This post was written specifically for the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.

Regardless of the genre that we choose to write in, there’s a good chance we’ll want to include some sort of action scene or scenes in our work. It may be a one-on-one fight, it might involve two massive armies. It could involve various weapons or vehicles. It could even be two men chasing a swan. Whatever type of action you want to write, I hope some of the following thoughts will prove useful.

  • Be appropriate for your genre & setting. 

I remember reading an interview with James Cameron, the director of Aliens, Terminator 1 & 2 and other films (Don’t ask me why I remember this, it’s the way my brain works). Anyway, he mentioned that he had just seen the film The Hours and was then asked how he would have made that film. His response was “What do you think I’d do, put a car chase in the middle of it?” 

My point being, you want the scene to make sense in the overall context of your story. There’s little point in including a scene, no matter how well you might have written it, if it completely pulls the reader out of the narrative. You’ll want to make it consistent with the world you’ve created. If you’re writing a fantasy novel, chances are you’re more likely to include swords and horses instead of cars and gunfights.

  • Keep it in character.

Similarly, you want the action to be consistent with the characters experiencing it. Presuming that you’re writing from a specific point of view, let that character inform how they will react. Are they a seasoned warrior, one who can take in what’s happening around them and plan their moves accordingly? Is this their first fight, in which case there might even be more confusion, a desperation just to make it through. Or if they’re in a position of command, there might be a certain detachment and a wider perspective.

A slight tangential thought here, if you have multiple characters involved in the same scene, you’ll probably want to intercut between them so that readers aren’t left wanting to know what’s happening with so-so. I suspect (since I’ve yet to actually attempt this myself) that the easiest way to accomplish this would be to write each character’s version all the way through, then go back and look for pauses where you could easily switch between them.

  • Structure your sentences accordingly.

If you’re writing from the thick of the action, my thought is to use short, sharp sentences. For me, this helps give an impression of the speed with which things are happening. In my limited experience, when a fight (some other high adrenaline situation) happens, more often than not it happens fast and is over quickly.

Booth spun away from him as a bullet caught him in the shoulder. The hunter kicked out quickly. His heel struck the hollow behind Calloway’s knee, driving him to the ground. He scrambled away from the gunmen. They were too busy to pay attention, firing blindly into the night. Cavanaugh roared as a bullet tore a furrow across his upper arm. His bellow of pain transformed into one of victory as his return fire resulted in a choked-off scream. The hunter drew both pistols, levelled them at Cavanaugh’s back and pulled the triggers. The double impacts pitched Cavanaugh forward onto his face.

Also, you may not want to be overly detailed. As I said, things can often be quick and confusing and it might not be realistic for your character to notice everything.

Alternatively, if you’re some distance from the action, with more time to observe and form impressions of the events, then you can allow yourself to become more expansive.

She watched them ride towards her; their black travelling cloaks streaming out behind them in the wind, making it appear as if five massive crows swooped low across the moorland. She could hear the drumming of the horses’ hooves against the hard-packed earth as they galloped closer, the sound reverberating with her own heartbeat. The horses were lathered, snorting from being ridden hard but the riders themselves showed little sign of tiredness. They sat tall in their saddles, not slumped with the ache of travelling. She could almost make out the men’s faces; stern, unyielding, unforgiving; see the zeal in their eyes as they drew nearer.

I realise that I’ve only covered a fraction of what could be said on this topic but I think I’ve made a decent start. Perhaps I can come back to it another time.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

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8 Comments

  1. Working at Fictionary, I read a lot of drafts. The one thing many have in common is not knowing the genre expectations. Knowing your genre even when writing action scenes is so important if you want to make your readers happy. Great post today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this! I don’t read very many books that feature action at its heart, but I’m always surprised by how much “less is more” can apply to writing involving physicality and the human body. Just a little bit to guide the reader is enough; the reader can fill in the rest.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Drew! Quick question: Have you noticed that your blog isn’t posting when it says it is? I checked your blog twice yesterday, and there was nothing, but now that I’m back today on the 19th, it says this post was published on the 17th. And in past months, I notice your posts usually show up late on the day of the hop or the next day. I just wanted to let you know in case something’s up with how your blog posts…Anyway, great post. I wrote an action sequence yesterday, and I had to dig deep and do a lot of research, because the POV is from (supposedly) a police officer. Hopefully I did okay!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I grew up watching a lot of 1980 movies. Many of them teen-flicks. Most of them had a money shot where, somewhere in the middle, a semi-porn scene suddenly appeared. You could see it coming.

    Of those that actually told a realistic story were the ones that I continued watching. Writing is all about knowing your audience. If one is writing a nice comedy/romance, lets say, lets leave the porn or killing out of it. Know your audience!!!

    Good stuff.

    PS: From Scotland to New Mexico. Now there’s a story. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Although I don’t plan to write about action scenes anytime soon, I think that your article still applies to general writing. It should always be concise, on point, and use varying sentence lengths to keep attention. Definitely some points to keep in mind as I continue to write!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a great post! I’d also caution, especially in action scenes, that your action/reaction moments are written in that particular order. This may just be a stylistic preference, but I think it flows better. In your examples above, for instance, I would suggest the bullet catch Booth in the shoulder prior to his spin, and the bullet tear its furrow prior to Cavenaugh’s roar. Anytime you see an “as” sentence construction, it may be weakening the punch of your sentence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for stopping by and I’m glad you liked the post. I’m going to leave the paragraph in post as it is (otherwise your comment might confuse) but I think I will revise it as you suggest in the full version.
      Thanks again.
      Drew

      Liked by 1 person

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