Sunday, March 25, 2007

Action - Tone

One thing that always annoys me about action scenes is when they don't fit the tone of the story. You know, when you're reading a realistic lowkey story and then suddenly a nuclear missile explodes right next to the hero and all he gets is a flesh wound.

Occasionally that can work for shock value or comedic effect (think of the kickboxing priest in Braindead) but normally I find it jars me out of my enjoyment of the story.

Now I'm not saying I always get tone right when applying it to my action scenes but I do my best. If you look at the examples from my previous post 'The Noble Art' features boxing and so I based the action on ringcraft. I thought about the kinds of punches which work at close range and a typical boxing style response to nullifying those punches. We've all seen that a million times in real boxing matches, we know boxers use these moves, it suits the tone of the story. (When the story was online a couple of boxers actually posted comments praising me on the authenticity of the fight scenes.)

'One for Sorrow, Two for Joy' featured a Catwoman style heroine so I tried to give the action a slightly more comic book feel. Not entirely realistic but not full-on fantasy either. So the heroine's basic tactics are fairly sound but her moves are a little more flashy and martial artsified.

'The Master' was a Hong Kong chop socky pastiche so the moves are a lot more unrealistic. The emphasis was on trying to recreate the incredible energy and elaborate choreography of a Jackie Chan film. The techniques are strictly of the 'Don't try these at home' variety.

'Gladiator' has two highly trained martial artists mixing it up in a down and dirty streetfight. Kind of like the Cusack/Urquidez scrap in Grosse Pointe Blank (I forget offhand whether I wrote the story before seeing the film). Both fighters have some cool moves up their sleeves but they're not following the Marquis of Queensbury rules. There may be lots of skill involved but the fight doesn't look pretty.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

Okay, time to put my money where my mouth is. Here's some of my action scenes. Still sticking to the one paragraph rule.

From 'The Noble Art':

The right overhand came out of nowhere. Trey didn’t even know Sanchez had thrown the punch until it exploded onto his forehead. A fountain of blood erupted from his brow, shocking him with its suddenness. Sanchez seized the opportunity, pouncing on him and pummelling his body with short, hooking punches. Blind instinct took over -- Trey wrapped Sanchez’s arms, dragging him into a clinch, hugging him tightly until the referee separated them and sent them to their corners.

From 'One for Sorrow, Two for Joy':

Before they could attack Mags dodged to the right, outflanking them, and smashed the nearest one in the jaw with a palm heel. He crashed to the ground, unconscious. The other Bozos watched, dumbstruck. A groin slap and a downward elbow strike provided KO No. 2. At this point the two remaining Bozos finally realised that they should probably fight back. They both lunged at her, getting in each other’s way, and she danced aside, sweeping the legs out from under the nearest one. She finished him off with a foot stamp to the solar plexus.

From 'The Master':

A mop and bucket sat in a doorway. Spinning round Chen kicked the bucket into the air, launching it at Lo Wei’s head. Lo Wei blocked it with his palms and it bounced back to land on Chen’s head, plunging him into sudden darkness. Instinctively he ducked his head, offering the wooden bucket as the easiest target. Sure enough Lo Wei punched the bucket, shattering the wood and inadvertently freeing Chen.

From 'Gladiator' (unpublished):

He lashes out with his other foot, ramming the heel into my jaw. I lose a couple of teeth and then my balance, falling backwards, the ankle-lock escaping my grasp. I jump up and spit, spraying the corridor with teeth and blood.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Quentin recently posted this paragraph from a novel he's been reading and stated how it reminded him how much he hates action:

It soon became apparent that while Mou-lau was able to keep the men from coming upstairs, he was unable to prevail on them to leave. With the two sedan chairs ready, I ordered my servant, who was very handy with his fists, to go down first and clear a way for us. Hsiu-feng took Tsui-ku and followed him, while I took Hsi-erh and brought up the rear. We rushed downstairs all at once and, with the help of my servant, Hsiu-feng and Tsui-ku escaped by the door. One of the men downstairs grabbed hold of Hsi-erh as we ran past, but I kicked at his arm so that he let go of her. Hsi-erh ran out, with me following behind her. My servant stayed by the door to keep them from chasing after us.

Okay, it's pretty bland but as Quentin himself admits it's probably a bad translation. Still, I found his blanket dismissal of action quite irritating. Using the above paragraph as an example of how bad all action scenes are is unfair anyway. Action scenes, like any other scenes, lose a lot of their power when taken out of context.

Anyway, to try and redress the balance a little here are some examples of what I deem good action scenes. I'm sticking to the one paragraph rule even though as I stated above that's a huge handicap to any scene, not just action ones.

By Stephen Hunter

From Havana:

Whoever he was, he was taken aback by Earl's defiance, but the surprise instantly transmuted into rage, his face flashed the dead white of assault, and he waded in. His first blow, a wide, circular notification by wire, was easily evaded, and Earl instead snared the second one, only slightly less telegraphed, transformed its power by the primitive alchemy of judo back onto his attacker, and rammed the guy's noggin hard against the trunk of the tree.

Also from Havana:

And with that the man threw his punch. It was absurdly telegraphed, as he pivoted just a bit, cocked his right shoulder, cocked his arm, and set his right foot before launch. The big fist flew at Earl like some sort of softball pitch from a woman, and as it swept toward him, Earl almost cracked a smile.

From Black Light:

Earl hit Jed with his balled fist just under the ear, toward the jaw, a short vicious, completely satisfying jab. He hit him so hard the man was driven backwarrds as he chomped on his own tongue, opening a terrible wound, and blood began to gurgle out of Jed's mouth and darken on his overalls. A storm of dust floated up as Jed thrashed a bit and then lay still, one hand raised in surrender. Earl stepped toward him as if to work on him some more. Jed scurried back on his hands and knees, his face gone to the fear a man feels when he knows he's way overmatched.

By Joe R Lansdale

From Mucho Mojo:

I took a punch in the side of the head and one in the kidney and I yelled and turned and hit a guy with a forearm and saw another guy fly by me on the end of Leonard's foot, and then I saw the stock of Leonard's shotgun catch another one in the side of the head, and after that I saw less of Leonard because I was busy.

Also from Mucho Mojo:

I bobbed and weaved and let a couple of shots ricochet off me while I got it together, then we were close and the fists were flying and I was distantly aware of the sound of the gloves as they slapped on sweaty flesh, and I was aware of moving in and out of light and shadow, and finally, when he stood in shadow and I stood in light, with the sun at my back, I decided to hold him. I wasn't going to move. He wasn't coming into the light. He was going to take what I had to give in shadow. Take it and like it.

So you're getting characterization, metaphor and a mad, headlong rush of energy that is almost beautiful in its savagery. And that's out of context, when you don't really know who the characters are, how they relate to each other and why their battles are so important.

Bad action scenes are a bit of a pet hate of mine. Lots of writers -- including a lot of people who should know better as they are bestselling thriller novelists -- can't write an action scene to save their lives. And then readers see these authors' work and assume that it's the eptiome of action writing. It's not. If you're going to slag off action scenes at least read some decent ones before you do so. And don't just take my word for what passes for good action. If you don't like Hunter or Lansdale go read Lee Child or James Ellroy or whoever else takes your fancy.

And yes, I know, I've focused exclusively on fight scenes here at the expense of car chases, gun battles etc but I had a better idea of where to find the fisticuffs stuff in the novels I was using. I didn't really have time to reread all the novels in order to pick a wider range of action options.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

RAW 23

Robert Anton Wilson obituary plus an old article in which he details his fascination with the number 23 in this month's Fortean Times.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Funky Moves

A martial arts black belt I used to know named Alex Turnbull has got a trailer for a short film he directed up at Alex used to be a music producer (actually, maybe he still is) and the gym where he now trains has a dance class as well as classes in pencak silat, a dance-like Indonesian martial art. Consequently this trailer ends up looking like Jamiroquai competing in combat breakdancing.

Btw, I didn't spot Alex in the actual trailer -- the chap doing all the twirly hands stuff is Steven Benitez, Alex's instructor.

Hang on, just found a short bio of Alex's music credits: "...founding member of legendary 23 Skidoo, whose early work inspired groups such as The Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream and The Future Sound of London. Alex also set up and ran Ronin Records, one of the UK’s longest running and best established independent hip hop labels. He has also under his belt an extensive CV of music remixing work which includes remixes for among others Seal, Ice T, Stevie Wonder, Massive Attack, Da Brat, Nenah Cherry and Kylie Minogue."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Benny the Jet

Found some video clips of Benny "the Jet" Urquidez. Legendary kickboxer who was about the only US fighter of his era who was small enough to go up against Japanese and Thai opponents instead of just beating up on other Yanks. Edited highlights of his kickboxing career here. Pity it doesn't show his trademark victory backflip but the soundtrack almost makes up for it.

He later went into films and twice fought Jackie Chan onscreen -- Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever. But most of you are more likely to remember him duking it out with John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Don't I Ever Shut Up?

This interview came out before I started this blog so I don't think I ever got round to mentioning it.

Topics covered include my literary influences, the research process for The Mask Behind the Face, my forays into writing comic strips and the controversy caused by one of my old stories.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Standing in the Way of Control

My fave current single is 'Standing in the Way of Contro'l by The Gossip.

When I first heard it I thought, "Oh God, just what the world needs: a karaoke Gloria Gaynor." But by the time the song got about halfway through I was hooked. I may well get fed up with it but right now I've only heard it about three times and it's buzzing round my head with an infectious energy. Soulful screeching underpinned by a rock solid riff.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Alan Moore's Exit Interview

Recently read Alan Moore's Exit interview. In it he discusses his misgivings about the comics industry and the way he thinks he has been mistreated. This isn't the most fun reading in the world as it tends to read a bit like, "And then DC screwed me over. And then Warner Bros. screwed me over. Then DC screwed me over again." But it's interesting to get his take on the events that led to him withdrawing from mainstrream comics.

Plus there's talk about the progress of his new novel Jersualem, his thoughts on reincarnation and eternal recurrence and news on the latest installment of The League of Extraordianry Gentlemen, an excerpt of which can be found here.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Masquerade reviews

Found a couple of reviews for my story, Masquerade, which appeared in Midnight Street #8.

One at Whispers of Wickedness at and one at

Both reviews contain mild spoilers so I'll just give you the edited highlights (i.e. the bits where they say how brilliant I am.) Whispers says the story "is very readable and imaginative." And Zone-sf says it is "one of the highlights of the issue ... Highly original, and very well crafted."

If you don't mind spoilers then click on the links above for the full reviews. You can also read about the other stories in that issue. Although I can't for the life of me think of a reason why anyone would want to read about other authors when they can read about me ...