Writing [Tutorial] Writing ACTION 1: The Trick to Writing Action Scenes that Work

OokamiKasumi

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The Trick to Writing Action Scenes that Work:
Action THEN Reaction!

The #1 Most Common cause of Confusion in Action sequences...?
Putting the Reaction BEFORE the Action.


WARNING! This tutorial is NOT meant for those do Creative Writing.
This essay was originally written for writers seeking to be professionally published authors. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

If you are new to my tutorials, please read this one first:
The Secret to Proper Paragraphing and Dialogue
Certain things covered in this tutorial are based on that information.


Why is Action THEN Reaction so important?

The flash of pain exploded in my cheek from the slap her hand lashed out at me.
-- WRONG!


Why is this wrong?
-- If you were watching this scene as a movie, that sentence is NOT how you would have seen it happen.

Actual Sequence of events:
1) Her hand lashed out at me in a slap. [Action]
2) A flash of pain exploded in my cheek [Reaction]

the-women-gif-11.gif



ACTION Sequences = Chronological Order

Chronological Order --the order in which things actually happen-- is the ONLY way to write an Action Scene that won't confuse your readers. If you visualize the characters doing something in a specific order – you write it in THAT order.


REALITY = something random happens to you then…you react.
Action –> Reaction -> Action –> Reaction
- in Chronological order


Dialogue and Action: Which comes first?

ACTION.


Too many inexperienced writers put all their Dialogue at the beginning of their paragraphs -- before the action that caused that dialogue to happen.

The truth is, Dialogue belongs in the sentence when it happened; before the action, during the action, or after the action.

However...!

The finger pulls the trigger THEN the shooter wonders: “Oh no, what have I done?”​

Realistically, physical actions usually happen BEFORE dialogue. Most people ACT then comment because physical reactions normally happen faster than thought. Ask any cop or martial artist.

This Does Not mean that thoughts or dialogue don't happen before the gun or fist is raised and pointed! Bad-mouthing and instigation is usually how fights start to begin with. However, the human body has a habit of...jumping the gun -- reacting before the thought of doing said Action is even fully formed, especially if they are martially trained.​

Thoughts that come first FREEZE physical action. Not in the literary sense, for real. Most people stop whatever action they are doing, they pause to speak.

Fiction works exactly the same way.


FICTION = the Plot happens to the characters then…they react.
Action –> Reaction -> Action –> Reaction
- in Chronological order

1 - Something happened TO the character, (the Action.)
2 - The character feels the Physical Sensation - the effects of the Action, (the reaction.)
3 - THEN they have a thought and/or comment about what had just happened, (an Action.)
4 - THEN they DO something about it, (their Reaction.)

WRONG:
The flash of pain exploded in my cheek [Reaction] as the slap her hand lashed out at me. [Action]​

RIGHT:
Her hand lashed out in a slap [action].​
My cheek exploded with a flash of pain. [reaction]. “Ow!” [dialogue/action] I balled my hand into a fist and swung for her face. [reaction]​

1631568857654.png
(Stupid gif won't load. Click image to see Action!)

Why did I break that sequence into Two lines?

Because each character gets their own paragraph for their actions.
Why?

For exactly the same reason you separate each character's dialogue into two paragraphs. Dialogue is an Action.

And while we're on the subject, leave the Dialogue ATTACHED to that character's Actions! This way you never need to use dialogue tags such as 'he said' or 'she said' to identify who is speaking. The Actions do that for you.

Back to the topic...

Violating chronological order is a Bad Idea. If you knock the Actions out of order the reader’s Mental Movie STOPS because the reader has to STOP READING to Re-Read that sequence and mentally rearrange the sentences in into the correct order to get the movie back.

Making the story hard for the reader to PICTURE -- is a VERY Bad Idea.

Anytime the reader has to STOP to rearrange the words to FIT their mental movie, you’ve made a break. Breaks are BAD – very, very bad! A break creates a moment where the reader can STOP READING your story, and start reading something else -- and possibly never look at your work again.

A lot of writers hesitate to break up the actions between characters because written chronological action and dialogue tends to look very choppy on the page. It doesn't look neat and tidy

Neat and tidy be damned!

Who cares how the words are arranged on the page? Once the reader has their Mental Movie rolling the reader won’t even notice the specific words. They’ll be too busy watching the scenes playing out in their mental movie to care what they're reading.

Screw aesthetics! Your first priority is keeping that reader reading. That means keeping their Mental Movie going without interruptions!


How to FIX this chronic problem:

VISUALIZE your scenes as you write them. Play them as a movie in your head and write everything down EXACTLY as you see it. If it comes out in a pile of one short sentence after another, then add some smart-assed internal comments and/or dialogue.

Just remember to keep the character's dialogue connected to their actions.

Don't Forget: Dialogue is an Action too!


What about Literary style?

What about it?

If you simply MUST have stylish phrasing in your fiction, save it for the descriptions. Keep it out of the Actions!

If you want the reader to SEE the actions that you are trying to portray, Chronological Order is the ONLY way to make Action Scenes crystal clear in their imaginations.



-------- Original Message -----------​
"I can't write an action/fight scene worth a crap. Mind you, I can usually imagine them, I just can't write them."
-- Wanna Do a Fight Scene.

If you can imagine it - you can write it. The easiest way is by doing it in LAYERS.



The Quick and Dirty Method
for Writing Action Scenes


pirates2.JPG

Start with a List of ACTIONS and their following REACTIONS.

Don’t Forget! ~ Actions ALWAYS go Before Reactions.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
List of ACTIONS

-- IMPORTANT! Each Character gets their own paragraph. NEVER clump the separate actions of two different characters in the same paragraph or the reader will get confused as to who is doing what very quickly.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Will lunged forward, his sword fully extended in a stab.​
Jack caught Will's blade with the flat of his blade. Pushing the blade just out of range of his skin, Jack slide down Will's blade in a short fast stab.​
Will turned to the side to avoid Jack's sword's point.​
Jack did a quick side-step to stay in front of Will, keeping his sword's point on target.​

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Add DIALOGUE.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You're dead meat!" Will lunged forward, his sword fully extended in a stab.​
Jack caught Will's blade with the flat of his blade. "Oh really?" Pushing the blade just out of range of his skin, Jack slide down Will's blade in a short fast stab. "I don't think so!"​
Will turned to the side to avoid Jack's sword's point. "Crap!"​
Jack did a quick side-step to stay in front of Will, keeping his sword's point on target. "You're gonna have to do a lot better than that."​

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Add EMOTION.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You're dead meat!" Will bared his teeth and lunged forward, his sword fully extended in a stab.​
Jack snorted in derision and caught Will's blade with the flat of his blade. "Oh really?" Pushing the blade just out of range of his skin, Jack slide down Will's blade in a short fast stab. He smiled. "I don't think so!"​
Startled, Will turned to the side to avoid Jack's sword's point. "Crap!"​
Jack did a quick side-step to stay in front of Will, keeping his sword's point on target. He chuckled. "You're gonna have to do a lot better than that."​

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Add INTERNAL NARRATION.

-- Pick ONE character in that scene and add only THAT character's internal observations -- no others! (More than one POV in a scene is known as HEAD-HOPPING.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"You're dead meat!" Will bared his teeth and lunged forward, his sword fully extended in a stab.​
Jack snorted in derision and caught Will's blade with the flat of his blade. "Oh really?" The kid certainly had guts. Too bad he didn't have the skill to go with it. Pushing the blade just out of range of his skin, Jack slide down Will's blade in a short fast stab. He smiled. "I don't think so!"​
Startled, Will turned to the side to avoid Jack's sword's point. "Crap!"​
Jack did a quick side-step to stay in front of Will, keeping his sword's point on target. He chuckled, knowing it would piss the kid off. "You're gonna have to do a lot better than that." He was hoping the kid would figure out that he was out-matched and just bolt. He didn't like killing those that didn't actually deserve to die.​

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Seriously, if you can imagine it - you can write it.

Having problems imagining it?
- Watch a few MOVIES.


☕
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Want to read my other Writing tutorials?
 
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Biggest-Kusa-Out-There

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Nice.

pacha meme.jpg


I have a question. What if a character has faster reactions? Like, superhuman reactions. Would the 'beginning of the actions' be described, instead of the full action, and then the characters reactions?

For example:
The ground cracked, but Superman had already moved away from the falling tiles.
Here, the event took place at the same time basically. Would the reaction go between the start and end of the action without a separate paragraph? Or would each action have its separate paragraph?

Something like this:

The ground cracked.
Superman moved to the side.
The tiles fell.
 

KoyukiMegumi

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*Covers face with hands.* Oh, God... You guys are so very fond of making a ruckus! WHY...?!

You're welcome. I think...
:blob_happy:Well, I can only speak for myself, but since my life is so shitty, seeing other drama balances out the scale, I guess. Hey, that person is heated about something... Let me watch the world burn mentality.:blob_happy: Though I lurk don't join the drama.:blob_popcorn: Unless it involves me... Then you know...:blobspearpeek:
 

OokamiKasumi

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Thank you!

I have a question. What if a character has faster reactions? Like, superhuman reactions. Would the 'beginning of the actions' be described, instead of the full action, and then the characters reactions?

For example:
The ground cracked, but Superman had already moved away from the falling tiles.
Here, the event took place at the same time basically. Would the reaction go between the start and end of the action without a separate paragraph? Or would each action have its separate paragraph?

Something like this:

The ground cracked.
Superman moved to the side.
The tiles fell.

This is correct, especially with someone like superman.

The ground cracked.
Superman moved to the side.
The tiles fell.


The real issue here is:
-- Is Superman the POV character, or is the POV character Observing him?

If Superman is the POV character then this is Right.

If someone else is watching this happen, then it would be more accurate to write:

The ground cracked.
Superman appeared to the side.
The tiles fell.


Superman is so fast, there is no way in hell that an ordinary person would see him actually move.
 

LostLibrarian

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So far not much to disagree with. But using the movie analogy, I would like to add another point.

If you create the reader's mental movie, you're the director and not the choreographer.
Jackie Chan movies, punching 30 guys 150 times with a ladder, are fun. Reading the entire fight for that would be extremely boring. So tell the readers how the characters fight, put them on the right position on the stage, and then call "Action".

Any further description of the fight should be a new information, mostly a shift in the battle. If one character tires out, if a new character enters the scene, if there is interference, or if the characters get new information. That's the point, where the director should step in and gives new information. The 50 exchanges in between are utterly useless in written form and the reason, a lot of webnovel action scenes are half-skipped.

It's okay to describe the first exchange or fight against "enemy X" in a bit more detail. But after you described how the MC killed a goblin for three times, it's time to move on.


Following the movie comparison, every writer should also be clear that "fights without stakes" are only fun in movies. If there is no new information, no stakes, and no escalating threat, it is just boring filler. It can be fun to watch a fight without stakes. It isn't so much when reading it, especially multiple times.

In writing, fights should be part of a story conflict and the fight should change accordingly. Writers also have the means to "pause" a fight to add more information. Inner dialogue, emotions, tie-ins to the conflict. Those are the things that give a fight its weight and make it interesting. So, instead of trying to find the best words to describe the 100th similar punch, it's better to use that time to add "internal stakes" to (one of) the fighters.

Fights should become more of a "dialogue with fists" instead of a pure fun. A way to raise or resolve conflicts. And those shifting power dynamics should be described through emotion, thoughts, or dialogue in between. The 50 boring punches in-between can be left to the readers' imagination. They'll make it also look better than most writers could describe it, anyway...
 

OokamiKasumi

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So far not much to disagree with. But using the movie analogy, I would like to add another point.

If you create the reader's mental movie, you're the director and not the choreographer.
Jackie Chan movies, punching 30 guys 150 times with a ladder, are fun. Reading the entire fight for that would be extremely boring. So tell the readers how the characters fight, put them on the right position on the stage, and then call "Action"

Any further description of the fight should be a new information, mostly a shift in the battle. If one character tires out, if a new character enters the scene, if there is interference, or if the characters get new information. That's the point, where the director should step in and gives new information. The 50 exchanges in between are utterly useless in written form ...

It's okay to describe the first exchange or fight against "enemy X" in a bit more detail. But after you described how the MC killed a goblin for three times, it's time to move on.
This is 100% correct.
-- Once the action starts getting redundant, Telling in short bursts needs to happen rather then Showing to keep the scene from being skipped by the reader.

Following the movie comparison, every writer should also be clear that "fights without stakes" are only fun in movies. If there is no new information, no stakes, and no escalating threat, it is just boring filler. It can be fun to watch a fight without stakes. It isn't so much when reading it, especially multiple times.

In writing, fights should be part of a story conflict and the fight should change accordingly. Writers also have the means to "pause" a fight to add more information. Inner dialogue, emotions, tie-ins to the conflict. Those are the things that give a fight its weight and make it interesting. So, instead of trying to find the best words to describe the 100th similar punch, it's better to use that time to add "internal stakes" to (one of) the fighters.

Fights should become more of a "dialogue with fists" instead of a pure fun. A way to raise or resolve conflicts. And those shifting power dynamics should be described through emotion, thoughts, or dialogue in between. The 50 boring punches in-between can be left to the readers' imagination. They'll make it also look better than most writers could describe it, anyway...
This is also 100% correct, but very tricky for beginning writers to do.
 

Yuumei

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Hmm... never thought of it like this. But. nonetheless, I do like the information listed. Thank you for sharing.
 

CrazyGrimReaper

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"You're dead meat!" Will bared his teeth and lunged forward, his sword fully extended to skewer Jack.

In response, Jack twisted his wrist, allowing the flat of his blade to parry Will's lunge. With a snort of derision, he quipped, "Oh really?" while he slid down Will's blade. A smirk crept up Jack's face as he returned with Will's starting move.

Will's eyes widened as he tried to side-step a blow that could pierce his soft stomach.

However, Jack perfectly mimicked Will's movement; ensuring the fatal blow along with a curse slipping from Will's mouth. The sword pierced Will's tender flesh, except, Jack had halted the sword's movement before it could go any deeper. Will only suffered a mere flesh wound.

"You're gonna have to do a lot better than that," responded Jack with a chuckle. His smile widening at the disgruntled face his opponent wore. Then, once more, he pushed the sword a little deeper into Will's stomach; like he was a butcher gutting a pig carcass. This forced Will's stance to tremble uncontrollably.

The kid certainly had guts thought Jack. Too bad he didn't have the skill to go with it. He hoped the kid would figure out that he was out-matched and just bolt. After all, he wasn't keen on seeing if the kid had too much guts to continue the fight. Nevertheless, it's up to him if all his guts spill out onto the floor.

This is my rendition of what you wrote. If you like please do write your opinion down on things you disliked or liked about it!
I know a bit about what you were saying above. However, I was taught React, Pause, Act. I learned it from this youtube video. Link.

I also thought that you ignored some important things when writing your example and explaining how to write action. For instance, your flow during an action scene. As you know, dialogue in between almost always has to be short. This also goes with internal dialogue. We don't want an interruption of internal dialogue when going through a juicy action scene. You did this with the second paragraph. It was jarring for me to read as I was looking forward to smooth action but as soon as I got in the flow I was jammed. You had a short dialogue, then some short inner dialogue which I didn't find too interrupting. However, the next internal dialogue just pushed me entirely from my good action mood.

I also like to agree that it is good to visualize a mini-movie in your head, then, write the sequence of actions on how it played. However, ignoring what you call neat and tidy isn't the best advice in my opinion. What the reader needs most in an action sequence is the neat and tidy; or in other words flow. Sure the reader may understand that there were punches and kicks with the basic structure of act and react, but their reading experience will be very jarring. They will be constantly taken out of the scene as they would have to put in the extra effort to understand the material more clearly without good word choice to continue proper flow. I also want to give a quick note that this does not mean that I will never break the flow in action. Sometimes you want the reader to feel that a blow is sudden, so what better way than to break the flow at that point!

I think you also decided to "show" and not "tell". The best quote to explain the difference between showing and telling in this situation and in my opinion is, "Showing dramatizes. Telling summarizes." You told me he was startled which is fair since you want to summarize things in action and you did have an action scene right after. However, I preferred showing because it would dramatize the situation to emphasize the predicament Will was in. But, to each their own as both ways work!

I also decided to add in extra bonus info of what I had learned which is word choice. This could be important if you want to add more tension, mood, gore, or other things. As it can truly draw the reader in the scene with an amazing choice of words!

Any constructive criticism would be helpful as I have only really learned from online sources. Especially if it is someone like you who has been in the industry! Many thanks for the mini-lesson OokamiKasumi! I also want to hear some of your opinions on my own opinion, if you think some points of it are wrong or not!
 

OokamiKasumi

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"You're dead meat!" Will bared his teeth and lunged forward, his sword fully extended to skewer Jack.​
In response, Jack twisted his wrist, allowing the flat of his blade to parry Will's lunge. With a snort of derision, he quipped, "Oh really?" while he slid down Will's blade. A smirk crept up Jack's face as he returned with Will's starting move.​
Will's eyes widened as he tried to side-step a blow that could pierce his soft stomach.​
However, Jack perfectly mimicked Will's movement; ensuring the fatal blow along with a curse slipping from Will's mouth. The sword pierced Will's tender flesh, except, Jack had halted the sword's movement before it could go any deeper. Will only suffered a mere flesh wound.​
"You're gonna have to do a lot better than that," responded Jack with a chuckle. His smile widening at the disgruntled face his opponent wore. Then, once more, he pushed the sword a little deeper into Will's stomach; like he was a butcher gutting a pig carcass. This forced Will's stance to tremble uncontrollably.​
The kid certainly had guts thought Jack. Too bad he didn't have the skill to go with it. He hoped the kid would figure out that he was out-matched and just bolt. After all, he wasn't keen on seeing if the kid had too much guts to continue the fight. Nevertheless, it's up to him if all his guts spill out onto the floor.​
I see...

This is my rendition of what you wrote. If you like please do write your opinion down on things you disliked or liked about it!
-- You seem to have put in Dialogue tags.
I didn't include them because I don't use them.​
-- You also added a few "as".
I don't use "as" except in comparisons or at the beginning of a sentence because they tend to flag a sentence written Backwards: Reactions before Actions​
-- You also have two people acting in the same paragraph.
However, Jack perfectly mimicked Will's movement; ensuring the fatal blow <-- Jack's actions.​
A curse slipping from Will's mouth. <-- Will's actions.​
Other than that, it's brilliant and I'm glad you enjoyed the exercise!

I know a bit about what you were saying above. However, I was taught React, Pause, Act. I learned it from this youtube video. Link.
Oh, I' haven't seen that! I'll have to check it out!
-- The bulk of what I know about writing Action comes from Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham The rest from my publishing editors.

I also thought that you ignored some important things when writing your example and explaining how to write action. For instance, your flow during an action scene. As you know, dialogue in between almost always has to be short. We don't want an interruption of internal dialogue when going through a juicy action scene. We don't want an interruption of internal dialogue when going through a juicy action scene.
Hmm... Nope. Can't say I've ever heard that the dialogue in an action scene needed to be short, nor that thoughts should be separated out from the actions that caused those thoughts.

I was taught to keep the scene in absolute Chronological Order, in the order they actually happen; action, thought, and dialogue.

People really do pause right in the middle of a fight to yell at each other, or just grab a few gasps of air and think a bit before they renew their attacks. Go to any karate dojo to see this in action.

You did this with the second paragraph. It was jarring for me to read as I was looking forward to smooth action but as soon as I got in the flow I was jammed. You had a short dialogue, then some short inner dialogue which I didn't find too interrupting. However, the next internal dialogue just pushed me entirely from my good action mood.
LOL! I'm sorry you felt that way, but that was just an example designed specifically to show how Action, Dialogue, and Internal Narration worked. The example was not part of any scene I have in any of my stories. I wrote it on the fly for this tutorial.

If you want to see how I actually write fight scenes, you should read my fan-fiction. However, Read The Warnings before you choose a story! I only write Adult fiction and most of it is BL --> Male/Male.

I also like to agree that it is good to visualize a mini-movie in your head, then, write the sequence of actions on how it played. However, ignoring what you call neat and tidy isn't the best advice in my opinion. What the reader needs most in an action sequence is the neat and tidy; or in other words flow. Sure the reader may understand that there were punches and kicks with the basic structure of act and react, but their reading experience will be very jarring. They will be constantly taken out of the scene as they would have to put in the extra effort to understand the material more clearly without good word choice to continue proper flow. I also want to give a quick note that this does not mean that I will never break the flow in action. Sometimes you want the reader to feel that a blow is sudden, so what better way than to break the flow at that point!
I suspect your definition of neat and tidy and mine may be a little different.
-- Read my previous tutorial: The Secret to Proper Paragraphing and Dialogue to see what I actually mean.

I think you also decided to "show" and not "tell". The best quote to explain the difference between showing and telling in this situation and in my opinion is, "Showing dramatizes. Telling summarizes." You told me he was startled which is fair since you want to summarize things in action and you did have an action scene right after. However, I preferred showing because it would dramatize the situation to emphasize the predicament Will was in. But, to each their own as both ways work!

I also decided to add in extra bonus info of what I had learned which is word choice. This could be important if you want to add more tension, mood, gore, or other things. As it can truly draw the reader in the scene with an amazing choice of words!
LOL! Example, remember?

Any constructive criticism would be helpful as I have only really learned from online sources. Especially if it is someone like you who has been in the industry!
I hope you mean that. LOL!

Many thanks for the mini-lesson OokamiKasumi! I also want to hear some of your opinions on my own opinion, if you think some points of it are wrong or not!
You are very welcome, and I hope it proves helpful.
-- I think you have some very valid points and I enjoyed reading them.

The problem with my tutorials is that they build upon each other. What I show in one is used in the next. If you haven't read the previous ones, some of the things I cover may seem jarring. Case in point: What I consider neat and tidy. Also, that you seem unaware of why I don't use dialogue tags, or why I never mix two characters' actions in the same line.

So, go ahead and take a look at that other tutorial I pointed out. You'll have lots to get fired up about in that one! LOL! ☕

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

LostLibrarian

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This is 100% correct.
How the fuck am I supposed to start drama, when we agree about most the stuff most of the times? :blob_teary:


The problem with my tutorials is that they build upon each other. What I show in one is used in the next.
It might be helpful to add a "read those before" in a spoiler at the start of the tutorial. Like this one wouldn't need "smut" or "description" but probably "paragraphs". So linking those, might help. Nobody will go and read all the backlog tutorials after you wrote 10 of those in a forum with 30 different threads in between...
 

Jemini

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Realistically, physical actions usually happen BEFORE dialogue. Most people ACT then comment because physical reactions normally happen faster than thought. Ask any cop or martial artist.

Can confirm.

One of my strangest experiences ever was when I was trying to teach some basic self-defense to my SO. Had the brother throw some demonstration punches, which I blocked. Then, I turned to explain a few things, and suddenly I had an inexplicable and completely irresistible urge to raise my hand to a specific location in the air. Next thing I know, a fist lands in that hand.

My SO's brother decided he wanted to see what I would do with a punch I wasn't expecting, and I responded so fluidly that he was floored by how easily I had caught his fist out of the air. He was surprised, but I was even more surprised than he was because of just how strange the sensation was with my body moving before I even had time for conscious thought.
 

MissingLynx

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Maybe you've covered this in an article I haven't read yet, but perception also has to mix in with action and reaction, especially in a first person narrative.

Based on my 20+ years of historical European martial arts (HEMA) experience, this is a valid sequence, especially if your opponent is better than you:

The flash of pain exploded in my cheek. What? She slapped me! I never saw it coming!​

There are actually several steps before any action, and between between action and reaction.

Perception - see, feel, hear, etc. the situation around you.
Evaluation - your brain puts the sensory input together and tries to figure out what is happening
Decision: your brain decides on a course of action
Action: you do (or attempt) to act out your decision.
This changes the situation, so you go back to Perception.

Perception: My cheek was still stinging as I saw her pull her hand back.
Evaluation: She was going to slap me again!
Decision: I wasn't going to let that happen!
Action: I stumbled back as her hand just missed my face.
Perception: As I try to regain my balance, I see her lift her leg up, preparing for a kick.

For well trained people, this can all happen in the subconscious brain before the conscious brain catches up. You give an example of this when your SO's brother threw the punch. Newbies have to go through each step.

Similar to the comment in the OP about stylized writing, detailing each step for every action could make seconds of action take minutes to read. This could kill the realism that it's meant to portray.

On the other hand, it could be used to express the confusion of a novice fighter or ambush victim though, as the next action accurs before they process the one before it.

Just a few thoughts. I hope someone finds them useful.
 
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OokamiKasumi

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Maybe you've covered this in an article I haven't read yet, but perception also has to mix in with action and reaction, especially in a first person narrative.
I actually agree, but from my personal experience in Japanese martial arts, military training, fencing, and bastard sword and shield, (SCA since 1991,) the Perception stage tends to occur either after the instincts have been set off --ducking the punch before they even saw the hand move-- or acted as the instinctive twinge of the Danger Sense itself.

Based on my 20+ years of historical European martial arts (HEMA) experience, this is a valid sequence, especially if your opponent is better than you:

The flash of pain exploded in my cheek. What? She slapped me! I never saw it coming!​
LOL! I know that feeling well, but that first 'flash of pain' was Not Perceived if they didn't see it coming.

The 'flash of pain exploded in my cheek.' is the result of an Outside Event that was not noticed. It happened to them, it wasn't caused by them, therefore it's an Outside Action.

The 'What?' is the Reaction.

"She slapped me!" Is what the character surmised or rather decided happened.

"I never saw it coming!" is the Mental/Emotional Reaction.

Therefore the line should be written as such:

A flash of pain exploded in my cheek.​
What? <Insert facial expression and/or body language.> She slapped me! I never saw it coming!​

There are actually several steps before any action, and between between action and reaction.

Perception - see, feel, hear, etc. the situation around you.
Evaluation - your brain puts the sensory input together and tries to figure out what is happening
Decision: your brain decides on a course of action
Action: you do (or attempt) to act out your decision.
This changes the situation, so you go back to Perception.

Perception: My cheek was still stinging as I saw her pull her hand back.
Evaluation: She was going to slap me again!
Decision: I wasn't going to let that happen!
Action: I stumbled back as her hand just missed my face.
Perception: As I try to regain my balance, I see her lift her leg up, preparing for a kick.

For the most part, I happen to agree with you. In fact your framework and mine appear to have only a slightly different Order to the events.

However, you have a few...grammar glitches in your lines that I was trained to avoid.

Perception: My cheek was still stinging as I saw her pull her hand back.​

Note the "as" in this line.
-- "As" is a Red Flag word that 9 times out of 10, means the line has been written Out of Chronological Order -- Backwards to what actually happened.

In this case, it's not backwards, however your "as" is flagging a far worse problem. You have two people Acting in the same sentence.

Don't do that. You don't have two people acting in the same paragraph for exactly the same reason you don't have two people's Dialogue in the same paragraph.

Evaluation: She was going to slap me again!​

Decision: I wasn't going to let that happen!​

Action: I stumbled back as her hand just missed my face.​

Note the "as" again flagging two people Acting in the same sentence.

Perception: As I try to regain my balance, I see her lift her leg up, preparing for a kick.​

Once again you have two people Acting in the same sentence.

How I would write those lines:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
My cheek stung.​
Perception: She pulled her hand back.​
Evaluation: She's going to slap me again!​
Decision: I wasn't going to let that happen!​
Action: I stumbled back.​
Her hand just missed my face.​
I tried to regain my balance.​
Perception: She lifted her leg up, preparing for a kick.​
All together:
~~~~~~~~~~
My cheek stung.​
She pulled her hand back.​
She's going to slap me again! I wasn't going to let that happen! I stumbled back.​
Her hand just missed my face.​
I tried to regain my balance.​
She lifted her leg up, preparing for a kick.​

For well trained people, this can all happen in the subconscious brain before the conscious brain catches up. You give an example of this when your SO's brother threw the punch. Newbies have to go through each step.
I have punched people before I even knew that I wanted to punch them -- several times. My body reacted before my thoughts. It was pure instinct.

Similar to the comment in the OP about stylized writing, detailing each step for every action could make seconds of action take minutes to read. This could kill the realism that it's meant to portray.

On the other hand, it could be used to express the confusion of a novice fighter or ambush victim though, as the next action occurs before they process the one before it.

Just a few thoughts. I hope someone finds them useful.
It is Very useful! Thank you for your comment!
-- What you say about detailing Action is definitely correct. Detailing can easily go overboard until it drags the whole book down. (Mangas that take more than 3 chapters for one fight scene --that isn't a pitched battle between whole armies-- I am looking at YOU.)

However, this is true when detailing anything; characters, emotions, description, and actions. Detailing anything can all too easily slide into 'boring' territory and cause Readers to skip whole pages, not just paragraphs. The key is knowing how much detailing is too much in each individual instance. Unfortunately, that can only be learned through experience, and damned good beta-readers.

What makes things more complicated is that certain genres rely on certain things being detailing.
  • Romance stories rely on detailed Emotions, and detailed Romantic scenes.
  • Erotic stories rely on detailed Erotic scenes.
  • Palace Intrigue stories rely on large casts of characters, and detailed Inter-personal Politics.
  • War stories not only need huge casts of characters, they rely on detailing the Politics of the counties going to war, and epic Battle scenes.
  • Epic Fantasy and Sci-Fi rely on detailed Characters, Fight scenes, and the Settings where events happen.
  • Light Novels however, are the Opposite. They rely on short chapters, simple vocabulary, and the reader already knowing what they aren't detailing.
Anyway...!
-- Thank you for your insight! I found it quite useful indeed.

☕
 
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