Our Pages

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Action Scenes Revealed! Part Two

Action Scenes Revealed Part Two

My last blog post revealed the key elements of an action scene and the set up. You can find it here http://ladyscribes.blogspot.com/2011/02/action-scenes-revealed.html

I posted a wonderful short clip of the “big wheel” scene of Pirate’s of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest.

Action scenes are comprised of certain elements that make them work. You can’t just toss in a few swords, some screams, and expect the reader to take anything away from them. Once you’ve intiated your initial set up, then we get to the meat of the scene. Every scene must have a purpose – a reason to exist in your story. If it doesn’t cut it.

Not only does every scene have to have a beginning, a middle and an end, it must have a turning point in the scene. Something must happen to change your character. Your character starts the scene off with one goal and by the end of that scene, his goal should be modified or a new goal must be established.

Let’s take a look at the scene I’ve chosen and do note this clip is short and doesn’t show the entire scene as it was written. But we’ll focus on this little piece at any rate.

We left off where Jack was caught in the wheel. We introduced several important elements and characters to the scene and now we’re going to focus on why this scene is important to the story itself. Take a look at how the camera zooms in close to Jack once again as the key around his neck slips off his head.

This is our turning point. Jack’s ultimate goal is to find the dead man’s chest. When he loses the key and it gets caught on the nail, he suddenly has a new goal. To reclaim the key. This is your turning point. Something has changed.

With his new goal in mind, the character now needs to seek it. Jack needs the key in order to get the chest. Now toss in the absolute worst thing that can happen to keep character away from his goal. And we see it here as this scene was cut in the middle. Instead of getting the key, Jack gets whacked by a metal bar and crashes to the ground as the wheel rolls off down a hill – key still attached. Poor Jack. The stakes are getting stacked against him and that my friends, is a good action scene.

Increasing the stakes and keeping the character from achieving his/ her goal is crucial to every plot.

Pacing is important to any action scene. To speed up action scenes shorten the sentences and get rid of any adjectives and adverbs. Now is not the time for long prose. Word selection is key here. Why fall when you can tumble. Why grasp when you can seize. These are what I term vanilla verbs and you need to spice them up.

Dialogue needs to be kept short and to the point. If there’s nothing reveal through dialogue I wouldn’t even use any.

Pov is important here as well. You must figure out which character has the most to lose in this scene and write it from their pov. What may be exciting to Joe, may be devastating to Alex. We the reader want to watch the devastation play out so keep us in the correct pov.

The key to any scene is in the details. Getting the research correct, and last but not least, feel free to act out your scenes. You may find it so much easier to write once you’re better able to visualize your scene.

And the absolute best way to write an action scene is to practice. Practice makes perfect and the more you write it, the easier it will become. I tend to hype up on caffeine to write my action scenes, tell me what inspires you to write yours or what do you do to prepare yourself before writing an action scene?


  1. Melissa,

    Very interesting. I don't do anything special to prep for an action scene other than think about it for a while. BTW, I consider love scenes to be action scenes too. :)

    I think the writer needs to know when to stop the scene. To me, a scene ceases to be interesting once I'm so accustomed to the element of danger that my heart isn't beating hard anymore. I'm not sure how to tell others to judge it for themselves. I guess the best thing is to save some tricks for other books.

  2. Samatha,
    I absolutely agree, love scenes are most definitely action scenes. And I really think you hit the nail on the head with knowing where to cut the scene.