Action scenes can be some of the most difficult to write, because they’re written slowly but should feel fast. What I mean by this, is that the author is tasked with the responsibility of supplying all the details that ground the reader in the suspense. That being said, avoid info-dumping at all costs. Nobody cares about the stray algae growing over that eroded pipe sticking out of the wall during a chase – I promise.
The biggest part of action scenes is deciding what not to describe. Similar to the way horror or even love scenes function, there can be a lot more power in what isn’t said. This week, I want to describe some tips to attack action scenes effectively, taking your reader on the ride they signed up for.
Limit over-explaining things is by first thinking about what it would feel like to be in that situation. Maybe running away from an attacker brings your heartbeat to your ears and breath that is ragged at best. Journal about what your body is doing in that setting, and supply that same description to your character. As mentioned above, action scenes are tough because the speed doesn’t line up with the process of writing. But you can still use this to your advantage – read this recent article about fight scenes HERE.
Map out the action.
If you’re a visual person like I am, you may find it helpful to sketch out what’s happening. It doesn’t have to be pretty – just a quick and dirty map of motion, setting, and obstacles. You could even do it maze-style to give yourself a birds-eye view of the whole thing. Sometimes the scene comes together faster when you can see the whole picture at once. That way, when your character leaps over a ravine, you know exactly where they’ll land.
Have a motive.
Don’t just write an action scene for extra pizzazz – it MUST forward your plot somehow. Otherwise, it’ll just sound silly and exaggerated. Maybe your character is running from – or toward – something important. Or maybe they’re going head-to-head with your antagonist, and only one is making it out alive. In that case, you may want to journal about the different moves, and research the kind of injuries that might occur. Not all scrapes are fatal, so whichever character gets the axe better have a good reason for dying. Simple Internet searches should help you learn about the human body and where it’s most vulnerable (if your characters are human, that is).
Don’t forget about your setting.
One of the worst things in any book is to develop a case of white room syndrome. As in, the author gets so wrapped up in the action that they forget to describe the immediate surroundings. For an action scene, this is a crucial component. Fighting in a warehouse versus a vast desert is a drastically different experience. Pull your reader into the moment by using elements of your characters’ surroundings to give the action some depth. Ground it in the world you’ve built, because that will make everything come alive.
Balance in action scenes is crucial.
With all of the above ideas in mind, I also recommend focusing on the idea of balance. By that I mean, provide setting details, but don’t info-dump. Offer some steps and details about the moves, but let your reader breathe a little too. Like yin and yang, motion and calm, tension and peace, balance your action with other elements that let it shine in contrast.