Writing Tracking Scenes: Happens More Often than One Expects

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We’ve all been there.  Stalking an enemy until we find the perfect chance to strike or discover their hideout.  Then the author falls asleep or gets bored and throws the entire scene into chaos.

Having one character follow another can be tedious, especially if it lasts for a chapter.  I’ve seen it done different ways too.  Some authors only have villains do tracking, so it’s in the background.  Others have the trackers so far away that they can talk and the physical act is secondary.  Then there’s avoiding such scenes entirely.  I like having some tracking scenes since Luke is a forest tracker.  Pointless to give him the skills and never have him use them.  I tend to fall into that second category, but there are ways to make it interesting.

  1. Have the prey throw in some tricks like crossing water and backtracking.  This makes them appear more cunning and the tracker more talented.  It requires that the hunted knows they’re being followed, which makes sense.  If you knew you were being tracked then you probably wouldn’t run in a straight line.
  2. Remember the senses.  This sounds silly and obvious, but we tend to go with visual over others.  Humans don’t have the best sense of smell and hearing can be iffy, but you can still use them.  Consider that a tracker has trained these senses to be keener and more focused instead of letting them run in the mental background.  Even with this, touch is incredibly important.  A tracker can feel print depth, warmth from an abandoned fire, and changes in the wind to use while on the hunt.
  3. If you go with a scene where the heroes are far enough back that they can speak then you can have the tracker explain what they’re doing.  Others in the group probably don’t know what’s going on and are curious.  Some could ask or the tracker can simply explain the signs to make sure people are ready.  This also reveals more of what is ahead and prepares the reader.  Perhaps the prey has deeper prints for some reason or they have begun walking with a different stride.  Did the heroes lose the trail or is there something waiting up ahead?
  4. Now, what if you have a solitary tracker?  You can do two things here.  Either they speak to themselves when far enough away or you use internal thinking.  Describe their movements, responses, and reactions both in the physical and mental realms.  For example, Luke is on the trail of orc bandits and he’s having trouble sifting through all of the footprints.  Some are the thieves while others are from another group that could go off in another direction.  He has to think and work to distinguish the paths, which can be shown through internal dialogue or exposition.
  5. Always fun to have something go horribly wrong.  Tracking is such a delicate thing in fiction that it wouldn’t be surprising for the roles to reverse.  More than once too as the predator and prey keep trying to one up each other.  You could probably draw this out for a chapter too.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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23 Responses to Writing Tracking Scenes: Happens More Often than One Expects

  1. Good points. The best tracking scenes I’ve ever read were, surpisingly enough, in First Blood (yes, the excellent book on which Rambo was based). A must-read novella for anyone working with tracking scenes, as far as I’m concerned.


  2. Great post, and these scenes come up all the time. My trick is to have actually done some tracking. Get out and pick up some boot prints, or even hoof prints, see what you can learn by following the trail.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really like it when the tracker is found out and falls into some kind of trap (Not Luke but let’s say someone tracking him.)


  4. L. Marie says:

    These are great tips. I wrote a book with three characters, two of which tracked the first character. It really was difficult to keep the scenes interesting. So I appreciated the reminder in number 2. I have a tendency to focus on the visual.


  5. Pingback: Writing Tracking Scenes: Happens More Often than One Expects, by Charles Yallowitz – Allison D. Reid

  6. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Here are some great tips for writing tracking scenes from Charle’s Yallowitz


  7. Adam says:

    I think there’s something very interesting in a conflict that’s rooted in one character tracking another. They could lay traps, confuse, hide, and even try to kill each other, all without ever actually meeting. There would be this rich relationship, without having the two characters ever actually meet. The strategies that someone uses to try and evade the tracker can be their own form of characterization. Certainly a provocative thought.


    • There’s also a sense of tension as the tracker gets closer. One of my favorite series is The Ranger’s Apprentice, which has great tracking scenes. They’re so well done that they help me get into the story. More so than the action at times.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. lovessiamese says:

    Reblogged this on TheKingsKidChronicles and commented:
    More great information from thestoryreadingape on writing tracking scenes. Reblogged from https://legendsofwindemere.com


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