How to Write Great Action Scenes

Updated on June 3rd, 2021
How to Write Great Action Scenes

Action scenes are an important part of any book or movie, and they need to be written correctly for the audience to enjoy them. This is where character development comes into play. It's not just about how much action there is, but why it matters and what it does for the story.

There are many ways to write action scenes. Action scenes can be used as a bridge between two different parts of the plot, or they may serve as the climax for a scene. This guide will talk about some tips on writing effective action scenes that will keep your readers hooked!

Elements of Action Scenes

Before we start talking about the right way to write action sequences, let us understand the basic difference between the two elements of writing an action scene.

Fight Scene: These are the scenes where two characters fight each other and have a series of actions. They build up in intensity throughout the scene until one character finally defeats another (or vice versa).

Action Sequence: This is when there's a long, intricate sequence that doesn't focus on any main character or development. Instead, it focuses on an event happening over time. It could include anything from sword fights to car chases!

A good action scene contains small and good fight scenes which build up to an action sequence.

Types of Fight Styles

When you start writing an action scene, you need to know which types of fights you want to include. Below we have mentioned five major types of fight styles.

Hand-to-Hand Fights

This is a fight where both the characters use fists and other body parts to hit each other. It is when the good and bad guys get into a brawl or fistfight.

A good example of the best fight scenes would be the martial arts fights commonly done by Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee. It could also be boxing matches like the one in Raging Bull.

Weapon Fights

This is when one or both characters use weapons such as swords, daggers, or guns. Sometimes, one of the characters might even be bare-handed.

One example of this could be from The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Here, Wesley is fighting with Inigo Montoya, who has a sword. Most battle scenes fall under this category.

Sci-Fi Fights

This is what you traditionally see in science fiction films like Star Wars. It's typically an alien creature fighting against a man of the earth. But sometimes, it could be between two people who have different powers from outer space.

When you think about sci-fi fights, the first example that comes to mind is Star Wars. Here, Darth Vader is fighting Obi-Wan Kenobi, which contains the use of supernatural elements.

One example is from Star Wars Episode IV - Return of the Jedi by George Lucas when Luke Skywalker fights with Darth Vader on Death Star II/Star Destroyer II, after he was rescued from Jabba.

Active Fights

These are fights that happen on the run. It means that the characters would go through multiple locations in the fight. This is perhaps one of the most thrilling fighting styles. In this style, you can often see a chase scene along with the character's motivations.

An example of active fights would be the chapter Fight Club from Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This book is about people who practice fighting as a form of release and entertainment in their dystopian society. Here books are outlawed, so all they did was watch TV. 

The action scenes take place when a character challenges another to a duel at his apartment on the fifth floor. They run through each room of his house while climbing up the stairway to get higher ground. They then jump out onto the balcony for more space before going back inside again. This is until he reaches the top floor and jumps off the roof into the alley below!

Tips for Writing Action Scenes

No matter which type of fighting style and the scene you opt for, the write-up has to grab the readers' attention. Depending on whether it is a book or a novel, the detailing will change. However, the writing style and tone remain the same.

Below are some essential tips to writing fight scenes.

Research

It is important to do a lot of research before writing an action sequence. You can do this by looking at other books and movies having excellent fight scenes. You can even consult with experts on the subject matter in question.

Researching will give you ideas for describing moves. For example, what it would feel like if the character punched someone in the stomach or how they might defend themselves from being choked. 

It also gives you insight into various fighting styles so that your characters are not just throwing punches at each other. Rather they would be doing something more realistic while still keeping things entertaining for readers.

Consequences

It is important to think about the consequences of what people are doing. For example, if someone throws a punch at another character, it will impact that person's body. Moreover, it will also have an impact on their mental and emotional state.

Understanding how these things interact with one another can give you a better idea of your characters as they go through various fighting sequences.

Characters should not just be throwing punches without consequence or thought put into them for the sake of entertainment. This would mean that violence does not weigh our society - something we cannot afford now more than ever.

Think carefully about what happens when two fighters engage each other. This way, you do not end up having any unintentional messages behind some scenes.

Show, Don't Tell

Make a layout of the action scenes you want to write about. This could be a diagram showing the various positions of people in different fighting scenes. It could also be just some rough sketches if you are feeling more artistic. 

You must know what your characters are doing and where they stand at any given moment. This will make it easier for us, as an audience, to understand how events unfold. Writers should avoid choreography at all costs. This is the time to show your writing skills and take the story forward.

You do not have to include every detail in the write-up; you just have to put enough to help the readers visualize. It is necessary to have a general idea of what you want to happen and how it should be shown.

Visual

When painting the picture, do not leave out the important details. You need to help them paint a picture of the action scene going on. Visualization is important when you write these actions and fight scenes. The reader should visualize the characters, where they are, and what is going on.

If you want your readers to feel like they are there while reading, you must put in all of these details. People can picture themselves in whatever environment or situation they have created.

For example, "the man threw his sword at her. She dodged with a graceful move some might say was inhuman for a human being. He drew his blade back from the ground swiftly before lunging towards her again." 

There is no action without movement. When writing an action scene, make sure that verbs match up with nouns to create this sense of motion.

React

When describing a physical scene, you need to keep the emotions alive. How are they feeling during the fight? What do they feel when they realize a loved one betrayed them?

Having reactions to the actions in an action scene will add more depth to your scenes. Action Scenes are a delicate balance between showing and telling the reader what is happening at a particular moment in time. 

It's important that you put in all of these details-the people can picture themselves around whatever environment or situation you have created. The character's reaction is essential to a good story and an established story structure.

Realistic Emotion

Emotion does not go away in an action scene; in fact, it is quite enhanced. However, the use of emotions needs to be realistic. If a character is in a fight, they are feeling an adrenaline rush. They might be happy to hurt the other person or afraid of being harmed themselves. 

You must keep these emotions in mind when writing your action scenes. It will make them more realistic for readers and help create believability with what is happening on the page.

There can always be some sort of emotional response from characters during an action scene as well. This could manifest itself through anger, fear, relief, love, or any other reactions. This is because people don't just turn off their feelings when things get rough. 

There needs to still be something going inside their heads so that we feel connected with the story.

Become a Little Unreal

Action scenes are difficult to write because they need to be fast-paced and full of action. This is where we can get "unreal" as the writer, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in fiction writing. There need to be little escapes from the real-life. However, what makes you a better writer is understanding that thin line between real and unreal.

The reader needs to feel like they're on air during an action scene to become more exciting for them. They should read through these sections quickly while still being engaged with what's happening between the characters.

It might take the writer some trial and error before finding out how much detail your readers want from this type of scene. It also requires research if any specific details make everything worse (i.e., gore).

Example: The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

In The Silver Chair, there's a scene where Eustace is running from the Green Lady. He falls, and she grabs him by his hair and drags him across the ground before he finally gets away. This scene was very effective in showing how helpless Eustace felt at the time. 

It also showed the Green Lady’s strength as an antagonist. This made it even more frightening for readers to think of what might happen next. Such a kind of action-making is particularly strong when we're dealing with a different type of situation.

The writer can't solve these situations just through dialogue or analyzing it from afar on paper-both of which you should do too! Ergo, action scenes need to have a lot going on. You should be able to put your reader in the character’s shoes! 

The Bottom Line

Action Scenes should be intense and full of detail. They should be like a scene from an episode of Game of Thrones or Harry Potter. When writing action, it is important not just for the character but also for readers to feel what the character is feeling.

Make sure that there’s enough going on, so people don't get bored while reading. Just an exchange of dialogue between two people is not enough. There need to be tons happening around them, too, if you want your audience engaged!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Average Length Of An Action Scene?

It depends on the genre and what type of action you're writing. If it's a movie fight scene, then they might be as short as 30 seconds long.

On the other hand, if it's an epic fantasy novel with sword fighting, then those scenes can take up large chunks of time and pages in your story. 

Length doesn't seem to matter too much because readers will get sucked into wanting to know what happens next!

How Do You Write an Action Scene for a Screenplay?

There are a lot of different ways to write action scenes for movies. If you're writing an action scene in the script, there will be short moments where the characters talk and interact. The screenwriter makes them interact before launching into these big confrontations.

The camera moves around as they move so that we can feel like we're right in the middle of it all! Hollywood directors do this often and have great success doing so. This is because it's not easy to sustain viewer interest without showing some development happening on screen. 

These small snippets make them more real and alive. They don't just stand or sit still while talking. Instead, they walk about and shake their hands out after punching someone.