The Challenge of Writing in Slow Motion

Hi, this is my first time coming to your blog and ask a fighting question so… How to write a slow-mo scene where character B caught a bullet that is heading towards them (especially their face) with their own bare hands?

I got inspired by this one scene from an anime I’ve watched. Honestly, I don’t know how to approach that cause this is my first time as well writing a combat scene and I don’t want to make it sound lame. So, I figured that you would know…

I’m really sorry, I know I shouldn’t asked that kind of question but seriously I’m drawing a blank here. And I really hope you could help.

So, this is going to be a difficult place for you to get your start. It’s not truly possible to convey time compression in prose (or in sequential art.) This is really easy with films because you can just ramp the footage.

You can flatly state that there’s time compression, that things are happening in slow motion, but I’m willing to bet you already tried that and it didn’t work.

So, when you’re writing a fight scene, you generally want to keep the language as simple and fluid as possible. There’s a lot of skill to making this the best it can be, but a simple blow by blow is a safe starting point.

The more efficient you are with the prose, the faster the audience will read it, and by extension, the faster they will perceive it as occurring. More detailed prose, and larger blocks of text will slow the reader, and slow their perception of the passage of time. This creates a false answer for you, “clearly the solution is to just pad out the fight scene with additional detailed descriptions to slow down the reader, so they are perceiving the fight in slow motion.” The problem with that approach is, it doesn’t actually convey slow motion, it makes the fight feel slow.

There is a delicate balance when you have characters with heightened reflexes, where you can inject slightly more detail into the character’s perceptions mid-fight, to convey the idea that they are processing information faster than a normal person.

This is also someplace where character knowledge can become a huge factor. A character with extensive knowledge of firearms may be able to identify the exact make and model of a weapon when it’s drawn, while a less knowledgeable character might just identify it as, “a gun.” If your character is not particularly knowledgeable, but has heightened reflexes you might be able to convey that by slapping a couple adjectives onto the gun when it’s drawn or fired.

The other problem you, probably, encountered is that anime doesn’t easily translate to non-visual media. Anime is an art style, and that informs the entire work. Not just, parts of it. Writing anime inspired works in prose can be challenging. You lose the visual cues that the art style informs, and as a result you’re left trying to reconstruct without the art style that actually sells it.

It gets worse; Anime relies heavily on spectacle to sell its action. Simply trying to copy that without the visual component, can easily result in disappointing scenes. You’re providing an excellent example of this. The visual spectacle of a character seeing a bullet coming towards them in slow motion and snatching it out of the air can be compelling. However, the text description undermines the character and the scene. They’re no longer fighting to survive, and instead showing off. If you’re trying to establish an anime superhero, that’s fine, but if you’re trying to maintain any tension to the fight, that will kill it.

It is possible to write anime style narratives in prose, however, this is not an easy starting point. It requires a fairly comprehensive understanding of the genre, including a lot of the subtleties in the way it is written, and the reasoning behind that.

So, while you can absolutely write that scene, pulling it off well will some pretty sophisticated work, a lot of skill, and a lot of homework. I would not recommend this for your first fight scene. I would instead suggest starting with something more contained violence.

-Starke

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