There are guidelines for writing action scenes or at least suggestions that seem to work. In my writing I’ve found six points that help keep my action scenes on track. They are:
- Keep the scene short. Action scenes by nature are fast paced and therefore shouldn’t take long. Think of the car crash you may have witnessed or the police shootout video you may have seen on the nightly news. These are very violent and generally very brief events. It’s likely why in movies the action scenes are often shot in slow motion.
- Keep the paragraphs short. This is a corollary of the first point. A short scene made of short paragraphs increases the tension and moves the action along. There’s no time for rumination, no space for contemplating one’s navel. It’s the hero does A, then B, then C, then on to the next scene.
- Use action words and avoid adverbs. Obviously, since it’s an action scene your words should reflect the action. That means no lazy verbs. And no “-ly” modifiers. For example, instead of saying, “John ran very fast to the entrance,” say something like, “In a crouch John sprinted for the entrance.” And, avoid, “He drew his gun on the victims angrily.” Instead maybe try, “He pulled the gun intent on dispatching the victims with prejudice.”
- Make your dialog brief. If your hero is fighting the bad guys he’s probably too winded to have a long conversation. So, short dialog is a must. Besides, a long conversation slows the action and takes the audience out of the immediacy of the scene.
- Avoid rambling internal dialog. This follows from the previous point. A long involved internal dialog about your hero’s childhood pet cocker spaniel has no place in an action scene. Like a long section of spoken dialog, long internal dialog will ruin it for your audience. Better to save the internal dialog for the moments after that exciting action scene when you allow your hero to decompress.
- Avoid long descriptions. Action involves moments that occur in a flurry of flashes and blurs. Descriptions should reflect that sudden, it was there one moment and then gone in the next, situation of action scenes.
After viewing The Lord of the Rings movies I read the books. And I noticed one interesting difference. Unlike in the movies, the battle scenes in Tolkien’s books were short and to the point. No drawn out descriptions, no long speeches, no lazy verbs. He used an economy of words that served the purpose of advancing the story.
Take a page from Tolkien’s books and make those action scenes short and sweet.