How do you write hooking action scenes?

Writersmirror

Member
Joined
May 10, 2019
Messages
22
Sometimes a good story needs action to become a great story. I don’t mean by this that the character has to be active. Although this is also important. No. I mean action like from the movies. But I think many authors suck by describing that Character XY throws a knife or Character ABC uses a gun. I never get a picture in my mind. But it’s one of the goals you should have as an author: putting remarkable pics in the reader’s mind. – So, how do I write unforgettable action (especially, in the climax)? It should evoke emotions. So…
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
22,529
Location
Highlands
This is something you can make a note of in your reading - when you come across an action sequence, ask why it engages you, or not. Use that experience from reading and try to apply it to your own writing. :)
 

Writersmirror

Member
Joined
May 10, 2019
Messages
22
@Brian G Turner In my opinion, a good example of bad writing action is divergent or legend. I didn't get a pic in my mind. The author has always written the character's mind but never real action.
 

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
Messages
2,179
I generally find sacrifices to dark powers the only effective way.

Failing that... what action scenes do you like? There's a fair variety of taste and recommending how to write action scenes you don't like achieves little.

That said -

The best advice I ever found was by Brandon Sanderson in some book on how to write fantasy heroes. I no longer have it but great if you can find it.

The second best advice I found was by cobbling some advice from Jim Butcher and CS Pacat together and to view it as a sort of call and response. Never dwell too long on the physical action, or the mental action, or the emotional action, or the explanations or anything. Constantly jump from one to the other; have something happen, have an emotional response, have something happen, explain what's happening, etc.etc.
 

L.L.Lotte

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 1, 2019
Messages
121
Firstly: its the prose. If you want to hook your reader, then you better come up with some fantastic prose.

But aside from that... From what I understand, writing good action scenes is never about the physical actions of the character -- the reader doesn't want to read a list of all the different moves each character did during the fight. That would get boring fast. Just stick to the most important actions and spend the rest of the scene dealing with the emotions and repercussions

It's about what the character experiences, not what actions they take.
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
4,454
I think it's important to distinguish action in books from action in a film. A film is more immediate, and maybe more intense. A book gives the reader more of an insight into a character's thoughts and life than a film can, and the reader ends up investing more in the character than would happen if it was a film. Therefore, if the characters are good, and the reader is invested in them, half the work is done before the fight starts.

In terms of the fight itself, I'd keep the language simple and the descriptions fairly easy to follow - getting too complex tends to get confusing. A lot can be worked out from who the characters are: a WW2 commando will fight differently to a Shaolin monk or a drunk guy in a bar, so we'll know what to expect to begin with. Different levels of realism and situations might require different things: a medieval warrior might be struggling with exhaustion, etc. Some fights are more epic and poetically described (like the ones in The Lord of the Rings or Allan Quartermain) or are more up-close and brutal (like Joe Abercrombie's books or Tim Willocks'). It's hard to give one style for everything, but generally keeping everything clear and short helps.
 

Writersmirror

Member
Joined
May 10, 2019
Messages
22
@Toby Frost I know. I want, however, be able to see the action in my mind. Of course, it needs more than It exploded or She shoots him. But I don’t want to read thoughts only.
 

Writersmirror

Member
Joined
May 10, 2019
Messages
22
@Jo Zebedee Mmh... I can't balance it. I write more physical action than action in the character's mind. And I'm not the gurl of mastering suspense and tension. I think those are important as well, aren't they?
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
22,529
Location
Highlands
I can't balance it. I write more physical action than action in the character's mind. And I'm not the gurl of mastering suspense and tension. I think those are important as well, aren't they?
I would advise reading Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer - it's full of all the basic and advanced writing tools a writer should be aware of. And much better than being drip-fed over years with the concepts IMO. :)
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
4,454
Wonderbook is good. On Writing by Stephen King is good too. They're very differently presented, but both useful.
 

tinkerdan

∞<Q-Satis
Joined
Dec 10, 2012
Messages
3,994
Location
x² + y² = r²:when x~∞
I think that there is the hook and then there is the action--they are and can easily be two different things.
Then there is that unaccountable chimera known as the hook-action scene

There often seems to be a focus on trying to attain this hook-action in the first two paragraphs in the first page of the first chapter of the novel and this reminds me of the novel Raiders of the Lost Arc that was released parallel to the movie and was based on the script; so of course it has that action-y scene with Indiana Jones being threatened by a huge boulder that reminds one more of pinball machine than anything else.

This, of course, works in movies and this type of media and certainly worked for this novel because it was based on the movie and was meant to excite the reader into going to the movie--I felt it was effective in that.

The problem for me as a reader: is that when I see this at the beginning of a novel it often ends up looking more like a strange new form of purple prose. It often has less to do with the rest of the story and more to do with meeting some 'agreed upon' formula for getting the readers attention.

The hook is when you write well enough to engage the reader in the story and get them to go to the next paragraph and the next and when it is done well enough--at the end of the chapter there is something there to get the reader to go to the next chapter.

Ideally each chapter should begin with its own hook and so on and so forth.

Does this mean each chapter has to begin with action?
No.

However getting hook and action together can be an added bonus.

Now, there is a difference between action and violence and that is something you might want to address.
Often when people do violence to each other it can be short and deadly--the long drawn out violent action scenes in most movies don't reflect what you see and hear in the news. Somehow you have to find a balance between reality and fiction.

Usually in what I read the violent action scenes are centered on inciting incidents, turning points, and climax. And even those don't necessitate violence to constitute action or satisfy criteria for turning points and inciting incidents and climax.

How much action and how much violence and how much drama depends on the scene the setup the resolution and even the POV. If your entire story is packed into this, for me as a reader I'd begin to think that something is amiss.
 

Steve Harrison

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 9, 2014
Messages
210
Location
Sydney, Australia
I write action scenes (whether a battle, fight, chase r whatever) in my novels in a similar way to how I wrote them when writing screenplays. I zoom in and out of the action from various angles, focussing on the overall picture and the individual characters' experience. I tend to write short, punchy (pardon the pun) sentences when close in on the action, and longer descriptive sentences to explain what is going on. This allows me to dictate the reading pace.

The advantage in a novel is that the reader creates the visuals and I can get inside the heads of the characters and show readers what the experience feels like - or at least what I think it feels like. These scenes are a huge amount of fun to write and I hope the excitement and danger I feel transmits to the page.
 

The Bluestocking

Bloody Mary in Blue
Joined
Feb 20, 2014
Messages
1,381
Location
The Afterlife
If you're looking for examples of really good action scenes and sequences, check out these two examples:

1. The opening scene of Robert R. McCammon's THE WOLF'S HOUR. Chuck Wendig recommended it to me when I was looking at how action scenes are constructed. Basically, the book is set in World War II and the scene involves an Allied agent who is a werewolf pulling off a document heist (he stole a briefcase full of important information from the Nazis). It's absolutely a masterclass in writing action.

2. Also check out Lilith Saintcrow's JILL KISMET series. Packed with cinematic action scenes which leaves the reader breathless. It's written in the 1st person too so it might help you figure out how to balance external action with internal thoughts.
 

Eric Lewis

Member
Joined
Apr 14, 2019
Messages
8
One way to attempt this in the early parts of a story is to ask yourself, what is the main character's (or whoever the POV is) most important defining characteristic, or strength, or weakness? Okay, now what situation can you put them in that will show or test that characteristic to its limits?

For example, my MC's opening scene is a bloody life saving operation, because she's a medic. Another character intro has him running from baddies, using his knowledge of the land to help him get away-- he's crafty. The villain is a warlord. You already know he's dangerous so his intro isn't violence but banter that carries under it the tension and threat of violence with every word. You can't have action for action's sake, it has to matter to the story, and it has to match the characters involved.

Also, I don't like fight scenes, they're boring and read on the page like fight choreography that you have to visualize in slo-mo as you read.
 

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
Joined
May 11, 2018
Messages
166
Location
UK
1. The opening scene of Robert R. McCammon's THE WOLF'S HOUR. Chuck Wendig recommended it to me when I was looking at how action scenes are constructed. Basically, the book is set in World War II and the scene involves an Allied agent who is a werewolf pulling off a document heist (he stole a briefcase full of important information from the Nazis). It's absolutely a masterclass in writing action.
I just read this and whilst I wouldn't necessarily share the view that it is a masterclass - there were aspects of this I didn't think were great (the POV is all over the place) - I agree that it's a nice piece of writing that holds you in the moment and gets the adrenalin going. The really interesting part is that the sentences are long and there are points of detailed description littered throughout. This is generally the opposite approach than the advice you would get in critiques for how to write an action scene.

Just an observation. Has writing moved on?
 

The Bluestocking

Bloody Mary in Blue
Joined
Feb 20, 2014
Messages
1,381
Location
The Afterlife
I just read this and whilst I wouldn't necessarily share the view that it is a masterclass - there were aspects of this I didn't think were great (the POV is all over the place) - I agree that it's a nice piece of writing that holds you in the moment and gets the adrenalin going. The really interesting part is that the sentences are long and there are points of detailed description littered throughout. This is generally the opposite approach than the advice you would get in critiques for how to write an action scene.

Just an observation. Has writing moved on?
You may quibble with it and point out that McCammon has basically disregarded the rules of advice for writing action scenes but... it WORKS. I've re-read it recently (while taking notes) - it's the detailed description that gives it its intensely cinematic quality and the pacing is done very well.

It's horses for courses. I find it a great example of an action scene involving a chase and in a recent discussion elsewhere, this is the general consensus.

A rule is a rule until it's successfully subverted or stretched for a particular type of fiction or scene. Some authors can make it work, others can't. It depends on their style, the function of the scene etc. McCammon made that scene work despite the points you've noted and IMHO, it's worth looking at how he did it.
 
Last edited:
Top