Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Get Into The Action

Writing action scenes can be a lot of fun, breathtaking exhilarating and also at times very difficult.  We, as writers, can get so excited with our work, so wrapped up in the story, that we can create writing that is something very close to babbling; not what we want to do.

So, how to move things along, create excitement and at the same time, not stumble over our own words?

For starters play the scene you visualize in your head. What's happening, where are the characters going, what are they doing? Get it clear in your mind.  Next, remember even though it seems to be happening all at once, things, though moving quickly, are best written so that one action follows another. It makes smoother and more easily read text. Read passages from fast paced books that you've enjoyed, focusing on where the action happens. With few exceptions (very few) you'll see one thing follows another. If you want to draw your reader in to even a complicated fight scene or battle zone you need to make things clear and suck them in.

    Jack slammed on the brakes, skidded the car to a halt and tumbled from the driver's seat as a bullet shattered the windshield. Jack swore, swung the door open to shield himself as best he could and gathered his feet beneath him. Dust rose in a whorl from somewhere just down the alley, but that didn't bother him. The shot had come from above. He looked up, spotted the shooter on a fire escape and lunged sideways, taking a quick shot in his assailant's direction. The sharp crack of it echoed down the alley and the shooter dropped to the street, whirled to take another shot at Jack and raced off into the shadows.

You can also see in the example above that action takes place in an "action - result" type of environment.  Jack looks and sees.  The bullet shatters his windshield and he swears. One thing follows another. It doesn't all happen simultaneously piled up on top of each other.  The shooter dropped from the fire escape, then ran off into the shadows.

Okay, so you have the general gist. One more thing to keep in mind when writing action.  Keep it crisp and keep it moving.  Don't accidentally fall into a summary sort of writing when in the heat of action. When you write action everything, every detail that might otherwise seem unimportant, is revealed to your reader.

In other words, don't get your reader all hopped up on 'action', then drag him or her to a stop in the middle by suddenly writing something like:

Jack ran down the alleyway pursuing the shooter, out onto the street and past the many shops that lined it before he loped past the opera house, then ran down a cross street into the slums.
You're not giving details there.  A more vivid presentation would be like:

Hot on the shooter's heels, Jack raced down the alley, skidded back onto the street and dodged between the upper crust revelers just emerging from the latest performance of the Magic Flute at the opera. The smell of coffee wafted past from the adjoining Starbuck's, bright lights nearly blinded him as Jack passed the dress shop with the latest haut couture in the window. He caught a flash of movement up ahead, put on the speed and took the corner at a skid, diving back into the filth and stink of the slums.

Think detail, smell, texture, sounds, sights. Ratchet up the tension.  Remember, it's an action scene, not a kid's tea party.


  1. Peggy, I primarily focus on poetry now, but when I wrote inspirational romances and children's novels, yes, I use to close my eyes and envision each scene much as you described. Good info. Good reminder too. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Mary. So... when are you going to write that next novel? :-)


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