Some of the most exciting scenes in a book, any book, occur when characters surrender their normal rules of civility and act on a more primal level. Some of these scenes are so memorable for me that I can write an autobiography based on when I encountered them. I was in my dorm room bed at UC Davis when I read about Shingo Ogata lusting over his daughter-in-law, Kikuko. I was in a Brazilian hotel room, surrounded by muddy geologists inside and prostitutes outside when I read about Rabbit Angstrom coming home to encounter his wife and son after having left them for several weeks. And, I was in a refrigerated room of the UCLA biochemistry building, purifying an enzyme, when I read the scene in The Road where the father and son open a hatch in the floor of a house and go into a basement only to discover...
Action scenes that reveal the most about individual human nature are some of the hardest things to write about. How often have we been tempted to skip over their details when we include them in our stories?
They looked longingly into each other's eyes. The next day, Tina felt embarrassed by how she had behaved in bed.
Peter inflated his chest and asked Hugh to step outside with him. The fight lasted all of two minutes and then Peter was lying on the ground.
In a way, skipping over the details seems justified. We writers don't want to get our fingers dirty. We don't want to expose our readers to any sort of discomfort. Or, as people have mentioned in comments on this blog, we don't want to bore our readers with the nitty gritty details. But, at least for me, one of the best reasons to read is that I am allowed to witness some of the most private fantasies and some of the most desperate times for characters. Whether literary or not, I appreciate when an author makes the effort to imagine important action scenes in such detail that they (and I) are able to experience these scenes vividly and entirely.
I have a fight scene in my novel. A teenager is tied up and forced to confront a fighting rooster. My first attempts to write this scene involved me summarizing some of the graphic details. My excuse was that I didn't want my story to suddenly fall into an action genre. But, the real reason was that I didn't want to take the massive amount of time and energy that was required to really think out every twist and turn of the scene until I knew exactly what happened. Eventually, though, I did it. I wrote it out detail by detail, action after action. I was not trying to make my details serve more than one purpose. I was not trying to include symbols or character revelations beyond what was revealed by the fight. If anything, this scene is one of the more "shallow" description scenes I have, only because my sole intention was to see as much of what happened as I could, and I didn't worry about being boring.
When I read it out to my writer's group, my friend Norm said something like, "I feel like I'm reading a real book." It was a very new experience for me. For the first time I realized that emotion and depth were not the only things worth sharing. Action can reveal the most powerful elements of human nature, and they deserve to be written thoroughly and precisely, often with a lot of detail.