• Published a book you want to tell us about? Uploaded a YouTube video you want to share?

    Normally you'll need 100 posts to self-promote, but with an upgraded membership you can do so with your first post.

    Find out more here: Become a Supporting Member

How do you write hooking action scenes?

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
Joined
May 11, 2018
Messages
228
Location
UK
@The Bluestocking, just to be clear, I did like the scene. I am supportive of your point - there's more than one way to write an effective action scene. For me it was pleasing to read, not least because I tend to write in longer sentences even in action scenes.
 

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
Messages
2,281
@The Bluestocking, just to be clear, I did like the scene. I am supportive of your point - there's more than one way to write an effective action scene. For me it was pleasing to read, not least because I tend to write in longer sentences even in action scenes.
You can use long sentences in action scenes - just that if people are pointing it out, you've failed to do it well. I suppose we (including me) are failing somewhat as critiquers if we say "Use Short Sentences" instead of "Do Long Sentences Better Or Use Short Sentences" (although I will now hide behind the technicality of me advocating a mix :p)

Ditto PoV being all over the place (something Gemmell does a lot too).
 

thaddeus6th

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Sep 15, 2007
Messages
6,536
Location
UK, Yorkshire
Words that convey impact can work well. Things like a helmet buckling, sweat trickling down the neck, the smell of blood, the confines of a helmet.

Pace is important, but not everything has to be frenetic. A duel could start off cagily, and battles often have stop-and-start phases (a reserve might do nothing but watch the entire thing, or just engage at the end).

One thing I found handy for writing medieval stuff was watching HEMA-type fencing videos on Youtube, simply to get an idea of what strokes might be used.
 

Writersmirror

Member
Joined
May 10, 2019
Messages
22
Uff! You're so awesome, guys. But I'm not really satisfied with those tips. Mmh... How about by giving an example of the techniques you use.
 

Cathbad

Level 30 Geek Master
Joined
Dec 9, 2015
Messages
9,096
Location
Everywhere.
Uff! You're so awesome, guys. But I'm not really satisfied with those tips. Mmh... How about by giving an example of the techniques you use.
I tend to write "before" and "after" combat scenes. Like I said, I don't like writing combat scenes. ;)
 

Ashleyne

Shhh. I think they're listening
Joined
Apr 19, 2014
Messages
575
A good fight scene is more than just people trying to cause physical damage. Fights are about exerting power over the combatants' relationship.

When you're standing toe to toe with someone's who's disrespecting you, how on earth are you gonna look yourself in the mirror if you let them win! How important is your army's victory? What are you fighting for? Are you scared it might be your last?

The best way to make an action scene hook is by giving an interesting character something to lose, and something to gain. And make sure every action effects the POV character/s.
 

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
Joined
May 11, 2018
Messages
228
Location
UK
Uff! You're so awesome, guys. But I'm not really satisfied with those tips. Mmh... How about by giving an example of the techniques you use.
I'm not a good enough writer to give examples but if you want a case study then check out my last two posts on Critiques. It's the opening of my second book and is mostly an action scene. If you read the critiques you can see the suggestions people have given me, the changes I've made in the second attempt and the subsequent critique of that piece. It's still not right but understanding what is wrong with it may be as useful as reading correct examples.

There are probably others in there you can dive into as well.
 

Writersmirror

Member
Joined
May 10, 2019
Messages
22
@Plucky Novice Good point. But every author defines differently action.
@Ashleyne Yeah. Emotions are important. However, they’re important for every scene! Is a romance scene romantic if the characters don’t show feelings? Is the scene scary if the character doesn't shiver? You see. – Every author should build in feelings in every scene. That also shows it, not telling it.
 

The Bluestocking

Bloody Mary in Blue
Joined
Feb 20, 2014
Messages
1,386
Location
The Afterlife
Uff! You're so awesome, guys. But I'm not really satisfied with those tips. Mmh... How about by giving an example of the techniques you use.
There are several types of action scenes - fight scenes, chase scenes, race scenes (for sports), disaster scenes (e.g. earthquakes), heist scenes. So it depends on what you want tips on because every type needs a slightly different approach.

In my novella, I've done a scene where a heist goes wrong in public (on a livestream reality show to millions of viewers, no less) and used a mix of short sentences, longer sentences broken up into several short clauses with nearly every clause had an impact verb, e.g. "punched", "shrieked", "struggled", "gasped", "kicked", "snatched".

The tussle that broke out between my MC (a kitsune who was conducting the heist) and the mark (a corrupt banshee who was wearing the artifact the MC was supposed to steal) was partly based on my memories of my messy, grabby fights with my sister when we were kids. Girls and women fight differently from boys and men - lots more hair-pulling and snatching at the opponent's jewelry and clothing, chasing about, and screaming insults at each other for example.

We also follow the MC's thoughts as she struggles to get hold of the artifact, helped along by her heist partner (the tech expert) whose increasingly frantic instructions and feedback via an mic/earpiece in the MC's earring also kept the pace moving fast.

I also made sure the audience reaction and the general chaos that erupted were depicted in a very visual manner in order to heighten the tension and kinetic feel of the scene.

But then, this is how I wrote it (and it worked - everyone who has ever read that scene enjoyed it immensely). Someone else might write a heist action scene very differently, using other methods and techniques.

Other tips:

1. Using action scenes from more visual storytelling forms for inspiration (and taking notes)


In a different WIP, I wrote a food fight that takes its inspiration from a fight scene in Jet Li's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA where Wong Fei-Hung (the legendary martial arts master) tries to prevent a powder-keg situation between the Chinese and the British from blowing up by personally stepping into a free-for-all group fight between different local martial arts guilds in a British tearoom in Shanghai - he literally uses his fighting skills to break up and STOP every fight. I watched the scene, took notes on the beats of the action and wrote down a list of actions, verbs etc, then worked it into the DNA of the set-up of my scene (a pacifist Reaper using his superb fighting skills to break up a food fight between a large group of various supernaturals).

Other visual forms might include comics/graphic novels, live stage action, animated movies, and paintings.

2. Literally learning and mastering the form of action in real life

I know @Juliana took up sword-fighting so that she could have a first-hand feel for that sort of fight scene (and it has paid off in spades - her sword-fighting scenes are excellent).

3. Learning by watching YouTube videos

Plenty of folks watch YouTube videos of various martial arts styles etc to see how it's done. I'm watching car chase scenes and parkour/free-running on YouTube because the novella I'm currently writing is a road trip with lots of car chases and my little kitsune chasing after or being chased after on foot a lot.

4. Knowing your characters and their motivations... and how they respond to potential violence triggers

You'll need to know your characters VERY well and what traits of theirs can be weaponised or deployed in a fight or chase or race etc. That would in turn dictate what the fight would be like, what you can use to ramp up the tension etc.

For example:

John Wick - Some idiot macho greenhorn gangsters dragged him out of retirement by killing the puppy his late wife gifted to him and thus interrupted his mourning period over her death from cancer. Since he happens to be the baddest-of-the-bad hitman with a superhuman affinity for guns in that 'verse, we get a revenge drama with a ton of gun-fu and non-stop over-the-top violence.

My little kitsune - She's a fox burglar who doesn't like physical confrontations with anybody. She'd rather sneak about getting her jobs done in stealth. However, when her hand is forced, she uses her talent for generating directed chaos around her in order to distract/infuriate/occupy other people while she does what she wants to do. And if she has no other choice, she uses all the attributes she is born with that can be used in a fight - her retractable claws, her perternatural agility (so in chases she does parkour/free-running instead of just legging it like normal people), her tails (for maximum whump-in-the-face impact), and her talent for unpredictability and improvising on the fly.

Hope this helps.
 
Last edited:

The Bluestocking

Bloody Mary in Blue
Joined
Feb 20, 2014
Messages
1,386
Location
The Afterlife
You can use long sentences in action scenes - just that if people are pointing it out, you've failed to do it well. I suppose we (including me) are failing somewhat as critiquers if we say "Use Short Sentences" instead of "Do Long Sentences Better Or Use Short Sentences" (although I will now hide behind the technicality of me advocating a mix :p)

Ditto PoV being all over the place (something Gemmell does a lot too).
I'm guessing it's all in the execution - the key is (probably) to make sure that if you break or bend the rules, you do it in a way that works for that particular character or scene or book.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
17,141
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
@Plucky Novice Good point. But every author defines differently action.
@Ashleyne Yeah. Emotions are important. However, they’re important for every scene! Is a romance scene romantic if the characters don’t show feelings? Is the scene scary if the character doesn't shiver? You see. – Every author should build in feelings in every scene. That also shows it, not telling it.
Which brings me back to my original comment in this thread. To see if yours works, or what does or doesn't work in it, we'd need to see an example of how you are currently writing action scenes. For something like this, you don't need to use something from your WIP if you prefer not to have it up in public (some people worry about others nicking their idea - I've never known that to happen), you could just draft a short scene for the purposes of review.

We can talk until we're blue in the face about How to write an action scene - but that doesn't help you that much. But, instead we can look at how you are, and then advise, and that does help.

In terms of reviewing some of our work and how we do it, pop over to critiques and look through them. A fair few will be action scenes. Alternatively, a good lot of Chronners are published authors, have a look at the Amazon sample to see how they do it - @HareBrain , when unmasked, is Bryan Wigmore, for instance, I'm under the very original Jo Zebedee, Cathbad is Cathbad Maponus, Brian G Turner, Teresa Egerton, there are plenty of us where you can pop over and look at our work.

Looking at how I do an action scene won't give you an answer. I write deep in point of view. I have short actiony bits, interspersed with longer exposition (usually thoughts cos my posse think too damn much), and spooky little bits of foreboding. That's not necessarily the approach that will work for you.

I'm sorry if I sound harsh. But it sounds like you're chasing the Holy Grail of How To Write through asking questions when, really, the cup of life is actually writing. :(
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
4,571
I wrote a food fight that takes its inspiration from a fight scene in Jet Li's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA where Wong Fei-Hung (the legendary martial arts master) tries to prevent a powder-keg situation between the Chinese and the British from blowing up
That is such an awesome film. The bit with the umbrella is fantastic. As an aside, I always found it interesting how the American villain is clearly using some kind of martial art, but has a much more brawling style than the Chinese characters - a nice bit of characterisation. Good point about the use of particular verbs: a fight where the characters "leap" a lot is going to look very different to one where they grapple or headbutt.

The fight between Swelter and Flay in Titus Groan uses very long sentences, and analyses the way the two men fight in great detail - but then it's a very wordy and/or poetic book anyway, and they are such different people that it's worth going into that much detail. Also, the perspective is very detached, so the author can say "Flay did this because he was like X, but Swelter did that because he was like Y", without writing from any one viewpoint.
 

The Bluestocking

Bloody Mary in Blue
Joined
Feb 20, 2014
Messages
1,386
Location
The Afterlife
That is such an awesome film. The bit with the umbrella is fantastic. As an aside, I always found it interesting how the American villain is clearly using some kind of martial art, but has a much more brawling style than the Chinese characters - a nice bit of characterisation. Good point about the use of particular verbs: a fight where the characters "leap" a lot is going to look very different to one where they grapple or headbutt.
The rope-and-ladders fight is also fantastic!

In many Cantonese wuxia and action movies, Western/White villains are often depicted as coarse brawlers relying on brute strength as a contrast to the powerful grace of Chinese wuxia fighters. It's a handy shorthand for showing how Chinese people in the movie view White people as "red-haired demons" (Hong Mo Gwai / Hong Mao Gui).*

And yeah - the types of verbs used depend very much on the fighting style. A useful exercise is to watch various fighting matches on YouTube, in movies and TV series etc to see how each character moves. Today, I'd just come back from watching JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM and was struck by how different Keanu Reeves' style is from Halle Berry. Keanu is more brute force and less grace. Halle is all balletic action - very fluid moves.

*Note: I am of Chinese descent so I'm commenting from the point of view of many people in my culture. Not a very flattering one and it's xenophobic but colonialism and the Opium Wars (and Spice Wars down in Southeast Asia) soured a whole lot of folks along the Pacific Rim when it comes to white people.

The fight between Swelter and Flay in Titus Groan uses very long sentences, and analyses the way the two men fight in great detail - but then it's a very wordy and/or poetic book anyway, and they are such different people that it's worth going into that much detail. Also, the perspective is very detached, so the author can say "Flay did this because he was like X, but Swelter did that because he was like Y", without writing from any one viewpoint.
Yeah, POV definitely affects how an action scene feels.
 

MikeAnderson

Emperor Xenu's Life Coach
Joined
May 15, 2019
Messages
88
Location
Reanimating Richard Nixon
Who cares 'bout logic and artistic integrity? (jk) Big booms=big merch money and movie rights! Logic doesn't get your characters immortalized with Funko Dolls and bad AMC TV adaptations! (again, please don't take my advice seriously!):p
 
Top