty metal rip the coat of my leg. I clenched my teeth, turning to the red mare who prepared her blade to plunge it into my bowels. I could count every single heartbeat I had while I saw the blade inching towards me. In that moment, all the weight inside me was replaced by an uncontrollable rush. My hooves exploded forward and when I realized I was facing the enormous earth pony. He stood on his back legs, his heavy horseshoes gleaming above my head. I lunged forward, jamming something between the bandages of the earth pony. He roared and fell.

That scalpel, the cursed scalpel. No, it couldn’t be the same one, I left that one behind.

I barely had time to move my head away, the nail dug a deep cut into my face. The blue unicorn was just by my side, preparing a swing with the nailed bat. I thought time was slowing down again, but then I looked into his eyes. The empty expression, with just a trace of anger, fighting to shout its way from the back of his head. Lost into addiction. I bashed into him. The raider tumbled into the ground and the bat fell from his telekinetic grip. A weapon!

My chest exploded in pain. When I realized, I was on the ground. Each short breath stung deep.

I looked up at the frantic eyes of the red mare shifting all over me. I could smell her rotten breath and feel the rusted blade touching my neck. I stopped breathing.

No more than a scratch. She giggled as the blade floated away. Then it fell. Everything drowned in pain, madness and red. My shoulder burned in agony. My screams were only barely louder than her cackles, as the blade inched deeper into my flesh.

I flailed, but she only laughed harder. She moved closer, smelling my open wound. I grit my teeth, trying to bear the pain. I couldn’t let myself end like this! She got up again, her filthy body still looming over me. The blade floated away once more.

But I wouldn’t let her. A scream, this time of anger and I threw a kick with all the strength I could muster. My hooves hammered the soft tissue of her breasts. A cry, not mine for once, and she fell clutching herself.

The bat was over there. If only I could get it... I dragged myself with the hooves that could still hold me, finally biting the dirty handle of the bat. Something appear in the corner of my eye, a large grey shape charging at me. I turned and the bat turned with me.

The grey stallion tried to stop, only manage to slow down before bumping into me, then it fell, the bat’s large nail stuck deep in his skull. His face softened as he let out his last breath. A blue light wrapped the bat, pulling the bloodied nail out of the fallen pony’s head. I bit into the handle again, struggling with the telekinetic pull, slowly being dragged to the blue unicorn.

He was too strong, I was hurt, I couldn’t fight back. An idea flashed on my head. I let my weight move to the side, immediately his telekinetic grasp started to shift. Then I lunged forward.

A drop of blood fell over my muzzle. I looked up to see the unicorn strugling to breathe, a nail stuck on his throat. He fell, I got up.

“C’mon you wimps, get him!” The mare slowly got up, still trembling. She shook away the confusion of her head and levitated her blade.

“Get up, assholes! Now!!!” Her eyes moved left and right.

I could feel the blood pooling around my hooves.

“...colts?” She took a step back, but even in this moment her face never left the maddened expression. A laughter grew and turned into a cry, a roar, an inequine sound I couldn’t comprehend.

I barely noticed when her blade flew past my head, missing me by less than a hoof. I just kept staring as she run away screaming.


Sorry for all the wait, though at this point the idea of the workshop seems to be dead already and there is not much that apologies can do. Well, if anypony can do a critique on this, I'd be glad. I need to know where and how I can improve.
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Re: Mr. Clacky's Friday Forum #1: Starting an Action Sequenc

Postby Bad Horse » Fri Jul 27, 2012 10:47 pm

Hmm... thinking... thinking...
Nope. I've never written an action sequence. Ever. In, maybe, 100 stories. Dammit. WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?
Some of my stories:
The Detective and the Magician: Trixie tries to get Fetlock Holmes' attention by becoming a criminal. 5 stars on EqD.
Big Mac reads something purple: Twillight asks Big Mac to read something to the CMC. If only he knew how to read...
Twilight Sparkle and the Quest for Anatomical Accuracy: I have no recollection of writing this. I deny everything.


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