Writing the Action

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Not every writer is a natural when it comes to action scenes. Writing an action sequence flexes different writing muscles. Are you in the right shape to create compelling battles and fight scenes? These action writing tips are aimed to help you hone your skills.

Keep your camera angles interesting.

When done well, on-screen action sequences keep the viewers’ attention. How? Variation. The director changes camera angles, or finds unique ways to follow a fist, or uses an interesting camera lens or special equipment.

As a writer, you’re limited to the letter keys beneath your fingers. Therefore, it’s your job to vary your writing to keep things moving. Think about pacing–slowing down or speeding up the sequence. Think about sounds, tastes, smells, and sights. What did the sword sound like when it hit the shield? What did the blood taste like in the character’s mouth? Use your own senses and be in the moment. Look around, smell the smells, taste the tastes, then write down what you’re taking in.

Watch your tone.

Action sequences should not jar the reader out of the vibe of the book. Whatever style of writing you’ve adopted, don’t change it when you write an action scene. If you favor lots of rich details, keep it going. If you write clipped short prose–awesome, keep that up.

Stay in character.

Your character’s motivations, fears, or joys should be well-known to you by the time you write an action sequence. These items should also be at the forefront of your mind as you write. I wrote about a frumpy funeral director/mom who ended up battling homicidal mermaids. I didn’t give her superhuman strength or crazy Kung Fu moves. Why? Because that would be ridiculous.

She was unsure of herself, scared to death, but knew she had to fight in order to save her loved ones. Her action sequences were clumsy and goofy, yet effective. Meanwhile, the warrior mermaids knew what they were doing … because I did my research.

Do your action research.

Readers smell fake writing from a mile away and it’s a huge turnoff. Take the time to talk to someone who’s done martial arts or self-defense. Watch Kung Fu (might I recommend Kung Fu Hustle? It’s a personal fav.), Jiu-jitsu, or Krav Maga (did you know that Gal Gadot was trained in this style of fighting? Hello, Wonder Woman!).

A close friend of mine has trained in many styles of martial arts. When I needed to write a fight scene for one of my warriors, I didn’t want it to feel fake. In my head, a slight female was taking on a larger male. I wanted her to disarm him and then take him down with her legs.

My friend held a narrow pillow (his weapon of choice) and had me stand in front of him.

“Come at me,” he said.

I did and found myself on the ground. Laughing, I got back up and he walked me through my mistakes. I took lots of notes and the scene morphed into something far different. I realized that my initial ideas were ridiculous and I have my friend to thank for a much more believable action sequence!

Always have a point for your action.

As in anything you write, if your prose doesn’t further the plot, then why are you including it? Unless you’re scripting a video game, make sure your action sequences aren’t gratuitous. No one likes a show-off.

Your protagonist and, to a point, your antagonist should be featured in your action sequences. If they’re missing, are the characters you have duking it out furthering the conflict for your main characters? Is the plot moving forward? Make sure the scene you just wrote is integral. If you can easily pull the scene and the story doesn’t change, you might want to rethink its inclusion in the final draft.


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About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website: www.heatherrigney.com

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