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  • Writer's pictureJulie Gray

Writing the Action Scene

Hey everybody! Here are some tips for writing an action scene!

An action scene is choreographed. It can be helpful to imagine being an announcer narrating the fight as if it were a sports event, on the radio.

“He reeled back and slashed his sword hard to the left, but it was too late.”

An action scene zooms in and zooms out. The zoomed out action scene might show the whole village getting sacked – in other words, areas of the action that are more general punctuated by SIGHTS and SOUNDS like dust, clangs, screams, dogs barking, things burning, crackling, thuds, etc.

A zoomed in moment goes from the "big picture" to a particular part of the fight - the one our hero is engaged in.

An action scene uses powerful, colorful words: thrust, rip, jeer, roar, thud, clang, fling, throw, hoist, heave, twist, slash, sneers, grunts, reeling, falling, stumbling, sliding, crashing…

A zoomed in action scene contains within it the primal emotions of the two people battling. The two fighters feel emotions shift as they fight.

Think about their motivations: defending someone, something or even (and especially) one’s very ego and worth as a person.

The fight scene is the proving ground for characters.

The villain uses cunning and tricks and perhaps even superior fighting skills.

The hero seems the obvious winner because we are rooting for her and she fights fair and she is strong and a good person.

Both fighters will cycle through the emotions of fear, rage, pride, satisfaction – and doubt.

These emotions and motivations will inform the way you choreograph the scene.

You don’t have to be an expert battle choreographer - though as you probably know, in Hollywood battle and fight scenes, martial arts and military experts are used to help make it seem as “real” as possible. But still, in a manuscript, these moments are heightened and made more dramatic than they would be in reality.

You might include, as you zoom in, perhaps three parts of a fight scene:

One: our combatants are at a distance, recovering, breathing hard – we can see they’ve been at it awhile. Damage has already been done. The stakes are high.

Two: a new advance or attack is made.

Three: one or the other fighter makes a mistake. The other one closes in for the kill. Here we have our conclusion – good, or bad. Escape or death. The fighters are exhausted. They know it’s the end. They know how much is at stake – their reputation, their village, their love, the admiration of their leader – their very lives.

Narrative scenes (as opposed to action scenes) also zoom in and zoom out. The zoom out is the bigger picture, people marching along with the goats bleating and the sun shining down hard and in this, we find out where they are going and what is going on more generally speaking.

But then, the narrative zooms in to a scene that is either a part of that bigger picture narrative OR to a scene that is a fast forward or even flashback.

An action scene shares the same quality as a “scene” – it is a zoomed in moment with dialogue, emotions, motivations, etc. as individuals interact. The difference is that the action scene will have - well - action.

In a fight or action scene, jump in as late as you can, keep the actions relatively simple and remember, it should take about as long to read the action as it would if it were actually happening.

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