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Fantiction Writing Tips - Writing a Good Action Scene

Fanfiction Writing Tips: Writing a Good Action Scene

I remember the first time someone commented on one of my fics and said something about how great my action was in the story. I felt like looking over my shoulder and seeing who they were talking to, because surely it couldn’t be me. Needless to say, writing action hasn’t always one of my strong suits. But after writing a few action-packed stories, it has become a little easier.

Here are some of my tips for writing a good gun battle, fist fight, etc.

Watch action scenes

Certainly that’s a given but when I say watch, I really mean it. You’ve got to pay attention to what is happening on screen. Everything usually happens fast so you may have to pause and rewind the ol’DVR, but when you do, you will see exactly what is going on. Once you see it, you can describe it, and once you can describe action, you can start thinking up some of you own.

Read action scenes

Now I’m not advising people to go out and just start stealing other people’s work. I’m talking about reading how another author has described an action sequence so that you get a feel for it. Especially if reading it makes you really feel it – like you are there watching everything happen. Did they describe every single movement or just a few? Did they add emotion to the sequence or not? Noticing things like this will help you to write you own scenes.

Get up out of that chair

One action scene that I’m proud of is a fight I wrote in my NCIS fanfic “Silent Night”. I knew that it needed to be a real knock down, drag out battle and frankly, I was very intimidated before I started it. I had a vague idea in my head of what I wanted to happen, but just couldn’t figure out the details. So at one point I got up out of my chair and started acting it out. I’m sure if anyone happened to be looking in my window (no easy feat since I live on the third floor, thank goodness), they would have thought it a very strange sight. I punched the air, got onto the floor, kicked at an imaginary opponent; basically I walked myself through the entire fight. When all was said and done I ended up learning a lot. I also got lots of positive reviews about the fight when I posted that chapter.

Take kick-boxing classes, self-defense classes, a firearm training course, etc.

Okay so I haven’t actually done this one yet, but it’s something I’m dying to do. Ever since I first saw Buffy kick some major vampire ass, I wanted to learn to fight. I’m just under 5’1”, so I’m sure any vampire would take one look at me and laugh, but I still want to do it. I also think that once I’ve learned how to do some of those moves, especially practicing with a partner, I’ll have a better idea of how to write a fight.

I’ve heard that people should write what they know and there’s no doubt that the words come a lot easier when I’m describing something that I myself have experienced. That doesn’t mean I have to go out and find some demons to fight or go and capture criminals, but every extra skill I learn helps me with my writing. After going to a firing range and learning firearm safety and how to fire a gun, I noticed right away how much easier it was to write scenes involving weapons.

How about you? What has helped you to write a good action scene?

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  • Laine

    Couldn’t agree more! For me, fight scenes used to be terrifying but now – not so much! (Although there’s always room for improvement). Moki mentioned getting up out of the chair and acting out the scene and this certainly does help to get the creative juices and descriptions flowing – and you get your aerobic exercise at the same time.

    I found that I was putting way too much emphasis on the choreography of the fight and not enough on the emotions or the POV of people involved in the fight. eg If someone is reading your story, they are hopefully already invested in your main character or characters and interested in their feelings.

    Writing reams of “Jack landed a powerful right cross on the point of Jim’s jaw, causing his head to snap back as he staggered backwards” can become a little tedious if not intermixed with narrative explaining the characters emotions. eg “Jim knew he was outmatched, yet the fear of that realisation spurred him on. It would take something special for him to get out of this alive.”

    With the occasional exception, I like to keep my fight scenes short – after all – in reality, very few people could go toe to toe for more than a minute or two. And try to avoid dialogue during the fight – especially humour. It’s hard to be funny when your getting your ass handed to you. (Or so I believe)

    Don’t get carried away with flowery descriptions or a wordy narrative. Keep your sentences short so that they can be read quickly and (in turn) that increases the tempo of the scene. Short sentences speed up the scene, long sentences can slow it down.

    I write my fight scenes then review them multiple times before I’m completely happy with them. But if you’re not sure, ask a friend or family member to read the scene for you and give you some feedback.
    Most importantly – have fun with it!

  • Mokibobolink

    Very good points, Laine. I know I’ve been guilty of concentrating too much on the action and not the emotion. It does make a big difference in the way the scene is interpreted.

    Thanks for the advice! I know I’ll be keeping it in mind the next time I sit down to write a fight scene.

  • Stacey

    I found your above tips very helpful and quite brilliant in their simplicity. I always have problems writing these scenes and think an action scene can make or break a good story by building the tension in the right places or failing to build the tension in the right places.

    Can I ask you both to expand your wisdom and writing tips to include action scenes that don’t necessarily have fighting in them? eg shoot outs or car chases etc.

  • Mokibobolink

    Hi Stacey,

    Awesome, glad to hear that the tips are helpful. :)

    Great idea to expand and I will definitely do that. I’ll probably do a whole new post and make a series out of this topic. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Inchy

    Have to agree with Stacy. I love your blog Moki but these “How To” articles are wonderful and very insightful to anyone pondering whether they have the talent to try their hand at writing a story.

    To read the thoughts and suggestions of wonderful writers like yourself and Laine is immensely helpful.

    Any chance of more? Shoot outs, car chases, foot chases, romance, angst, comedy – the options are endless.

  • Mokibobolink

    Hi Inchy and thanks for the wonderful comment. Nothing makes me happier than to know that my tips are helping people. Yes I have many more in mind and as always, I am open to all suggestions. This site is for you guys so feel free to let me know if there’s any particular subject you’d like me to tackle.

    I have taken notes of your list of suggestions above and will be adding them to my list of upcoming articles to do. :)

  • Pingback: Escrevendo uma Boa Cena de Ação « Eu Escrevo

  • GenghisQuan

    Found this post while looking for how to get more views on my own fic. That last point is HIGHLY true. I train wushu and Shaolin kung fu, as well as watch a good amount of MMA and chop-socky, so melee fighting scenes actually come pretty easy to me, where I have the opposite problem – my fight scenes tend to be a bit clinical and overly descriptive as I try to describe catching someone’s punching arm, elbowing the bicep, then knocking them in the forehead with the elbowing arm and following with a set of chain punches.

    Knowing how to do stuff works wonders. Alternately, watch Burn Notice.

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