Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to write realistic action scenes

Carson wrote:

How do I write an action scene that is both realistic and exciting?

Hi Carson,
You asked how to write believable action scenes. I do great action (or so I've been told) and the best advice I can offer you is watch action films and Youtube fight videos --they will help to give you a visual frame of reference. When I write action scenes, I plan them out and then go over them, frame by frame,  as if I'm watching and pausing an action movie in my mind. Then I deliver a very clear description of what is happening in the story and who it's happening to. Here's an example from my completed novel, The First:
            She took a deep, slow breath and a step back. “Don’t touch me.” Drunk or sober, Sanford was an asshole but at least when he was sober he had slightly better judgment. As it stood, it looked like someone was getting their bell rung. And it wasn’t going to be her. She shifted her body into a defensive stance, ready for a fight.
            He smiled. “Whaddya gonna do,” he sneered and closed the gap between them. “Shoot me?” He drilled his pointer into the center of her chest again. Okay, asshole. Game on.
            She snatched his finger off her chest and bent it back until she heard the pop. Sanford howled and swung wildly with his free arm. She blocked the blow with her forearm and gave him a hard crack in the nose with her elbow. Stunned, he tried to stumble back but the grip she had on his finger kept him tethered. She delivered a face-crushing head-butt that drew blood and he swung again, this time clipping her in the side of the head. Pain shot through her temple but it was fleeting. He’d always been sloppy in a fight but what he lacked in skill, he more than made up for in blind rage. Once he started swinging, he wouldn’t stop until he was put down. Hard.
            He caught her in the ribs with a ham-handed jab that stole her breath. Using the grip she had on his finger like a rudder, she shoved him backward, jerking him to the side before she let go. The force, and the fact he smelled like he was sweating pure booze, sent him stumbling away from her and she used the time and space it created to shed her jacket.
            As soon as it hit the ground, Sanford zeroed in on her SIG. He stood a few feet away, cradling his abused finger, dripping blood all over her cobblestone walkway. Instead of giving him second thoughts, the sight of her gun seemed to give him hope.

Here's another:

                “I’m not gonna shoot you. I’m gonna beat you stupid.” She closed the distance between them, leading with her knee and he instinctively moved to block. She dropped it at the last second and caught him in the face with a right-cross that gave the gift of stars. Adrenaline surged, triggered by the blow.
            Slammed back into the dresser, surprise was fleeting. He circled around, gauging her excellent stance and flawless technique. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, surprised that he actually meant it.
            She said nothing, just circled right to cover his dominant hand. She surged again, this time to the left. She caught him with a devastating combo, cracking her elbow against his temple before she tattooed her fist into his kidney. Grabbing onto his shirt, she jerked him forward to deliver a flat-palmed jab to his mouth and nose. The stitches holding the fabric together gave way under her grip. The shoulder seam separated and she shoved him back.
            “You’re not fighting back.” The fact that he refused to hit her seemed to rile her temper even more.
            “I don’t hit girls.” He reached up to massage the feeling back into his jaw. She said nothing, just growled and charged. She was a blur—arms and fists, knees and feet raining down on him. He became not only the catalyst for her rage, but its conduit as well.
            “Fight back!” she screamed. Her temper boiled over, made her reckless. She was out of control, too far gone to be reasoned with.
            “Enough!” He barreled through her defenses and slipped his hands around her throat. He planted a leg behind her and took her to the floor. He straddled her, knees bracketing her chest.
            She continued to fight, switching to dirty tactics without batting an eye. She slipped her thumb into his mouth and hooked it around his face before pulling back with enough force to rip it open. He felt the corner of his mouth begin to separate. Her other thumb sought the soft spot of his eye, intent on burying itself knuckle deep in the spongy tissue. She was no longer sparring. She was brawling and she wouldn’t be satisfied until he bled.
            With no small amount of relief he slipped his pointer and middle finger under her jaw, against the nerve that rode high, just under her ear lobe. Pressing ruthlessly, he managed to avoid blindness but couldn’t slip the fish hook in his mouth until he bit down on her thumb with enough force to draw blood.
            “…bit me,” she wheezed out. “You’re the girl!” She struggled to get his hands off her throat.
            “Stop it!” he yelled, inches from her face and she gave once final surge, trying to buck him off.
            “Fuck you!” For a split second he thought the pressure point wouldn’t work. Then her eyes fluttered and slammed shut, the applied pressure finally knocking her out.

Both scenes offer clear, decisive action. You know who is doing what and how they're doing it. In action scenes, it's very easy for your characters to get physically tangled. If not careful, we end up writing scenes that are either physically impossible or leave the reader completely baffled as to who is doing what. Remember:
Get a visual frame of reference.
Plan out your scene.
Write it out, frame by frame--giving your reader a blow by blow (literally) account of the action.

Hope this helps, Carson and thanks for the cool blog topic!

Got a plot problem? E-mail it to me at

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. I'm not doing hand to hand this week, but I love the idea of watching it happen like a movie.