Biff! Bam! Kapow! Five Tips On Writing Explosive Action Scenes

Readers love action adventure novels. They don’t take a whole lot of brainpower to read and are a great way to fill in time while you’re sitting on a long, otherwise boring flight somewhere. Writers like Clive Cussler has a very lucrative business writing action-adventure novels: there’s nearly 100 million copies of Cussler’s books in print.

Here’s five tips to give you something to think about when you’re writing your own action scenes.

Action Sequences Should Be Fast Paced

Good action sequences are never slow. They grab the reader by the throat and force them to hang on white-knuckled until you decide to let up. The best way to achieve this is to use short sentences, and often short paragraphs, utilizing as many action words as you can think of. Words like “zipped”, “snapped”, “whizzed” and “punched” are all great choices. In a fight scene, your hero shouldn’t have time to think and any dialogue should be short, sharp and punchy, usually only a few words that could be yelled out across the room.

The only exception to this would be if you’re trying to do a John Woo style slow motion sequence for a brief part of the scene. Here you can take much longer to describe the action in minute detail, like the way the bullet casing arcs up, twisting end over end as it passes through the smoke cloud. But don’t overdo this and jump back to the rapid-fire action as quickly as you can.

Push the characters to their limits

Characters need to be tested in your action scenes. There’s no point writing something that’s easy for them to overcome, because it wont create the right level of tension in your story. Instead, your heroes need to pushed into situations where there’s a real chance they might not come out intact. In fact, it’s better if they often don’t because it means that the stakes that they’re playing for are real, and not just joke ones.

Don’t be afraid to beat up or shoot your characters. Matthew Reilly, the Australian action author, believes that if a character slows down the action too much, they have to die. While that might be a little extreme for your story, killing off a character or two could well prove to your reader that you’re serious about the stakes.

Make maximum use of the environment

Which is more exciting: a kung-fu fight in an empty apartment, or one in a crowded china shop? If you’re anything like me, you’d rather see the action smashing the scenery up as the fists and feet go flying. When you’re creating your action scenes, try to set things up so that they take place in an environment where it can add to the excitement of the scene, where one false move could make things a lot harder for your heroes.

So, it’s better to have a fight on the rooftop of a skyscraper, or in the heat of a iron foundry, instead of in an empty warehouse, or out in the desert. The more you can stock your scene with usable props for your heroes to use, the more interesting your scenes are going to be.

Make the actions scenes relevant to the story

Action sequences shouldn’t stop your plot from developing. Instead, they should be an integral to driving your storyline along. If you find that you’re adding in an action sequence just to liven things up again, then you’ll need to reexamine the stakes of the scene and find another way to help it link the scene to the ones that precede and follow it. The reason for having an action sequence in your story should make sense in terms of the flow of the story; if it’s not, then you should rewrite it or take it out completely.

Write your action sequences as suspense scenes

Suspense in a scene is vital if you want your reader to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. Your action sequence should pose lots of questions for the hero, rather than just being a description of what happens. John Rogers — in his Kung-Fu Monkey blog — said, “Don’t write action scenes. Write suspense scenes that require action to resolve.” When working on the main question for your scene, don’t ask “Will the hero beat the bad guy?” Instead, find a question that brings into play an issue your hero has that it’s important for him to learn. If he learns it, then he can win the scene, otherwise, he should lose. In this way, the reader can see how the action sequence causes the character to grow and change, rather it than just being another gratuitous fight.

If you keep these points in mind when you’re writing your action scenes, then your hero is going to be in for one heck of an exciting ride and your readers will be turning the pages as fast as they can to see what happens next.

And that’s precisely what you want to have happen.

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