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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Action Scenes Revealed!

I recently read a book from a well known author and normally, I truly enjoy reading her work. Although, this time, this particular author took the easy way out when her hero remembered watching the heroine as she took control of a ship but didn’t show the scene. I sat there for a moment and thought, wow, did I just get cheated out of a fight scene? I did. Was it relevant to the story? It could have been. Was it necessary? Again it could have been but more importantly, it sure as heck would have been entertaining.

And that’s what we do as writers. We entertain. We take the reader into another world, another time, another place away from their real life problems and daily stresses. It’s what we do. So don’t be afraid to “write big.”

I’ve run into many writers who’re intimidated by action scenes in the romance genre which is perfectly understandable. There’s a lot going on in an action scene and if you don’t know what to focus on, you’re scene can end up in a jumbled mess. So, this is the first post in a series to help break down the action scene into steps. That way, the information isn’t overwhelming and it will allow you to center on what’s important.

There are three elements to writing an action scene; the set up, the turning point, and the conclusion. Just as in plotting, you can break the scene down into three steps to make writing it much easier. I’m going to focus on the set up in this post and the rest will follow in subsequent posts.

I’ve taken a movie clip from one of my favorite movies and one of the most action packed stories I’ve ever seen before, Pirate’s of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest. We will break this scene down into tiny parts so you visually get an idea of what I’m talking about. So first watch the clip here
LOL, love that scene! It’s the most hilarious and fun action scene I’ve ever seen or read before. Aside from the great characters, there are certain elements needed to make a scene like work and believable.

You’re set up for the scene is like a mini opening. If you include too much detail you’ll slow the pace, if you include any backstory you’ll slow the pace and action scenes were meant to be fast paced.

So any information that you need to drop in that includes backstory or even an initial visual of the surroundings need to be done in the previous chapter.

In the scene we get a close up of Jack with Norrington and Turner sword fighting in the background. This is your set up. Jack falls into the freshly dug grave and then the camera pans to the fight between the other two men. Excellent set up. But the two men are not the focus of the scene yet. The camera is still somewhat far off for a frame or two. Why is this? It’s your set up. You will need to introduce your characters and surroundings quickly but efficiently. Notice the background is all somewhat neutral and green. That’s not our focus at the moment. You see a quick glance of Norrington and Turner and then a vivid close of up the wheel shaft breaking off.

In writing terms this means introduce one or two elements of your surroundings. They must be key elements of the scene. The wheel for instance plays a huge part in the coming scene. It’s relevant. So zoom your own camera in close on a single piece and describe it. Then pan your camera back to include why this key piece is important. Watch the scene again and you’ll see the camera man has done just that. We zoom into to our key element than back out so show why it’s important. Well done introduction of surroundings.

If you keep the environment clutter to a minimum and introduce only the strongest elements, you’ll have a well read set up.

As the camera bounces back to Jack in the pit, we see the wheel coming around and crashing right over his head. Again the camera is zoomed in because he is a key piece to the puzzle. He has the key around his neck and plays a huge role in the scene. What’s makes this almost seemingly unrealistic scene work is the detail. We can see and hear how old that wood is and imagine how easy it would be to break through. Do that in your work. Show the details of your key elements explaining why they need to be there and what makes them important to the scene. And describe nothing else! We as writers tend to over write things with flowery prose. An action scene is not the time nor the place to do that.

So there are the basic elements to writing your action scene set up. Next time we’ll go over the turning point in the scene. Until then, tell me what’s your favorite action scene in a movie or a book and why?


  1. Excellent. Found this blog by accident, will continue to follow on purpose.

  2. I'm sure there are other action scenes I like, but the one coming to mind is in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana is trying to find his love interest who has been abducted in Cairo. I love the humor and fast pace.

  3. Great suggestions, Melissa. I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

  4. Thanks for stoppping by ladies! I love, love, love Indiana Jones, he was probably the driving force behind my love for adventure stories. Of course, nothing beats the classic Treasure Island though. Hope this helps even a little, ladies.