Tips for Writing Action Scenes

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.

dog running toward camera, with open mouth, all four paws in air above groundAvoid 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.

Introspection
If you use introspection, keep it short. It goes without saying, this isn’t the time for your character to wax poetic. 😊

Use Emotion
At the same time, use your character’s emotions to snag your reader by showing what they’re feeling.

two fireman with hoses extinguishes burning flames around a smoking carBrevity
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.


The Overview:

THE GOOD
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.

THE BAD
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.

view of a tyrannosaurs rex from the side view mirror of a carTHE UGLY
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.

THE TAKEAWAY
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!

Bio box for author, Mae Clair

73 thoughts on “Tips for Writing Action Scenes

  1. Great advice. I like writing action scenes and love battles in urban fantasy, but they do take more thought than some things I write. I try to think of something that’s unexpected, something that surprises the reader (like your scene with the poor guy walking through the alley in Eventide) and of course, it can’t be too easy for the protagonist to win or there’s no tension.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always enjoy your battle/supernatural confrontations in Muddy River. Tension is absolutely paramount. Sometimes I love a slow, creeping build to the moment of action. That’s what I wanted to do in Eventide. I’m not in love with writing action scenes, and not sure I ever will be, but they have gotten considerably easier to approach over time.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Judi!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have also always dreaded action scenes! I often don’t get to write them, as my genre of choice is typically literary fiction. But I marvel at those who can flawlessly execute an action scene and keep me on the edge of my seat. I have such a fascination for it that I often try to study it and implement some of the patterns I see when writing dramatic scenes. I’m curious what your opinion is on paragraph length for action scenes? – Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, and thanks so much for stopping by to comment! Literary fiction is it’s own beast–I’m a huge fan–but some rules still apply. For action, I definitely favor shorter paragraphs and scenes which propels the action(s) forward. It keeps that sense of urgency and momentum. When it comes to literary fiction, however, I have a different view. I like to sink into the scene and wallow around in the prose. That’s when I want detail and complete immersion.
      Thank you so much for visiting and happy writing!

      Like

    • Absolutely! I remember trying to read a NYT bestseller–twice!–and that was the problem I had. As soon as the action started, the author took me out of the scene by having the MC think back to an experience in his childhood. Huh? I forgave it once, but when it became a pattern, I stopped reading a few chapters in.
      Thanks, Jacqui!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I like the word urgency when writing the action. I have fun with the action parts, and have been known to scare myself ay times…lol. Its hard not to put all the small details in there, I agree and remember to enact the senses. Great post, Mae!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Urgency is the word that really works for me when I’m writing action, Denise. And using the senses is a great way to engage the reader.
      I admit I’ve creeped myself out a few times when writing particular scenes. It’s so easy to get thoroughly engrossed in what we’re writing and sink into the scene.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a helpful post, Mae. I tend to race through my action scenes as my adrenaline gets pumping, lol. I like the part about showing only enough to paint the scene- don’t overdo the drama. Saving this to Pinterest for reference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awesome! Thank you! I’m glad you found it helpful.
      I usually race through my action scenes too, caught in the moment of what’s happening on the page. But then I have to go back and edit, re-edit, re-edit and re-dit to the nth degree until I get the flow and word choices just right. I’m getting better at them the more I do them. I remember the day when writing an action scene would send me fleeing in terror, LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Want to improve the action scenes in your writing? Mae Clair has some fantastic (and easily understood) tips on Story Empire today. Check out her great post, and then pass it along so others can enjoy it, too! Thanks, and thanks to Mae for sharing these terrific and helpful pointers! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Super post, Mae, with some very helpful tips. I don’t write a lot of action scenes that require physical fighting, and so far, no actual battles, but some of the dramatic scenes in my story could be considered action scenes of a type, I think. At any rate, I know I can make use of these tips as I go forward. Great post! And as soon as I saw the T-Rex in the car mirror, I thought of Jeff Goldblum’s iconic line in Jurassic Park. “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should!” It’s a saying I’ve lived by ever since that movie came out 27 years ago! 😀 Sharing this, for sure! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Marcia! Glad you liked my tips. Action is probably the most difficult type of scene to write, but even other types of scenes can benefit from some of these tips, such as dramatic scenes. That’s a great example. The action might not be physical, but there’s still plenty of it going on.

      And when I saw the T-Rex photo, I immediately thought of Jurassic Park. I had forgotten the line you mentioned, but that is a great one to live by!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think most writers find action scenes difficult, Tessa. Over time I’ve become more comfortable with them, but they’re still the scenes I tweak and retweak to the nth degree. I think the more you write them the easier they become.
      I sometimes get confused with action scenes when I’m reading, especially if it involves a sprawling event like a battle. That’s when the author has to work extra hard to keep everything concise but still brimming with urgency.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post today, Mae. I think I spend more time on my action scenes than the rest of my work because they stress me out. Not sure if that’s because I’m channeling my characters or because I worry about getting them right. In any event, this post is an excellent tutorial on how to craft high action (and how not to). Great job.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Staci. I spend the most time on my action scenes, too. I worry about if I over do them, or don’t provide enough detail. It’s a delicate balance but I’m getting better at finding my comfort zone. I think the more I write them, the less intimated I am by them. They always seem to require more work than the rest of my writing, but I’m better prepared in approaching them now.
      Glad you found the post useful!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting tips. I’m trying to figure out if I follow or go against these when I write. I use long sentences and draw action scenes out for chapter sections with a lot of back and forth. It’s fight and chase scenes mostly because those aren’t really fast in terms of time. Fast paced, but it can go for awhile especially if you’re making sure to hit multiple senses.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think it comes down to the type of action and also author style. In fantasy especially,there is so much more to describe, and often times the clashes are on a much larger scale. Fast paced definitely, and hitting multiple senses is great. I try to do the same!

      Like

    • Harmony, good for you that you actually LIKE writing action scenes. Most writers are know put them at the bottom of their writing list,
      Over time, I’ve developed a greater affinity for them, but they are still the scenes I struggle with the most.
      I agree that short chapters are a huge plus, too. I easily devour books like that.

      The dinosaur photo reminded me of Jurassic Park. I actually found it on Pixabay. Click on the photo and it links back! 🙂

      Thank you also for the reblog!

      Like

  9. Pingback: Tips for Writing Action Scenes | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  10. Great post today. I agree with what you’ve said, especially using power verbs and keeping the scenes and sentences short. I tend to write shorter chapters toward the end of my books because that’s usually where a lot of action (solving the mystery) occurs.

    Liked by 5 people

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