Day 64 – Writing action scenes

Day sixty-four of my 365 Day Writing Project

Words: 1,100

I wrote a car chase today. I’m not going to lie, it was a little awkward. I wrote it and afterward felt like I was perhaps not descriptive enough. I could picture the chase unfolding in my mind as I wrote it, but I didn’t feel confident that the reader will get as much out of it. And then I felt like perhaps I didn’t keep the writing concise enough to facilitate the pace I wanted. I was about to go back and edit and re-work the whole thing, but decided to leave it. Write now. Edit later. I’m really trying to live by that rule.

This experience of writing a car chase did make me wonder about how descriptive one needs to be when writing action scenes. Perhaps I’m over-thinking it, but it seems that there should be a delicate balance between informative description and quick-paced, simple wording. I want the reader to fly along the page, never getting stuck on verbiage so she can feel the accelerated action in the story. Simple language and simple sentence structure, which hopefully lends itself to quick-paced reading. But I also want the reader to understand and fully picture what is happening. I prefer to include some colorful, tickling-the-senses description, but only what is necessary. How to strike that balance is the trick.

Which leads me to the obvious question: In action scenes, which is more important: pace or description?

The answer is both. I found this bit of simple writing advice from Holly Lisle, writer and author, who had this to say about writing action scenes:

Limit extraneous information.

This is not the time to describe the countryside, the weather, or what people are wearing. Concentrate on the main characters, their movements, their five senses, and their emotions as they work through whatever problem they’re facing.

Pull your camera in close.

Let us taste the blood at the corner of the lip, feel the pain of the broken bone, hear the whistling of the blade, smell sweat, see eyes wide with shock, the beads of sweat on upper lips. Sense details create a sense of immediacy and urgency, and make a scene feel faster.

Keep sentences short and clean.

There are times and places for the hundred word sentence, but the fast-paced action scene is not one of them.

Be sharp, short, hard-edged.

Use fragments (sparingly). Kill adjectives and adverbs — be ruthless. You don’t need many, and may not need any. Find good verbs and nouns, and let the scene run with them.

This is good advice to follow, which I will be sure to do for my next action scene. For now, I’m going to resist the temptation to go back and re-write the scene I wrote tonight. Nope, not gonna do it. Write now. Edit later. Good night.

4 thoughts on “Day 64 – Writing action scenes

  1. I’d like to add a few things to this, if I might impose. First, from what I’ve read, the most important thing about action in writing is the emotion. Visual media can do action WAAAAAY better than any writing can, but we writers have an advantage. We get to go into character’s thoughts, we get to slow down the action, and we get to discuss the emotional impact of the physical world.

    I guess this goes along with “Pull your camera in close,” but we don’t have a camera. We work with the brain itself, which includes sight, yes, but there is so much more potential.

    The OTHER thought is a challenge to “Limit extraneous information”. While you may not need to discuss what other people are wearing, or how the city lights look when they flash by, these kinds of things can set the tone. Tone is important because it can turn a normal car chase into a grim, fatalistic fight to survive, or it can turn it into an exciting, optimistic chance for success.

    My point is: if action sequences were all about action, you’d be writing movies.


    • Your insight and helpful advice could never be an imposition, P.S. In fact, they are always welcome! I completely agree with your comment about the emotional impact of the physical world being so important. I love writing emotion because usually, I feel it as I write it. (At least, as much as one can whilst tapping away at one’s laptop.) It makes me dig deeper as a writer, pulling out all of the factors impacting the character’s emotions. Thanks for the additions to the above list – I will definitely be applying these the next time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Day 65 – When you need a boost in the story | orienting details

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