A novel is only as good as its pacing. I love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels. Each is rich in detail and the mythology is vast and as deep as any ocean. One thing that puts me to sleep are his descriptions of the scenery. At times Tolkien uses an entire paragraph to describe a bush. Beautiful bush but come on. That saying… authors can overdo their narratives when it comes to their descriptions and detail. Such is needed in any story in order to immerse the reader in the world, but there is a thin line.
Same goes for the action in a novel.
As a reader, I love when a big battle starts and your heart starts racing. Swords meet- clang! -sparks fly. Wow. Limbs are chopped off. There’s blood spurting out from wounds like someone just cut through the plumping. At times though, the action becomes muddled by too many descriptions, almost as if the characters have stopped mid-swing to smell a rose or admire a sunset or discuss philosophy. A break in the action to a character’s point of view- what’s going on inside his or her head at the moment -adds to the emotion of the scene. But to shift gears down and give an overview of the landscape and the sunset, to set the mood, drags down the scene. A sentence or two can add atmosphere and be poetic. Alright. Fine. Stop.
Another peeve of mine, as a reader, is the over stuffing of stimuli into a battle or action scene. Having too many characters doing separate actions with another different horde of aggressors can confuse people. Focus on one view point at a time.
At this point let me stress one thing: simplicity.
An author needs to construct action as a dance. Think fluidity, sharp and clean movements, like a dancer performs a ballet. Sometimes the shortest, crispest descriptions of the action going on gets the heart pumping faster than a long, drawn out, cacophony of entanglement. Keeping a reader’s interest and their excitement up at that peek is important.
I read a novel by Brandon Sanderson recently, called Way of Kings. Sanderson’s Mistborn novels are also a good example. In both instances Sanderson writes his action, his fight scenes, like a Hong Kong fight choreographer. Reading his narratives when the action ramps up is like watching Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. A reader can follow the movements of the characters, can keep track of what everyone is doing, and Sanderson is able to twist you around and keep you excited and guessing as to the next turn in the fight. Read his stuff, see for yourself. Jim Butcher is also a master of action, in my humble opinion. His Dresden Files and Codex Alera novels have wonderfully paced and written action scenes. You feel the blows coming at the characters and follow the motions so easily because Butcher writes his scenes in a clear, clean, concise way. No thinking involved, you don’t have time, the action is flying but written so well you see everything!
So, in conclusion: Action = simplification. Don’t sacrifice the little details that bring out the beauty of the novel’s construction, its poetic use of words. Find a way to make the words dance instead of stepping on toes or making people fall asleep.
Alright. I’m done. Cheers!