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Writing Dialog vs Writing Action

Le Chat Nécro

most thugged-out dope hoe
Why is one harder than the other?

The way my particular brain works, I always end up thinking of character moments and interactions in terms of dialog. I'm [imo] good at thinking of snappy comebacks, mysterious introductions, enticing proposals, and inspiring speeches.

But I feel absolutely shit at writing action. Want to describe how that snappy comeback was said and how the recipient physically responded? Sorry, can't do it. Want to tell of that awesome battle that my main character just got everyone psyched up for? Hahaha, fuck you here's some writer's block.

It's frustrating to say the least.

So I was just curious if anyone had a similar issue, either the same or vice versa or something else all together, and how you go about dealing with it. Commiserate with meeeeeee.
 

Takkin

Writer & Hugger
In regards to a snappy comeback, specifically, the tool I use is 'freeze-framing'. No idea if that's a legit method, but it's what I call it.

It's when I run the scene/line through my head, with the character, and then freeze-frame how they're saying it and then describe what I'm seeing. I then go back over what I've written down and create a description from it.

Example: "A single eyebrow tilted upward in shock; nose pulled back in disgust; lips perched together as if something sour touched his lips; perfect hair was pushed out of place by the quick upward jarring; hands slightly pushed outward and apart; cheeks warming red with retribution; conclusion: he was appalled by that snappy comeback and it got under his skin."

Could go on further, describing more parts/areas of the body as you slowly move your 'freeze-frames' forward/back to see, in your mind, how the character is reacting so that you can describe it. Don't try and write it all to paint... instead just describe what you're seeing in your head and then come back and write the moment properly.

Everyone's got different methods, and this is generally what I do all the time these days.
 

Asher Grey

Probably Sleeping
It helps to take a moment to make sure you're writing multiple senses. There's auditory, sure, as you can hear the person's voice; but does the room suddenly feel colder after someone delivers bad news? Do the lights seem brighter, the colors paler? Does the speaker's voice seem to drown out the world around the other character, their form seeming taller and more menacing with every verbal blow that they deliver?

Once you've identified the changes in the scene, you'll have more for characters to react to. Something bad happens, a character gets anxious. Instead of saying so, describe the symptoms. The shaking hands, cringing away from the source of stress.

Don't state how a development makes someone feel, show it. Because if you can't say "he was shocked by such a statement", you'll have to describe the recoil, the gasping for words, the wide eyes and uncertain gesturing. Instead of saying "she felt angry", describe her standing up taller, shoulders drawn together, face reddening and hands balling into fists.

The other thing that helps, depending on the nature of your writing style, is to put yourself in the character's place. It's more well known with graphic artists. Draw someone frowning and you, too, frown, for the sake of knowing which physical changes to describe. It works while writing as well. Feel that you've reacted to bad news, then describe the instinctive motions your body went through.

Hope it helps! I've had trouble with writing action as well
 

Miles Marsalis

The Last DJ.
I don't know if this quite the same problem, but I generally have an easier time writing dialogue off the top of my head than the descriptive text describing the actions accompanying said dialogue. I think this is because it is easier to write the words a given character is speaking rather than physical actions that character is engaging in or what is happening in the scene. I actually have to think about what the character is doing or what is going in the scene from a visual and mechanical standpoint, which can more effort than straightforward dialogue or even a speech.

To get around that, I usually just do my dialogue first. Then, I'll simply write out descriptive text around the dialogue by simply describing what I want to depict in a very plain prose in a stream-of-consciousness style, just to get the barest skeletal description on paper. Afterwards, I'll go back and gradually rework the text and prose to make more lyrical and unique. Sometimes I come back to particular patch of text to revise it multiple times.
 

PercyD

Lover of Beasty Baes
So, I actually excel at describing the scene. It's something I suggest people do more often when I am asked to do critques. It helps to slow down the action and gives the reader time to take in the details. You can also take this time to set the atmosphere, so you won't have to spend so much time describing how people say things.
However, it can be difficult if you are 'blind in the mind's eye', otherwise known as "aphantasia". It means you have difficulty visualizing scenes in your head:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphantasia​
I learned about it from watching this video:

When I was going through some stress last year, I was having trouble visualizing things too. It really limited me creatively- both for my writing and my art. When I am feeling mentally well and I have some time set aside to do my creative stuff, it comes back.
Back to your question, though. If your minds eye is clear, then I suggest approaching this from a cinematic perspective. Think about the scene as if you are watching it as a movie. Take snapshots of the scene and be sure to describe these elements throughout to help maintain the scene for your readers:
Take some time away from the characters to describe the setting.
In movies, these are the panning, "B-Roll" shots that give you depth of field. B-Roll is basically extra shots the crew took of the setting that are edited in later. They show the time of day, the season, the setting (inside or outside). This is a great way to start your stories as well.​

Then, focus in on the characters. Describe the space they are in.
Are they outside? Inside? Up high over looking something? Or are they at street level with buildings towering over them? This depends on the ideas you want to convey throughout the scene.​

If it's two characters having a dialogue, take some time to describe their relation to each other.
Are they in an intimate space and whispering quietly? Is it a family yelling a conversation across the room at each other as they prepare dinner? Is one of the persons nervous and doing things while they're talking? Are they facing each other and engaging one another as they speak, or is it more polite in the culture to sit side by side and speak? This is a great time to think about character quirks as well.

For me, I tend to outline everything before I set out to write a story. These are things I decide before I start writing-writing, since I am going to use the set up of the setting to also help convey the story.
 

Cyberdragon

Member
Way better at describing a scene than dialog. I have a vivid imagination. But I have trouble describing how someone is saying something, so I feel as if it sounds a bit blunt and forced.
 

perkele

Bad Faith Argument
You hear people talk in words all the time, of course you'll be better at writing words.

I keep a rolodex of action phrases for writing action scenes which happens to work just like my rolodex of lines of dialogue. Someday I know I'm going to want someone to perform an action "like a skeletal sex wizard!" And when that time comes, I'll have it ready in accessible index card format.

Also, I delete 50% of the words in a sentence because I have enough faith in the reader to fill in the blanks. If I'm going to pains to describe a scene, I'm already doing a bad job of it. Those scenes need to be rewritten from scratch or scrapped completely in favor of something that doesn't meander for three pages like little Billy trying to find his way home in Family Circus.
 

Cyberdragon

Member
You hear people talk in words all the time, of course you'll be better at writing words.

I keep a rolodex of action phrases for writing action scenes which happens to work just like my rolodex of lines of dialogue. Someday I know I'm going to want someone to perform an action "like a skeletal sex wizard!" And when that time comes, I'll have it ready in accessible index card format.

Also, I delete 50% of the words in a sentence because I have enough faith in the reader to fill in the blanks. If I'm going to pains to describe a scene, I'm already doing a bad job of it. Those scenes need to be rewritten from scratch or scrapped completely in favor of something that doesn't meander for three pages like little Billy trying to find his way home in Family Circus.

You should describe a scene enough to be immersive, but yeah, don't overdo it. I've heard family members complaining many times about authors of books that like to decribe clothes and stuff in way too vivid detail taking up the page. How much you describe also depends on the importance of the scene though. If you were to describe a crime scene for example, you'd want to include lots of detail, maybe so the reader can try and solve it. However, if it's someone getting out of bed, I don't care what color the lampshade is.

Be careful just throwing around adjectives/adverbs though. It can end up sounding cheesy or like a Mad Lib.
 

Keefur

aka Cutter Cat
I try to think on the emotional level when I am writing dialogue and scenes. People are mostly emotion anyway, right? A person walks into a room and they don't analyse the dimensions of the room, the placement of the furniture or the color of the walls. They walk into a room and react at an emotional level. The subject fought against a wave of nausea nausea as he viewed the faded green sofa framed by that burnt orange shag carpet and felt that the room hadn't changed since the disco era. He could only imagine how many stale, crumbling Cheetos lay abandoned deep beneath those frayed cushions.

Action is best written with snippets of emotion embedded into the description of the stimulating event. For example, if there was a fight, what is the character thinking about during the fight? Is he trying desperately to accomplish something before time runs out? What are his thought processes? People in fights don't thing things like Right cross, left jab in the midst of combat. You cannot think like a computer or describe scenes like a camera photo when writing.
 

Saurex

Emerian Lore Master
Why is one harder than the other?

The way my particular brain works, I always end up thinking of character moments and interactions in terms of dialog. I'm [imo] good at thinking of snappy comebacks, mysterious introductions, enticing proposals, and inspiring speeches.

But I feel absolutely shit at writing action. Want to describe how that snappy comeback was said and how the recipient physically responded? Sorry, can't do it. Want to tell of that awesome battle that my main character just got everyone psyched up for? Hahaha, fuck you here's some writer's block.

It's frustrating to say the least.

So I was just curious if anyone had a similar issue, either the same or vice versa or something else all together, and how you go about dealing with it. Commiserate with meeeeeee.
It isn't just you...and it isn't exactly a problem. Good dialogue can be it's own reward. Possibly one of the best examples of this (non-furry, but...) is Tolkien. The man spent pages on dialogue and when he got the battles, they got a paragraph or maybe a page (in the Hobbit the main battle is ignored entirely as the main character gets knocked unconscious and finds out, through dialogue, what happened later). The Council of Elrond in the Fellowship of the Ring is seriously long in the book while the Battle of Helmsdeep one book later is scattered out over a few pages with no deep details, except for when the wall gets blown up, which is surprisingly detailed...

The point: So you're not good at describing someone's face when they make a snappy comeback. And? What has weight is the response of the recipient of that comeback and what happens next.

However, if you want practice writing descriptions around dialogue, practice by transcribing scenes from movies. Watch a short scene, maybe 2 to 3 minutes, and then write that scene in your style. Movies are all about the visual, even when characters are talking. So, if you want practice at seeing what's being said, that would be where I would start.

A more embarrassing method of practice is to act out a scene you want to write. Take on the personas of your characters, stand up and act the scene out physically. That will give you an idea of how they would move, what faces they might make and what physical reactions they might have to certain things.

And if you think all this is rubbish...eh...you're probably right :)
 

Le Chat Nécro

most thugged-out dope hoe
A more embarrassing method of practice is to act out a scene you want to write. Take on the personas of your characters, stand up and act the scene out physically. That will give you an idea of how they would move, what faces they might make and what physical reactions they might have to certain things.
I have totally done that in the mirror before. Like an honestly embarrassing amount of times.


I'm glad to see this thread taking off a bit. Thank you everyone for the thoughts and advice and comisery!
 
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