Hi, SEers. You’re with Mae today for a look at writing action scenes. Of all the types of scenes that go into constructing a novel, I used to dread action the most. Not so much these days, but they’re still the scenes I tweak and re-tweak most during editing.
When writing an action scene, there are a few tips to keep in mind:
Use Short Sentences
Short sentences generally work best in action scenes. Keep your reader pumped up and immersed in the moment. Don’t leave them stumbling over a tangle of lengthy sentences. Intersperse longer sentences with dialogue and/or shorter sentences to propel the action forward.
Avoid Weak Verbs
Actions scenes call for strong verbs. Avoid verbs that are overused (turned, pulled, looked, moved). A trick I use when I write action is to focus on the urgency of the moment. As an example, people don’t just turn or move when they’re frightened or in a dangerous situation. Characters shouldn’t either. They’re more likely to pivot, wheel, bolt, barrel, etc. You get the idea.
If you use introspection, keep it short. It goes without saying, this isn’t the time for your character to wax poetic. 😊
At the same time, use your character’s emotions to snag your reader by showing what they’re feeling.
In real life, action happens quickly. Whether a fist fight, a car chase, someone fleeing a fire—it all happens fast. When writing, authors need to assist their readers in seeing the moment, but we don’t need to highlight every grunt, blow-by-blow, or skidding shriek of a tire. Use enough to get your reader’s adrenaline pumping, but be careful not to overdo.
Watch for Echoes
Word echoes creep up in prose, but are often more likely to appear in action scenes. Here’s a trick—write through the scene with common verbs and let your echoes happen. Then go back and tweak to cut echoes and swap out weak verbs with power verbs.
Action scenes are a great way to grab your reader and get their adrenaline pumping. It keeps them engaged and actively flipping pages. End a scene or chapter on a hook, and they’re going to read ahead.
Remember that action happens quickly and shouldn’t drag on for pages. If you’ve got a car crash followed by someone running, being caught, and then engaging in a fist fight, that spans several action sequences. Of course it’s going to carry on for a pages, but be careful when relaying a single event.
Nothing kills an action sequence quicker than telling your reader what is taking place. No one wants to read a flat action scene. Be sure to let your reader hear, feel, and see the earthquake, the rampaging dinosaur, the near escape through a night-blackened forest, or the blast from a stun gun.
Urgency. Whatever is taking place, if you keep a sense of urgency in mind and propel your scene with power verbs, the action will leap from the page.
As writers, we all approach our work differently. I still get flummoxed when I have to write an action scene, but I’m now past the point of fleeing-in-terror-avoidance. Keeping a sense of urgency in mind is a huge help when it comes time to fleshing out the scene.
What about you? If you have any tips for action scenes, I’d love to hear them in the comments. How do you feel about writing action? Love? Hate? Tolerate? Stay a spell, and share your thoughts.
Ready, set, go!