Part of the How They Do It Series (Contributing Author)
Do you struggle with writing fight or chase scenes? Do you avoid putting action in your stories because you aren't sure how to make the action tense, original, and interesting? Don't worry. It's easier than you think.
To write a hard-hitting action scene that makes your readers break out in a sweat, you’ll start by breaking it down into its component parts. You'll brainstorm ideas separately for each part, and then weave them all together at the end. I'll show you how. Just grab your notebook and follow along.
1. Start with the location.
Where does this scene take place? Indoors, outdoors, both? What do the surroundings look like, sound like, smell like? What sort of people could be present?
Before you even start to write the action, take a moment to mentally walk through the location. Imagine it's a movie set, before the actors arrive. You're actually there on set, walking around, experiencing it.
Write down a list of everything you can think of: sights, smells, textures, background noise. Don't worry about writing “real” description, just make a list. Get your impressions down on paper.
Pay particular attention to any objects or scenery that could be used in the action sequence. Are there any sharp or blunt objects that could be wielded as improvised weapons?
Are there any barriers that could prevent escape, such as a locked door or steep drop-off?
Is there any cover that could block visibility or create hiding spots, such as large objects, darkness, or fog?
Here's an example of location description from my funny urban fantasy novel A Kiss Before Doomsday:
Slowly, Dru and Opal stepped into the garage, looking around at the shelves crammed with spray cans of chemicals and jugs of automotive fluids. The chubby red cylinder of an air compressor. A half-rebuilt engine in the corner, red rags sticking out of its eight exposed cylinders. All of Greyson’s stuff was here. But Greyson wasn't.Notice that I planted an object—an air compressor—in the middle of that description. Believe it or not, in the coming action scene, that object will become a weapon.
2. Write down characters and goals.
Who is the point-of-view character in this scene? What is the specific goal they want to achieve? Use a verb and a noun. For example: catch someone, kill someone, escape a person or place, etc. Keep it simple.
Next, who is the opposition character? And what do they want to accomplish, exactly? It needs to bring them into direct conflict with the POV character.
This doesn't need to be complicated. It just needs to be clear.
Here's another example from my book:
A withered skeletal figure wreathed in cobwebs lurched through the door. Its empty eye sockets turned toward them. Its bony jaw opened wide, letting out a bubbling screech as it raised its long arms and reached for them.The characters and goals are clear. The creature wants to catch Dru and Opal, while they want to escape.
Dru and Opal traded frightened glances.
“Run!” Dru yelled, pushing Opal toward the door.
3. Brainstorm possible actions.
This is where you can let your imagination run wild. In your notebook, brainstorm a list of cool things that could happen in this scene. None of this is set in stone, so feel free to go gonzo. Don't worry about chronological order, character motivation, or other details. Just keep brainstorming and don't stop until you've written down at least 10 actions.
For example, could one person hide around the corner, waiting for the other one to come running? Could someone steal a car? Kicks someone else in the head? Blow something up? Accidentally (or intentionally) set something on fire?
Write down whatever inspires you. Feel free to shamelessly steal moves from your favorite action movies. It’s OK. Schwarzenegger is cool with that.
Here's the secret to brainstorming: you’ll eventually toss many of those ideas in the garbage can. But the ideas you throw away may inspire even better ideas that end up going into your book.
If you jot down at least 10 actions—or more—then you can cherry-pick your favorites when you actually sit down to write the scene.
In this scene from A Kiss Before Doomsday, my action brainstorming list looked something like this:
- Hit the creature with an axe.
- Set the garage on fire.
- Spray the creature with holy water.
- Try to use a magical crystal.
- Run for your lives!
- Creature shoots sticky webbing at them.
- Find a bag full of gray powder that can immobilize the creature.
The first two items on this list ended up getting tossed out. The rest of the items wound up appearing in the chapter, and the last item was the real clincher. I decided the heroines would find a bag full of gray powder that could immobilize the creature—but they had to find some way to get the dust onto the creature without getting killed in the process.
Next up: the Advantage, the Switcheroo, and the Win.
If you follow these steps, you will develop plenty of great ideas to write your next action scene.
In the second half of this article, I'll show you how to weave all of those ideas together effortlessly. Even better, I'll show you the super-cool secret way to end any action scene with a memorable bang (it's called the Advantage, the Switcheroo, and the Win).
In the meantime, what elements of an action scene do you struggle with the most? Leave me a comment below or contact me at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.
Laurence MacNaughton writes funny books about magic crystals, possessed muscle cars, and the end of the world. His books include It Happened One Doomsday, A Kiss Before Doomsday, and No Sleep Till Doomsday (July 2018). Find out how you can get a free ebook at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.
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About A Kiss Before Doomsday (Dru Jasper, Book 2)
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