Like a Movie?

I’ll get to who won Kinda Like Brothers by the awe-inspiring Coe Booth in just a minute. But first, you know me. I have to share what’s on my mind.


Three years ago, I wrote a fight scene and submitted it to one of my grad school advisors, thinking that it was pretty good. She totally ripped into it. Her problem with it had to do with cause and effect. If Adam punches Claude (cause), what is the effect of that punch? If the effect is Claude falling against Jared, why didn’t I state this? Why did I instead cut to Sam throwing a knife, when I started the fight talking about Adam and what he’s doing to Claude? And where is Adam positioned by the way? Where is Claude? I didn’t provide enough information to make the fight understandable. 


Though I thought I adequately conveyed the scene I saw in my head, I left out key steps to help a reader track the action. I’ve begun to think of that experience as “movie shortcut thinking.”

In a movie, we can see a ton of action in a wide shot. I can’t help thinking of a scene from The Return of the King (2003, directed by Peter Jackson), specifically, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields where thousands of characters fight. (Um, my fight scenes are not on such an epic scale by the way.) A camera can easily pan or zoom in quickly to show us key elements in a scene. Also, a director might make the decision to fade to another scene altogether in the blink of an eye.


The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

We’re not bothered by the switch in scenes, because the eye can process a lot of images quickly. We’re getting used to seeing films like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, directed by Peter Jackson), which was filmed at 48 FPS (frames per second). But the mind’s eye is different. In a book, a reader’s imagination requires more cues to track the action. While writing my fight scene, I had taken too many shortcuts, as if I were a camera panning across a landscape. The scene I presented to my advisor needed more work than I’d originally thought to make it effective. Every action needed a reaction. Newton’s third law at work.

According to Newton, whenever objects A and B interact with each other, they exert forces upon each other. . . . For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

fall_2013_sketcheskey_3I needed to show the pertinent actions and reactions in this fight. Doing so doesn’t mean spelling out every microbe (which would be boring) and spoon-feeding a reader (which would be condescending). It simply means making the action clear and compelling. That required slowing down and writing the fight step by step.

                         step-1  Step-1-and-2-.1

But I didn’t understand all of this when my advisor ripped into my scene. Understanding dawned finally this year when I was asked for my opinion about a manuscript written by the relative of a friend of mine. I had trouble tracking the action in—you guessed it—a fight scene. I didn’t understand who was fighting whom or which actions caused the reactions described. Now that I had walked a mile in my advisor’s shoes, I understood her frustration with my scene. Some lessons take years to sink in, I guess. The gist of the lesson: when it comes to writing, a shortcut is not a good thing.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the announcement of the winner of Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth.

            coe_booth_-_author_photo KindaLikeBrothers

That person is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

Sharon Van Zandt!

Congratulations, Sharon! Please confirm below. Let me know if you want a hardcover or eBook.

Battle of Pelennor Fields image from Step 1 from Step 2 image from Action/reaction image from Fight scene image from Mind image from

30 thoughts on “Like a Movie?

    • I tried to be gentle and ask questions, rather than tell him, “Look, redo this!” For example, “I’m having trouble picturing who is standing where. Can you clarify?” That sort of thing. But even that could seem overwhelming. 😦

  1. I love writing action scenes and treat them like choreography. I make sure to have several moves at the beginning, maybe do a little simple stuff in the middle, and end with a bang. It takes a lot of focus and thought to visualize this because you have to know how the human body bends. One also has to remember that a punch isn’t shrugged off like in the movies. Having a character ignore damage can be a big oopsie.

    • Soooooo true, Charles! I’ve seen a lot of televised fights where everyone walks away without a bruise or a broken bone–just some delicately placed fake blood. Sigh. Nothing is more irksome!

      • That does get a little odd. I think I’ve just accepted that as a relic from the old days. There was a ‘rule’ that I remember reading about called ‘Bond doesn’t Bleed’. It basically said the hero of a movie couldn’t bleed or show injury because that would be a sign of weakness. You don’t see it as often these days, but it makes the old James Bond movies kind of funny.

    • Thanks, Mishka! It’s always a challenge getting our vision down on paper. I find that’s true of any action scene, whether it’s a romantic scene or a fight scene! Logistics!

  2. Yay! So excited to get this book! Thank you, Linda! And another great post. I often see books as movies in my head as I read them. Matter of fact, I’ve asked friends before, “Have you seen that movie….?” and then had to correct myself, “I mean, have you read that book…?” Thanks again for the book!

    • Very true, Jill. I’ve taken some shortcuts as a writer that have caused me problems. I’m trying to rectify those.
      I wish I didn’t have to learn some lessons over and over again!

  3. Beta readers are especially critical for action sequences, I think, because it’s hard to tell as the writer if we’ve lost spatial clarity.

    That said, “ripping” someone’s writing isn’t an effective teaching method, and I don’t care about the instructor’s credentials.

    • I feel spatially impaired sometimes. 🙂 It’s a wonder I can parallel park.
      I wish I could say that what she said about that scene wasn’t true. But it was. I wound up totally rewriting it and the book in which it appears.

  4. I have to agree with Eric above. There’s this mentality with writers (and probably with everyone else) that, once a person is in a position to pay back what they’ve been given over the years, they should relish that position. Ripping other people to teach simply sucks. You probably couldn’t process it then, because it was presented in a manner that felt like YOU were being ripped apart. I’ve had that happen to me several times, and it’s never the best learning environment.

    Even when the person is right.

    I read In The Shadow of the Wind over and over and over to construct my fight scenes. I’ve only had one reviewer say they didn’t work, and then she cited a perceived lack of clarity as an example that wasn’t even part of a fight scene. It’s such a balance to provide enough words without giving the reader too many. 🙂

  5. Congratulations, Sharon! You will LOVE the book! And, yes, fight scenes are tough to pull off, because you have to include all the steps while keeping the pace more or less real. In fact, that very same Coe Booth, who was my advisor helped me immensely with a fight scene in one of my manuscripts.

    • That’s really true, Lyn. Pacing and emotion are everything. That’s why I love Fighting Ruben Wolfe. Zusak has the emotion and the pace so perfectly married.

  6. Congrats, Sharon!

    Fight scenes, action scenes, chase scenes don’t hold my attention when I’m reading, and that’s true whether there is too much detail or too little. I just flip forward to where people are again using words to resolve their differences. :mrgreen:

    • Ha. That’s so funny. 🙂 I love a good verbal spar, especially those in films like It Happened One Night. But I grew up with two brothers who liked to watch martial arts films on Saturdays. So I developed a taste for action scenes. Writing my own action scenes–well that’s a different story. 🙂

      • I like watching action scenes in movies (Star Wars, James Bond, Non-Stop, etc.) . . . except when they keep going, and going, and going.

        But I don’t read those types of books, usually. I did just pick up Hunger Games to read. I bet I flip past the action scenes. 😉

  7. It can be hard to hear constructive criticism sometimes, especially after you’ve poured your heart into something. The interesting thing about reading Tolkein is that you get this sense of living through epic battles, but there is actually very little description of the actual battle. There’s lots of buildup and background and big-picture stuff, but as far as in the moment fighting, not much at all. He fools you that way, and it’s kind of awesome.

    • Very true, Walt. I wonder if that’s because he wrote the books for his children and therefore felt the need to gloss over certain aspects (like the head chopping that went on in the movies).
      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I can’t even begin to tell you how nervous I am about the fight scenes in QOB. I have trouble reading fight scenes. Especially the ones written by people with martial arts experience. (They seem to like to use the technical terms. To me, a kick is a kick. Just tell me where the foot landed and I’m good.) With Arvid, I’m writing fight scenes on a regular basis. *sigh* Here’s hoping.

  9. I find fight scenes difficult too, Linda. And it’s amazing what we can learn about our own writing–and writing in general–by editing other’s people’s work. I actually love editing. But when I’m asked to read something that has lots of issues, I have a hard time figuring out how to explain all that.

    • I also have a hard time explaining why something doesn’t feel right to me. I have to let the thing percolate awhile before I grasp what’s up.
      As for fight scenes, there are so many emotions all jumbled up within them. Two authors who write fight scenes convincingly (and I’m going with young adult writers since I read a lot of YA) are Kristin Cashore and Markus Zusak. I highly recommend Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak.

  10. Pingback: Posts to Check Out! | A Writer's Life For Me.

Your Turn to Talk

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s