We’ve seen so many of them – the fast-moving sequence where a character dashes, dodges, darts and dives through one stunt after another, with maybe a pinch of violence thrown in there to spice things up. It’s hard to find an original action sequence these days, and harder still to find one that helps build up character in the process.
Films and stories often do this through dialogue peppered in the action – accusations, questions, and flat exposition while two people slug the crap out of each other. It’s more fun, though, to learn about a character by what they do.
In Tomb Raider, there’s a sequence early on where our protagonist, Lara, is riding a bike as part of a contest, pursued by other bikers. At a certain point, desperate to evade capture, Lara lifts her bike into the back of a moving truck and hides with it. This, while perhaps not strictly against the rules, is definitely against their spirit. We learn, in that moment, that Lara isn’t above doing a bit of cheating to get what she wants.
This might not seem like a big deal, but the move reinforces Lara’s prior actions and shows she’s not afraid of the consequences of being caught. She’s wild, she’s free, and she’s willing to risk her reward entirely for a better chance to win. Those traits come back again and again throughout the movie, and we’re not confused or put off when Lara tries similar gambits in much greater danger, because the story has set us up to believe that’s who she is.
What I really like, though, is the extra thought that goes into how Lara would act in a certain situation. It’s easy to put together an action scene in your head, to plug the characters into their positions and let the movement run. What’s harder, and far more rewarding, is taking that same situation and viewing it through the lens of your character’s eyes. How would they see what’s happening in front of them? How would they, with their worldview and life experience, react?
It’s a challenge. One that, when successful, allows your audience to believe in a character’s actions even when they’re in a setting so far outside the realm of everyday life.
Like, say, an island full of maniacal madmen and mysterious tombs.
A couple things:
- Starshot, my next book, is almost done with the editing process (and it’s sequel is closing in on first draft completion). I’m trying a slightly different method with these – namely, writing the first few before releasing any, because it’ll be more fun for readers if the sequel is days away instead of months or years. Either way, I’m having a grand time exploring this strange universe.
- Now that it’s warm outside, our cats are clambering to go outside again. We’re not a fan of decimating local bird populations, so we leash them to a stake that lets the two kitties prowl around our little garden and firepit, where they can sunbathe but are otherwise mostly harmless to wildlife. What it really means for me, though, is that every breakfast for the next six to seven months will be eaten to the melodious song of desperate meows from a pair of cats that want nothing more than to sniff their way through grass. It’s a true delight.