Friday, April 30, 2010

On hits and writing action scenes

Rather that clutter up the new act posting and commentary, I wanted to make a separate post with other thoughts, not necessarily related to the posting of "The Amazon Charter." This, then, is everything else I've been doing over the past week.

I've come to realize I actually really dislike action scenes. Or at least writing them. Or, perhaps, I'm just a bit out of practice doing them. A lot of chapter four has been writing action scenes, and I think perhaps I've turned a fundamental corner in the story so far. Almost everything so far has been preparation, introspection. There are a few action scenes, but not many. Chapter four, however, is a big battle over Jusenkyo. Chapter six is another big, almost chapter-long conflict. The gap between 3 and 4 may well be a dividing line, after which the story kicks into high gear, so to speak.

Writing action is tough. At least, there's a temptation to be mechanical, to describe every action in perfect detail. It reminds me of an old piece of advice I heard about a different topic: writing sex scenes. "Write sex scenes like you're making coffee, and write making coffee like you're having sex." The way I've always interpreted this has meant that mechanical, high levels of detail get in the way of the emotions of an action. That is, it's better to step back for a sex scene and be very broad and figurative. That at least applies when the only thing the characters are doing is having sex. If, say, you had one character trying to pump another for information while they're having sex, obviously you have to approach the scene quite differently. That's a case where each detail has consequences. Depending on how or why one makes a cup of coffee, the same reasoning may apply. The question is whether the details are important from a plot or significance standpoint, I suppose.

Applying this logic to action scenes, I think the guiding principle has to be whether the details of a battle are important to the plot as a whole. If you're just having a big fight, broad descriptions are good. Step back from the level of an individual fighting an army and look at the big picture. That's what I'm shooting for, anyway. Even still, there are times to zoom in, to take a look at the battle from one character's eyes and examine how it affects him. As always, one's distance from the characters, from the action, has a significant affect on how events are perceived.

Let me digress, however, to something of more pragmatic interest to a fanfic writer like me (as I happen to be at this time): hits. I actually monitor trends in my stories' hit counts rather closely, at least as I'm updating and posting. It's the reason why I decided on this experiment of weekly posting. All in all, I'm trying to increase the number of people who give the story a shot and increase the carry-over from first chapter to second, second to third, and so on.

Today I tweaked the FFN summary of Identity to something I felt might resonate better with the average Ranma fan--something that more closely hinges on the characters and their relationships. In some ways, I worry that this is misleading. Identity, I suspect, is rather plotty compared to most fanfics, and that's not something the new summary gets across. At the same time, I do think a summary should get across the premise without necessarily encompassing the whole story. This new summary is certainly closer to the initial premise of the story.

Is it a good thing to worry about hits? I suppose it depends on one's approach to storytelling. To me, most of the story is outlined and conceived of; there is very little I would do differently in terms of the actual content. I'm not here to cater to people's requests, although I do welcome and enjoy input and opinion. It's what I do to sell my story that I'm willing to experiment with. Looking at the stories that get lots of reviews, some are several years old and have been updated off and on for the better part of a decade. Some are new, however. Some are from authors with many one-shots and thus likely a decent-sized following; some are from authors on their first story, so who knows what really grabbed people. In the end, this isn't exact science. There are certainly things I could do that I don't--review spam is one way, I think. Even if I don't outright plug myself, reviewing would get my name out there, and if I give good feedback perhaps it would be win-win, but right now I'm cautious to even consider the notion. I don't review much at all; only when I feel like it. And that attitude is what I have to deal with from readers, too. So it's not like I expect a lot of reviews, but I do try.

Something I find sobering is that now, already just 5-6 months since I posted the first chapter, I'm about to have received more hits on Identity in the last month than Echoes ever had. Again, this saddens me, but it doesn't surprise me, either. I really enjoyed writing Echoes; in a lot of ways, it gave me the model for Identity and its overall structure. But I do find it interesting, all the same.

I'm almost done with 4.2 right now, so in theory I'm a day behind schedule. Things may slow down as I go into finals week, but I have a vacation scheduled for mid or late May (I don't recall) where I'll probably have to go on a week hiatus from posting anyway. That will be a convenient time to catch up. Overall the writing of chapter 4, despite my problems with action scenes, has been fairly good. I think I want to clean it up a lot, but it's coming along, at least, and in a way, I'm glad to not spend as much time on heavy introspection. I can let events add up and slowly take their toll on characters. It's a good place to be, balancing action with thought.

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