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How to Write a Great Action Scene

Every writer has a weak point. Sometimes it’s dialogue, sometimes it’s writing a happy scene without getting too mushy, but one that happens to be more common than others is the good old-fashioned action scene. Why are they such a pain to write? Because they’re fast paced and physical, words are long arduous, languorous, and well words. Fights are visual. Not overly verbal. So, here are six quick tips to whip you fight scenes into shape:

1. Read a lot, practice a lot, edit a lot

This is kind of three tips in one – and they’re probably the most obvious. The wider and more deeply you read, the more you’re exposed to different writing styles and the more you’re likely to get an idea of what a good fighting scene reads like. Take notes of the ones you like the most, and then practice them yourself. Rewrite ones from books you don’t like, turn scenes from movies and shows into writing, make them up. Yes, read more, but also practice it yourself. And then – edit.

2. Make sure there is a point

Fight scenes can be fun to include, they add tension and give you the opportunity to show off your characters flair and skills, plus that super cool weapon they just discovered. But if it’s not propelling the plot forward or offering a vital piece of information to the reader then it could very well be a pointless scene that the reader might skip through. So, next time you’re adding in that extra fight scene, make sure it has a purpose – even if it’s more about developing character than plot.

3. Keep note of pacing

Short sentences are punchy. Longer, drawn out sentences tend to be slower to read because it takes time to get to the point. See what I did there?

Most of the time, it’s best to keep your sentences short in fight scenes. But don’t have them all the same length – variety is the spice of life, and sentences. A great exception here though is listing. For example, you can list several short movements, with short sharp words, to make the action even quicker. But some action scene are heart wrenching, slow-motion, cinematic masterpieces. So longer words and longer sentences can build that pace perfectly too.

4. Build tension

A fight shouldn’t come out of nowhere. There should be background and context to make it believable. You have to build the tension. Before either character lays a hand or weapon on each other, they should have solid grounds and solid reason to lift a finger. Your readers won’t believe an out-of-the-blue, out-of-character fight. It’s jarring and will bring your reader out of your world.

5. Think like the movies

Before putting pen to paper, picture the fight scene in your mind. What are the camera angles? Is it close up or far away? Who’s point of view is it in? What music is playing in the background? Consider these ‘camera tricks’ in your action scene to make it more of a visual experience. If you can picture it in your mind, your readers probably can too. Just remember not to get too wordy with your descriptions!

6. Use your senses

When you do describe things during a fight scene, don’t forget to involve more than just sight. Our other senses are used every single day too. We just tend to ignore the role they play. So think about touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight. Consider the taste of blood and sweat, the feeling of slick hands on cold steel, the sound of clanging swords, the smell of wood and metal burning, the feeling of smoke filled lungs and aching muscles. Use your senses to paint a full picture.

The perfect action scene is never an easy task to undertake, but with a bit of help (and a lot of editing) you can get your writing into shape.

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