We went to see The Hunger Games in the cinema this weekend. I loved the book and I'm happy to say the movie was a fantastic adaptation. The changes made helped make the story more suited for the cinema format and all helped push the story forward for a movie-going audience.
But the one thing that bothered me was the use of shakey-cam in an awful lot of the action scenes.
In case anyone's not sure, shakey-cam is when a scene is shot on a camera designed to hold focus but allow for the image to move rapidly. The effect is meant to give the audience the feeling of actually being present in the action, with all the chaos and confusion that includes.
Personally, I'm not a fan. If I want to be confused, I'll read a book on physics. I like being able to take in everything that's happening in a movie. Shakey-cam pretty much feels like being told "there's lots of cool stuff happening, but you don't get to see it." I get why it's used, but as a viewer, I think there are better ways of portraying chaos than actually muddling the audience.
I think the same should apply to writing. Action scenes can be some of the hardest things to write. You don't want to see stale descriptions of every blow. But you also don't want a dull summary; a whole scene reduced to a couple of lines.
The danger, then, lies in letting your words get away from you. As important as it is to sweep the reader up in the drama and tension of an action scene, it's still vital to keep your writing clear and concise. All the exciting storytelling in the world won't matter if the reader can't remember where the hero is standing. Even less so if you actually forget and have him hopping around the battlefield like an over-caffeinated frog.
I have a few techniques I like to use to keep my action scenes clear:
1: Plan, plan, plan. Mentally rehearse your action scenes, even if you're not yet ready to write them. By the time I write an action scene I'll have gone over the scene dozens of times so I know exactly what's going to happen and how it will affect the story.
2: Focus on one point of view. It's always wise to stick to a single character's perspective within a scene, but sometimes, if you're careful, you can bend or break this rule, especially if you're using an omniscient narrator. However I would strongly advise keeping an action scene as firmly in the head of just one character as possible. This not only helps keep things clear for the reader, but also helps keep the action feeling personal. If you need to show a different perspective, consider breaking your action sequence into several scenes and assigning different POVs when appropriate.
3: Imagine. Think about how your action scene would look in a movie. Consider what would make you enjoy the scene and apply that thinking to your writing. If your scene needs a sweeping vista shot, be ready to give an overview over all the events. If you want all your shots to be concentrated on one character's struggle to survive the danger, keep your POV firmly in their limited range.
4: Strategise. Work out what it is that you want your characters to gain (or lose) in this scene. After you've got that worked out, then you can decide what role they'll play and what challenge they'll face. There's no point in having your hero fighting on the front lines of a battle if you need him to break into the enemy general's command tent, is there?
I hope this advice is helpful. Does anyone have any other tips they'd like to share?