Writers Wisdom 101: Pulse-Pounding Action Scenes

Happy Friday Lovelies!

How has your week been treating you? I know it’s only the second week of the New Year, but man, 2019 has already been busy!

If you’re feeling the same, I’m so thankful you decided to take some time out of your busy schedule to visit this week, and so excited to share another bit of Writer’s Wisdom with you! Let’s get started! 

Writing Pulse-Pounding Action Scenes

Author Eric Dabbs - Gold River

If you’re like most writers you probably dread writing a fast-paced action scene. You may feel like your action sequences are stilted and difficult to read. 

Regardless of what genre you write, the odds are, sooner or later the tension and stakes in your story are going to escalate into a heated confrontation that may result in a fist fight, a car chase, or even a violent struggle to stay alive.

eric dabbs

So, how do you write an action scene that is readable, believable, and that delivers the punch of adrenaline you’re so desperately striving for? Let’s break it down and simplify the process by identifying three key components of a successful action scene. 

The three keys are:

First of all, don’t sweat it! Just write the scene.

Visualize the events in your head as if you’re watching it unfold in a movie. Put yourself in the middle of the action. Hear the train rumbling in the background. Feel the mud between your character’s fingers as she struggles to the top of the hill. Let her heart pound in your ears as she tries to escape the serial killer in the trench coat under the light of a full moon. But most importantly, write the scene as it plays out in your mind, like any other scene, but make sure you feel it, see it, hear it, and taste it. Make sure you are fully invested. Your goal is to get the reader caught up in the action, and to do so, it’ll need to be in proper order. This will make the events readable and believable. Here’s a sample from my novella, Gold River, in which my main character, Tom Logan, gets tossed from a plane moments before he regains consciousness: 

                                                                                       *

Light seeped into the perimeter of Tom’s vision like the sun rising early in the morning.

Someone grabbed him by the shoulders, dragged him away from the sound of Kate’s voice, and then slung him into a whirling vortex of wind. And Tom was falling like he was in one of those nightmares he had as a kid. Except this felt way too real.

His eyes opened with a start.

What the?

He saw his boots set against the backdrop of a clear blue sky.

The G-forces pressed against his chest, making it difficult to breathe. The wind blared in his ears like a thousand sheets ruffling in a hurricane, drowning out the sound of his voice—screaming as loud as he could.

An air pocket slammed into him and sent him tumbling, spinning, falling. He caught views of a yellow plane above him, green, tree-topped mountains beneath him, then the plane again, then the mountains…a woman falling from the plane…and then the mountains again.

                                                                                       *

So, what do we have here? The sequence of events are listed as they unfold, or as the point-of-view character experiences them, each second broken down and described for the readers. First, he wakes up in mid-air, then his senses take over. He sees his boots and the sky, realizes he’s in deep trouble. Then he feels the gravitational forces of his plummet through the sky. Next, he hears the rush of wind and his own voice, screaming. Finally, he experiences firsthand the joys of an unexpected free fall through the heavens.

Varying sentence length goes for any scene, but it’s especially necessary when writing an action scene. Why is that? Again, it comes down to rhythm and flow, but it also creates a back and forth see-saw effect on the reader that keeps them off balance and on the edge of their seat. It’s a back and forth. Up and down. Under and over, full stop! Back into the action kind of thing that gets a reader’s heart thumping in their chest.

 

Let’s go back to Tom Logan’s skydive:

 

                                                                                      *

It only took a glimpse of her chestnut hair and a vague outline of her face for Tom to realize the truth, Kate Lockhart faced the same predicament as he did; plummeting toward the rugged mountain peaks with only air between them and the ground.

Frantically, Tom patted his chest and shoulders, and discovered he was wearing a backpack. More accurately a parachute. After a desperate search, he found the ripcord and gave it a pull.

Nothing happened.

                                                                                       *

You may notice that the first sentence is long. My intent was to set-up the reader, get them pulled into the situation on this thrill ride so they get a good sense of what Tom, and now Kate, are experiencing. After that, I introduce a mid-length sentence followed by a short one. Then I add a sentence that’s a little bit longer, and finally I throw in a really short stand-alone sentence. If you put yourself in the moment, you’ll learn how to develop a feel or instinct for writing these kind of sequences.

Now that you’ve hammered out the first draft of your action scene with pulse-pounding sentences that put your reader in the middle of the turmoil, now you can set the pace by using short paragraphs to escalate the tension and set the speed of the unfolding events. 

We can use the example of Tom’s predicament as he tries to figure out a way to avoid becoming a greasy spot on the side of the mountain.

                                                                                      *

Wind swirled around him like he was spiraling through the heart of an F5 twister.

The tree tops along the mountainside awaited his impact. Luckily, there was a back-up chute. He pulled the handle and the canopy opened with a whoosh, but it was too late. His downward momentum couldn’t be stopped.

Tom plunged into a world of green. Limbs and foliage clawed at him as he dropped like his boots were full of lead. He had the distinct feeling that this must be what it was like to be tossed in a salad bowl. The leaves were relentless. They crammed up his nose and filled his mouth with the bitter taste of chlorophyll.

Twenty feet from the ground, his parachute chords snagged a branch and snapped his body like a bull whip. His left shoulder dislocated, the pain roaring so intensely that he nearly blacked out. All he could do was dangle in mid-air, his body weight stressing the branch to its limit.

A warm sensation ran down his pants leg and trickled onto the ground below. Tom groaned in disbelief as his urine splattered onto the leaves of the surrounding plant life, and unfortunately, drew the attention of a jaguar that happened to be nearby. The creature’s black fur bristled as it stared at him with a pair of hungry yellow eyes.

“Nice kitty,” Tom said in the middle of a painful grimace.

His confidence grew when he realized he was high enough in the tree to be safe from the big cat’s reach. A smile crept across his face. Then the limb cracked and he fell.

                                                                                        *

You may notice that in this entire action scene, there aren’t any long or super long paragraphs to be found. That’s intentional. As Tom falls through the sky, I don’t want the reader to have a chance to relax. I want them plummeting through the clouds with him. To accomplish this, I use length variations at the sentence and paragraph levels. Finally, once I help Tom survive, I end the chapter or scene with another problem for him to overcome, which will hopefully make the reader want to flip the page.

There are other elements to writing an action scene, like description and dialogue, but I wanted to cover the basics in this article. It’s worth remembering that with any heart-stopping moment, to be careful not to over describe or get too carried away with the detail of the world surrounding your characters. Make sure that you stay focused and well within your character’s point-of-view. This will help you tell the story through the senses of your main character, and ensure that the proper amount of adrenaline is rushing through your reader’s veins.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look into writing an action scene. Below, I’ve included a link to my author website, my Twitter page, and my profile on Wattpad so you can follow me if you like. My novella, Gold River, is set to be released in the Spring of 2019. Thank you for reading! Now, go write that pulse-pounding action scene!

What do you think? Do your stories include lots of high-adrenaline action scenes? What tips or tricks have you picked up in your writing? 

Comment below with something you picked up from this article, or share one of your tips below! Let’s learn and expand our crafts together!

Happy Writing!

About Our Guest:

eric dabbs

Eric Dabbs is an ocean lover and stargazer who loves to snorkel and read. He considers himself a beach bum as well as a writer. He is the author of Gold River, The American Agent, Ocean Blue, and Titan X on Wattpad. He lives with his wife and two sons, and a mini schnauzer named Daisy.

For more information about Eric, you can connect with him on his blog, Twitter, or Wattpad. 

JM Sullivan

Teacher by day, award-winning author by night, J.M. Sullivan is a fairy tale fanatic who loves taking classic stories and turning them on their head. She has a passion for the writing community and loves empowering and encouraging other authors on social media with #AuthorConfession. When she’s not buried in her laptop, you can find her watching scary movies with her husband, playing with her kids, or serving homage to her cats. Although known to dabble in adulting, J.M. is a big kid at heart who still believes in true love, magic, and most of all, the power of coffee. If you would like to connect with J.M., you can find her on her website www.jmsullivanbooks.com, on social media at @jmsullivanbooks, or by joining the fun at #AuthorConfession--she’d love to hear from you.

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