One of the harder things to do as a writer is to craft an action scene. It not only has to have tension, but it has to make sense to readers so they can visualize it in their head. Writing an action scene can often feel as complicated as choreographing the perfect dance.
As a writer, where do you even begin when it comes to action? How to you make the scene work for you and the story rather than making it feel like work?
Below is a list of things to consider when crafting action scenes.
- How long is the action? This seems trivial, but in all seriousness, the average person doesn’t have the stamina to fight or run for more than a couple minutes at a time without outside factors. If this is intended for the long haul, there’s going to have to be hiding and breaks or your characters just aren’t going to be able to keep up. On the other hand, if this is a quick brawl or chase scene then going all out might not be a big deal to your characters.
- What's the goal? To run? to win? to kill? to injure? something else? Think about the motivations of the characters. Why are they actually fighting or running? Let this drive how each character acts within the action. Most people don’t want to fight if they don’t have to, so if there’s an alternative look for it. If not, let there be a good reason things are progressing as they are.
- Increase the stakes and danger as you go. An action scene shouldn’t just fizzle out. Like the climax of a book, once you hit the peak things move quickly and so should an action sequence. Pacing in general should be quick, but again if this is a long drawn out series of events, then find the natural pause and use them to continue to increase the stakes and danger even if your characters are taking a much needed break.
- What are your character's strengths and weaknesses? Play to their strengths sometimes, but also amp up the tension by throwing some curveballs at them. This will not only increase the stakes, but also make the reader more invested in the action.
- Similarly, what are your antagonist’s strengths and weaknesses? If your main character knows this, they can use to their advantage. On the flip side, it can be used as motivation for how the antagonist approaches an action or fight scene.
- Make your surroundings compliment your mood or contrast. Don’t forget about your surroundings. Pulling in some of the world around the action can further add to the tension and set the tone for an action scene. Don’t be afraid to play with the setting during an action scene, just don’t take too much time to describe the floral bouquet on the counter unless someone is going to hit someone else over the head with it.
- Consider sentence length. Shorter sentences can often make things appear like they are happening faster. Brief periods where sentences get shorter can be another way to increase pacing and tension during an action scene. But be cautious, you don’t want to maintain one sentence length for pages on end otherwise the story sounds monotone
- Verb choice can also help with pacing. Did your main character turn and run or did they bolt, scamper or stumble away. Each one of those verbs has a very different intention and sets a different tone. Choose your verbs wisely to maximize the impact of the action.
- When in doubt, act it out. Or draw it, or animate it whatever you need to do to make it make sense. Don’t be afraid to role play, do motions or enlist some others to help you choreograph the action. Seeing the scene play out in front of you can not only help you make sense of the action but also write it more clearly for the reader to see.
- Don’t forget about the reactions. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And every action scene should have a series of reactions that come after. Those feelings and reactions are just as important if not more so than what happened during the action. The aftermath reactions are what make the action all worthwhile.
Writing action scenes can be complex, but they can also really move your story along, set the tone, increase the stakes, and help propel your characters forward. What are you favorite tips and tricks when writing action scenes?