Welcome to the second installment of the craft series on writing sports and action scenes. Today we’re picking up where we left off last month, with another technique for expanding action on the page. The first installment covered how to use all five senses when describing both character interiority and exterior setting. You can find that post HERE.
Today, we move on to the second technique I use when writing fast-paced scenes. This technique works well together with the five senses in breaking down a single moment into narrative that takes up more meaningful space on the page.
If you’ve ever watched the Superbowl you might have noticed “slow motion replay” moments in the game. The moment might be an interception, a touchdown run, an intense tackle, etc. Whatever the exact content, one thing of note is that the slow motion replay often rewinds and starts over a few times. When I was a kid, I used to think the network replayed the highlight just in case someone was in the bathroom or grabbing more pretzels during the first playback. But what I came to realize is that these replays are not happening for multiple viewers, but to give one viewer multiple perspectives.
The first time we watch a playback, we might be looking at our main star. The running back. The quarterback. Whoever. But then—wham!—we notice the inconspicuous player in the background who emerges with a surprise interception. The next time the video replays, we’re watching that guy. And wait! Maybe the play gets a major penalty from the referee. So the next time we watch, we’re looking to see when that penalty call happens.
The point is, a few seconds of action can ultimately take minutes or even hours to unfold and dissect in our heads if we’re interested in the threads of multiple players. So as the writer, we have two main jobs: 1. Write a multi-layered action scene, and 2. Provide various perspectives of that scene. Put rather simply:
Technique #2: Give the reader multiple perspectives.
Now, if you’ve read the above advice and run off to write a book with seven character POVs (points of view), PUMP THOSE BRAKES AND COME BACK. We’re not going to start in the running back’s head, then jump to a defense lineman, then to the referee. Instead, we’ll remain close to our main character, or MC. We have to get them to see the scene through a variety of lenses.
How do we pull our MC’s attention around the track or field or pool or whatever space? We use supporting characters to draw our protagonist’s eye (and ear, and feet, and nose….) through the scene.
Let’s dive into a few examples of what this technique might look like.
· The MC is following through with an established motion, then hears a pained cry and sees either a teammate or opponent curled on the ground. They observe the scene and piece together what happened to the other person.
· The MC receives a pass but is not aware of someone coming to tackle them until the impending footsteps pound hard enough to shake the earth and it’s too late.
· The MC is stuck in a difficult moment or struggle of the scene, then hears advice from a coach or someone along the sidelines. They reassess and act accordingly.
· The MC is at the front of a race until they smell the familiar scent of a competitor, now understanding that rather than having a comfortable lead, the MC will have to push themselves or risk getting overtaken by the person behind them.
The main purpose of using multiple perspectives is to draw the reader through a fast scene in the most exciting route possible. While those “slow motion replays” on TV serve a purpose, the writer doesn’t want to fall back on replaying the exact same action over and over. Rather, using multiple lenses bounces us around the setting, keeping the narrative exciting and unpredictable. Surprise is a good card to play in writing these scenes. If the main character thinks they know how a race or game will go, this is the writer’s chance to show the character how very wrong they were, and entertain the reader in the process.
Use of the five senses as well as multiple perspective will help expand any proper sports or action scene. But when writing fast-paced moments, there is a third, crucial technique to making sure the right beats land. Stay tuned for that technique next month on the final post in this series. Subscribe to my newsletter to get the link right in your inbox.