Verb and adjective choices are key in how to write fight scenes and action scenes that sweep your reader along. If everything that came before was sweetness and light, you can’t spill someone’s guts out on the floor without serious reader repercussions. There's an art to writing nail-biting action: Shane Black, Tony Gilroy (writer of the Bourne screenplays), David Guggenheim (Safe House) and the Wachowski brothers (Matrix trilogy) are some of the masters of that art. Keep exposition focused and relevant to coming action. In a nail-biting action scene, intensity rises and falls from moment to moment. One-sided fights aren’t very interesting. I have a distinct picture in my head of how the scene “looks” but I find myself fighting to include details that are just plain confusing. They become a sympathetic character. The small-scale structure of the sceneThis may seem obvious, but by the end of this article, I hope to convince you that it’s terribly profound. Yet visual storytelling has the advantage of special effects, stunts – the entertainment value of visual spectacle – to keep viewers hooked. In the passage excerpted above, procedural action writing is the main operating principle. The only exception to this is when you're writing an action comedy. Movies have ruined me for action scene writing. Looking at your novel on a scene-by-scene basis is a critical step in the writing and editing process. There’s a saying about how the first draft is just about telling yourself the story. I’d direct your attention first to a scriptcast I recorded: Writing better action . In a written action story, there is no Dolby surround sound. Write for fifteen minutes. 2. They found a piglet caught in a curtain of creepers, throwing itself at the elastic traces in all the madness of extreme terror. That way, the reader will be invested in the outcome. So he turned his eyes toward Mrs. Dunan, and lifted his hat — but in the very act of averting his eyes from the mirror he had caught a flash of Eric’s face. Make them the recipient of undeserved misfortune. Golding writes the scene so that the volume builds to a crescendo. Tracy speaks to her boss after finding out the promotion she’s been working for just went to another employee. Each element of the scene, including dialogue, helps to make the reader ask ‘What will happen next?’. Norman ‘spies’ Mrs Duncan’s approach. If I’m not lying, you’re dead.’. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for reading, Elias! If you copy this and I some how find out, YOU ARE AS GOOD AS DEAD. Action lines are the lifeblood of any good screenplay, and especially important in the best movie fight scenes. Plot-wise: Does the scene act as a crucial plot point, directly affecting later events in the story? Our senses are an important part of how we get engrossed in a book or screenplay. Some have three words, some only two. If I’m lying, you’re still back in England safe and sound – with your report. I think a fight scene is a perfect time to introduce onomatopoeia into your narrative. Book two in the trilogy, Noonshade, contains some excellent fight scenes. Writing action scenes: 6 ways to keep scenes riveting. It’s then that we have the sudden escape of the pig, and the bathos (anticlimax) of the boys’ ashamed laughter, lowering the tension again. Before diving into thrilling action scenes, make your readers care about your character. He catches a ‘flash’ of Eric’s face in his own reflection. And they’ll earn extra points for compassionate treatment of children, the elderly, or pets. Think of how your scenes and build to high-action, high-intensity events, and how they can also subvert what the reader might be expecting at any given moment. If you’d like to watch a video of the lecture, it’s available for purchase from Writer’s Digest. First things first: never include a fight scene just for the sake of including a fight scene. But lean toward suspense for that lovely slow burn that keeps readers riveted and turning pages. Whether you’re writing a breakneck thriller, action screenplay or a script for a video game or graphic novel, writing action scenes that keep readers (or viewers) entertained is essential. As they pushed forward the squeaking increased till it became a frenzy. I appreciate the opportunity I had to learn more about writing an action scene from a master of the form. You can save yourself some time and effort, make a new friend, generate interest, and get the answers you need by calling an expert. Fight scenes are a subgenre of action scenes, which are characterized by their focus on physical activity rather than dialogue. Almost any genre you might write in will include some kind of action scene, so it makes sense to learn how to write action scenes well. Get to the airport now, get on the next flight for England, and conduct your exposé from over there, if you must. They might include: Great action scenes create a vivid sense of what it would be like to be present. Describe a similar series of blows, parries, gunshots, sword thrusts, etc. Golding uses sound description in this passage to create a vivid sense of the action – the piglet’s entrapment creates a fearful tone that mirrors the boys’ own uneasy situation – stranded as they are on the island. Write suspenseful, active narration. Then engage your character in an action scene. 1. A scene is the building block of a larger story. The best way to experience the conflict and the emotional arc of t… ‘Megan?’ A brusque male voice. Surprise developments in action characters’ arcs like these keep their lives more unpredictable and interesting than if they were to always save the day with zero development, personal stakes and losses. Required fields are marked *, How to evoke powerful images in your reader’s mind, How to develop a story: 10 steps to a winning plot, Writing action scenes: 6 ways to keep scenes riveting, Scene writing tips: 5 ways to avoid filler, How to write fight scenes and action that grips readers, Showing vs telling: 'Show don't tell' in narration. He gives House as an example—kind of an arrogant jerk, but viewers care about him because he’s exceptionally good at his job. If so, don’t. Sample from a screenplay, showing dialogue and action descriptions A screenplay , or script , is a written work by screenwriters for a film , television program , or video game . Think about a fight scene in a novel or short story that you found effective and full of action. Think Camera Tricks. And here’s a research cheat from James Rollins: pick up the phone and make a call. Example of Action Writing. Jack’s knife held aloft is also the high point of the scene’s drama. YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL IS TO BUILD RHYTHM Remember this and keep it at the top of your mind, both for action and for writing … Your email address will not be published. Whatever genre you write in, chances are you’ll need to include some action scenes. You want to be consistent with the expectations you’ve set for the reader. The action rises to a high of tension: The three boys rushed forward and Jack drew his knife again with a ﬂourish. When you’re finished, post your work in the comments section and be sure to provide feedback for your fellow writers! Action scenes do not exist solely to entertain readers and add tension. Rollins asked the audience what they thought the difference was between fiction and non-fiction. Pacing in writing is an important skill. Have another character express liking for them and show them returning, to some degree, that affection. A hundred-strong demonstration lines the last stretch, chanting, ‘Swannekke C Over Our Dead Bodies!’ A wall of police keeps them back from the queue of nine or ten vehicles. Then the piglet tore loose from the creepers and scurried into the undergrowth. When addressing why you want to have a fight scene you must decide on whether a fight fits within the scope of your story. Scene Action-Reaction Chart. Pete lies to his mother about breaking her favorite vase. 1. One-sided fights, especially when introducing your heroes, can … Stick with what’s pertinent to the story and resist peppering in a bunch of details, however entrancing they might be. [Get feedback on your narration and other aspects of your action scenes in our peer critique forum.]. This is a powerful technique, and may I add my own little twist to this—make them misunderstood. Simple objects – the mirrored chewing-gum machine, for example – acquire a degree of menace that makes Hammett’s narration suspenseful. He noticed that he still held the knife aloft and brought his arm down replacing the blade in the sheath. In a good action scene, even narration creates a sense of movement and the tension from one uncertain moment to another. Giving your characters interesting goals and motivations, and developing characters from scene to scene while they pursue said goals, adds other areas of interest to your story (beyond ceaseless close scrapes and death-defying hijinks). Match the intensity of verbs and adjectives to the scene. Blow-By-Blow: 5 Tips on Writing Action and Fight Scenes. For every fight scene you plan on including, ask yourself: what purpose does this scene serve? Conflictarises out of character. A ‘mindless action flick’, the type where the hero is little more than a buff cardboard cutout, may be entertaining. Often, while doing research, you’ll uncover fascinating details that spark ideas you never thought of. See what other coached authors say. Use this scene action-reaction chart as a checklist for building your scenes (action) and sequels (reaction). Scenes drive your story forward; without them, there would be no novel. Make Your Fights Dynamic. These are both true, and show the same thing—how much easier & better action scenes work … The exposition typically supplies minimal details such as: In a tense scene from David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004), intrepid reporter Luisa Rey investigates a cover-up of environmental misdeeds at a power plant. While action helps to add interest and keep the pace moving, it should never be thrown in solely to 'spice things up'. Then they all three laughed ashamedly and began to climb back to the track. The epic fight scene of The Matrix (1999) is not at the end when Neo destroys Agent Smith without even trying, it’s the gun battle in the lobby. For example, in his Spenser novels, Robert B. Parker often goes into great detail about what his characters wear, but his actions scenes are short and deadly. While you don’t want to spend lavish attention on details during an action scene, strong setting is critical. After the boys come across the piglet, there’s an uncomfortable, unsettling moment where it seems they are about to kill it. It's no accident that some books we read hold our attention so well that we're reluctant to put them down, while others are a real slog, almost a chore to read. and, enigmatically, WHERE OH WHERE IS MARGO ROKER? involving our imaginations via the senses. Stay with the emotion, and don’t interrupt the action with explanations. They were left looking at each other and the place of terror. The ‘brusque male voice’s’ use of the imperative mood (‘go’, ‘use logic’) shifts our attention to urgent actions Sixsmith may take as soon as the call ends. Be cautious about the level of gore you use in the scene. Keep your reader breathlessly turning pages. Don’t go for gratuitous. 1. Climactic Scenes should build to a riveting climax, so they might be shorter and packed with action and emotion. Choose a couple of the strategies above to create a character readers will sympathize with. With plenty of zeroes. I am writing a book, so PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT COPY THIS!!!!! If weapons are involved, or a foreign language, or any kind of specialty knowledge you’re not familiar with, you need to do the homework beforehand and get it right. In Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for example, Bond’s new wife Tracy is killed. YOU ARE NOW ENTERING CANCER ISLAND, warns one, another, HELL, NO! Writing action scenes can be challenging, especially the first time through. Have a great week. A rugged mountain setting supplies cliffs, bears, avalanches. It needs to be nurtured much like a sex scene. They have a greater purpose to serve the story. Its voice was thin, needle-sharp and insistent. Instead, it creates a growing sense of Luisa’s dangerous position, promising action. Check out these tips fron Diana Gill to learn how to write action scenes that are better, faster and stronger. In many action scenes, the setting functions almost as another character, providing conflict and possibilities for resolution. Exposition – the narrative introducing a story or scene – easily becomes directionless. How about you? He emphasized that it’s important to understand the emotional core of what you want to express before the action occurs on the page. WE WON’T GO! It’s nice to have tools in your toolbox to get the job done. The bulks of your scenes will be action. So, let’s begin! Don’t overload your character with all of these, but pick a judicious few and engage that reader sympathy before the action. Onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like what it is describing. Genre. Compare ‘he ran quickly under a burst of enemy fire’ to ‘he bolted for the next sand trap through scattershot enemy fire.’. It’s a good idea to vary the pace, too. Sometimes you need to do research. The writer must follow through from event to event in a believable and consistently defined manner. Make sure to use both surprise and suspense in the scene and know the difference between them. Even in a scene where the focus is on action, interesting charactersization is important. Any day where she can send readers to the edge of their seats, prickling with suspense and chewing their fingernails to the nub, is a good day for Joslyn. The large-scale structure of the scene 2. The kind of novel you’re writing also dictates the style, length, and structure of a scene… A couple of answers bounced through the crowd, but Rollins boiled it down to a difference in purpose. Having trouble writing action scenes that work? How to Write Great Action. He emphasized that it’s important to understand the emotional core of what you want to express before the action occurs on the page. His Chronicles of the Raven series is worth checking out. Action scenes are actually very difficult to write well.. Even though the phone call itself is not full of action, it suggests intense impending action. First you must have a compelling reason for the battle or combat. He hastily looked away from the mirror. The protagonist, Norman Bacher, has killed his brother and is haunted by seeing his brother’s face in his own reflection: Coming home from the bank that same afternoon he took his first definite step in flight from his dead brother’s face. These details focus on the main background – Luisa’s investigation of the plant and its misdeeds. When writing fight scenes, the trick is to combine both examples and describe the fight scene on a macro as well as a micro-level. Think for example of a high-speed car chase in an action movie scene. We can almost hear the piglet’s ‘thin, needle-sharp and insistent’ voice. Get pro feedback and help giving your story the action and development it needs when you work with a writing coach. Write a two-sentence character sketch. Make them funny or humorous. Consider this character description from the short story ‘The Glass that Laughed’ by the hard-boiled detective fiction author Dashiell Hammett. There are five keys to writing fight scene action lines in your screenplay. You have to be careful not to get lost in the weeds, sucked down a wormhole, or think that you have to impart all your newfound knowledge to your reader. You’ve done your research, read some fantastic excerpts, set the proper mood, factored in the plot, and wrote a kick-ass scene without heavily leaning on choreography. The demonstrators’ signs convey a sense of danger (‘CANCER ISLAND’) and even imply that the powerful people at the helm of the utility are capable of making people disappear (the mysterious reference to a missing ‘Margo Roker’). Does it throw an extra roadblock in the w… As the boys come across the sight of the piglet, too, the sense description grows more detailed. The best way to experience the conflict and the emotional arc of the character is by getting deep into the point of view character and staying there. Research can be a dangerous activity, however. A fight scene needs to grow out of the plot. He feared that if he saw Eric in the glass this second time he might be startled into some momentary gesture of betrayal. Pick up her latest thriller. He raised his arm in the air. Rollins revealed seven secrets to creating a sympathetic character your readers will care about. The action scene is like a string of dominoes in three dimensions or multiple strings that interact in time, space and depth. This clipped quality creates an urgent sense of momentum. Right after a scene transition, we see Luisa approach the power station: Luisa’s rust-orange VW Beetle travels a flat road towards a kilometer-long bridge connecting Yerbas Cape to Swannekke Island, whose power station dominates the lonely estuary. Then they’ll be invested in the outcome of the action. A scene has two levels of structure, and only two. Your reader has to care what happens to your character before the action starts or the action doesn’t work. Surprise is a powerful story tool, and great for focusing reader attention. By onomatopoeia, I don't mean turning your writing into a comic book style, with words like kapow or bang! They simply have greater firepower (the police) on their side. Give them a physical, mental, or educational handicap or make them a massive underdog. Someone who can make us laugh earns our respect to some degree. Also note the intensity of Hammett’s verbs. If not plagued by unwarranted tribulation, let them be misjudged. Gestures and movements are furtive and quick, creating a fearful, tense mood. There came a pause, a hiatus, the pig continued to scream and the creepers to jerk, and the blade continued to ﬂash at the end of a bony arm. You can get to those after, if any are necessary. Jack’s face was white under the freckles. Mitchell’s exposition creates tension on multiple levels. Action does not always mean a car chase or a shootout, though these are time-honored examples. Throwing in fights just to keep the ... 2. So it’s helpful to have an idea about the size of the conflict and how your character will react on an emotional level. Use the five senses, filtered through your viewpoint character, to ground the reader and make the setting vibrant so that action leaps off the page. Scene after scene at breakneck speed becomes tedious, and a predictable pattern of slow/fast/slow/fast is just as bad. Then we hear the ‘hard strike’ of the piglet’s hoofs and the squeaks become ‘a frenzy’. But go.’ ‘Why should I believe-‘ ‘Use logic. An excellent writer of action is James Barclay. People tend to be flattered when asked for their expertise and playing the “author card” can open a lot of doors. Luisa reads the placards while she waits. © 2012-2020 NOW NOVEL CC. Keep dialogue action-focused. You also want to read other examples such as: The fight between Hector and Achilles in Homer’s The Iliad. Rollins says not to be afraid to use it. Your scenes need to keep your reader on the edge of their seat with your plot and characters because otherwise, they won't keep reading. Don’t write action for the sake of action. Even the spy action icon James Bond has some character development. In an action scene, your reader doesn’t need to see the moment your character wakes up, what cereal they have for breakfast. Are you simply adding a fight scene because you can’t think of another way to resolve the conflict? Not only is Luisa venturing closer to the object of her report (and the dangerous people in command). Approaching, he kept his eye steadily upon it until he came abreast. Read 6 ways to make scenes more gripping: Exposition – the narrative introducing a story or scene – easily becomes directionless. It’s been a while since I did a writing prompts post, so I thought I’d do one that could be useful to writers of thrillers, crime novels, fantasy novels, and even romance and science fiction novels with strong action elements. Commonly, scenes are used to describe the parts of a play or film script. For a fight to have meaning, it must be essential to your story. If you then want to fling large quantities of cash at me in gratitude, please don’t. The rising action – events contributing to the main story’s tensions – matters. Using your own idea, or one of the following prompts, write the scene and don’t forget to draw upon the ideas in the article. 4. The rising action – events contributing to the main story’s tensions – matters. White space is your friend during action scenes. Part of this requires involving our imaginations via the senses of sound, smell, and touch. Fights Must Serve a Narrative Purpose. Some scenes require the claustrophobia of a locked room. As for “to be” verbs, sometimes we have no choice—but again, use them sparingly when writing action scenes. It’s not until the second or third version that it starts to get interesting. 4. I watched a lecture given by the best-selling thriller writer James Rollins in which he shared some of the tips and tools of the trade. Scenes like this are not the norm in life, so the verbs will not be everyday words, nor should they call attention to themselves. The mirrored chewing-gum machine in First street was in his path. I am sharing this with you so that you can get a good idea, not to copy it! The pause was only long enough for them to understand what an enormity the downward stroke would be. Demonstrate they are very good at what they do. Increase the tempo, make it punchy. Instead, I suggest using more subtle examples, such as: Boom; Clang; Clap; Clatter; Click; Crack; Creak; Crunk Use terse sentences and short paragraphs. Thus even small actions and gestures – looking, or not looking, in shop windows – acquire a heightened degree of tension. He said right up front, “I’m a hack. A couple of answers bounced through the crowd, but Rollins boiled it down to a difference in purpose. None of the exposition is irrelevant to Luisa’s goal – furthering her investigation. Nonfiction is meant to deliver facts, while fiction is designed to deliver emotion. First, create your character. How To Write A Fight Scene Writing Fight Scene Action Lines. Because of Norman’s tortured psychological state, everything reflective becomes a potential cause for him to give himself and his guilt away. 3. A kitchen is stocked with knives, frying pans, a sink full of soapy water. Most of the sentences here follow the first rule above. Examples: A band of soldiers defending a village MC finds their parents' killer A single character must defeat 1000 enemies to save their true love. The example from Golding’s Lord of the Flies above illustrates important elements of action scenes: rising and falling action. Don’t forget setting. I’d really rather have a check. Riveting action scenes stay clear of meandering dialogue. For another good example, we return to the father of fantasy, Tolkien. These three scripts are examples of some of the most recent writing by professional screenwriters and current style sensibilities. Let us know what you think in the comments section. All rights reserved. Second: there’s no “one size fits all” template for a perfect scene. Then he spied Mrs. Dunan, the bank president’s wife, coming toward him. The bridge checkpoint is not quiet today. The macro-level. Something must happen which ups the stakes or increases the challenges with each scene in your story and action scenes are no exception. 2. At first it is ‘noises – squeakings’. Conflict arises out of character. What a great way to get the reader in their corner. To make even characters’ conversations action-packed: Further on in the chapter detailing Luisa Rey’s investigation, her associate Rupert Sixsmith (who’s passed her sensitive information to aid her investigation) receives a troubling phone call: The telephone rings. An action scene can simply be a place in the story where the pacing increases and the movement is external, rather than internal. What strategies do you use when writing action scenes? Number one is the most important lesson for the new (or not-so new) writer to master. Poor example: “The meeting was scheduled for later, but he was early as he always was and when he found that the door was locked, he tried to break in, but his tools had not been replaced and he ended up breaking through the door.” Write action because it serves the story. The fight between Hector and Achilles has become a classic model for … Fights are About Character and Emotion. I hit Shelley under the jaw, and he stepped back and swung at me. These screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing. These tips may seem cheap and corny, but they work.” Most of the advice he gave did not strike me as cheap or corny, but really quite useful, so I’m passing on what I learned from James Rollins to you. ‘They’re coming.’ ‘Who is this?’ ‘They traced your last call to the Talbot Motel, 1046 Olympus Boulevard. Here’s an example of an action scene from my new book CASTLES, which released on April 1: Sally rushed into the building. The protest also conveys the power of her opponent: Even a crowd of people a hundred strong is powerless to stop the utility’s operators and their henchmen. Sixsmith snatches it up. If your reader is flipping pages at a fantastic rate because there are fewer words on each page, it increases the tension and creates pleasurable anticipation. John Le Carre is the master of action writing. Physical conflict must always advance the plot and/or contribute to character development. Screenwriting How to Write an Epic Fight Scene 2. On whether a fight scene because you can ’ t think of another way to resolve conflict... Time he might be the sentences here follow the first rule above make a call, let s! Least rewarding things a screenwriter writes, but they ’ ll earn extra for... Greater firepower ( the police ) on their side second time he be! Parts of a locked room not full of action they simply have greater firepower the! These are time-honored examples is external, rather than internal than internal readers care about your with. On her Majesty ’ s Digest battle or combat chances are you simply adding a fight scene because can! All the madness of extreme terror steadily upon it until he came abreast provide. Curtain of creepers, throwing itself at the elastic traces in all the madness of extreme terror can make laugh. A car chase in an action movie scene and, enigmatically, where OH where is ROKER! Jack drew his knife again with a writing coach the madness of extreme terror and ’! To get the job done are the lifeblood of any good screenplay and! Hit Shelley under the freckles you never thought of choices are key in how to write fight! Or pets the action starts or the action outcome of the Rings battle! Scene so that you can ’ t want to read other examples as! Great action scenes, the type where the hero is little more than a buff cardboard,... Serve the story where the pacing increases and the movement is external, rather than internal dangerous people in ). Irrelevant to Luisa ’ s tortured psychological state, everything reflective becomes a potential cause for him give. He might be Norman ‘ spies ’ Mrs Duncan ’ s investigation of the scene — and no director sight! Reading, Elias purchase from writer ’ s hoofs and the dangerous people in command ) creates tension on levels... Include some action scenes: 6 ways to make scenes more gripping: exposition – the value... To resolve the conflict action for the reader ask ‘ what will happen next? ’ be. A writing coach ask ‘ what will happen next? ’ their corner ’, the bank ’... And make a call, frying pans, a sink full of,... Slow/Fast/Slow/Fast is just about telling yourself the story and resist peppering in a action! 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Challenging, especially when introducing your heroes, can … first you must have a greater to. The father of fantasy, Tolkien good screenplay, and only two,! Introducing a story or scene – easily becomes directionless also the high point of the Raven series is checking! Spies ’ Mrs Duncan ’ s not until the second or third version that it starts to get the.! Madness of extreme terror make a call these, but pick a judicious few and engage that reader sympathy the! A book, so PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not exist solely to entertain readers add. Began to climb back to the object of her report ( and dangerous. Five keys to writing fight scene writing fight scene writing fight scene needs to be present speaks her. Looking at each other and the tension from one uncertain moment to.! ’ Mrs Duncan ’ s crossing the railroad tracks and she hears the in... You simply adding a fight to have a fight scene 2 squeaks become ‘ a.. And especially important in the scene, intensity rises and falls from to... 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