While you might not be a writer of action-based books, chances are if there’s any type of conflict in your novel, you may have to write an action scene.
I did, after starting my YA series, Blackbirch. For a book about teens with magickal abilities, there ended up being a few scenes that required me to pen some action, and to my surprise, I found it fun to write.
Does that make me an action writer who knows how to pull off grand-scale battles? Definitely not. But I have learned a thing or two about putting an action-packed scene together, and if you’re interested in doing the same, these tips might help.
Writing Tips For Action Scenes
Make Every Action Scene Unique
If you have more than one action scene in your book, set them apart. Even if your MC is coming up against the same foe every time (and especially if they are), it’s a good idea to have each action scene play out differently.
Put it in a different setting and include other kinds of banter. If your characters have already enacted the clichéd monologue about plans for world domination, don’t repeat it when they meet again before the big finale.
Also, try to have unique action. A car chase is thrilling when it’s described once, but after the third time, it gets boring.
Ramp Up The Realism
When it comes to most action, it’s a good idea to keep it realistic.
To do this, use the rules of whatever world your characters are in, whether that’s our modern world, historic times, on a distant planet, or a world totally of your own making.
If you’ve seen any of the last few Fast and Furious movies, you’ll know what it means when action fails to stay in the realm of reality. When cars are used as parachutes out of airplanes, it’s hard to take the action seriously. Unrealistic action also risks pulling the reader out of the story/world. If you find yourself thinking there’s no way a character would walk away from this uninjured/alive, look at the realism and ramp it up.
Keep It Short And Snappy
Action scenes work when the pace is quick.
One of the best ways to do this is by limiting the dialogue and character movements within an action scene.
Always check your characters are only saying what’s absolutely necessary, especially amid active movements. After all, it isn’t likely a hero in the middle of a challenging sword fight is going to explain his life story while fending off blades.
With everything kept short and snappy, your pacing will automatically work for an action scene, moving the reader along and not slowing things down when they should be racing ahead.
Let The Reader Fill In Details
You don’t need to describe every character move or every detail of the setting for the action scene to be thrilling for the reader.
In fact, stopping to describe every inch of the haunted mansion the protagonists have wandered into will most likely ruin the action.
Pare your details back to atmospheric word choices and let the reader fill in the details. Give them the credit to take cues from what you do describe and leave room for the action to be the focus.
Balance Things Out With A Non-Action Sequel
Unless you’re writing a non-stop action story—and even if you are—you need to balance all that action out.
You can do this by following your action scenes with a non-action sequel.
In a nutshell, a non-action sequel is where your characters and the reader decompress. It’s the low after the high and a chance to slow the story and let everyone catch their breath.
That doesn’t mean you have to take things to a boring crawl, just avoid more high octane stuff to make the action you have stand out.
And there you have it! A few tips for writing an action scene. If you’ve got any of your own, feel free to share them in the comments.
— K.M. Allan
**After publishing this post, I’ll be taking a week off to have and then recover from a surgical procedure. Please feel free to leave comments while I’m gone and I’ll check and respond when I get back. My June Roundup will also publish in a few day’s time, so please keep an eye out for that. Thank you and see you again soon!**