Clout! Bam! Kapow! Five tips for writing explosive action scenes

Readers love action-adventure novels. They don’t require a lot of brainpower to read and are a great way to fill in time while sitting on a long, boring flight somewhere. Writers like Clive Cussler have a very lucrative business writing action-adventure novels – there are nearly 100 million copies of Cussler’s books in print.

Here are five tips to give you something to think about when writing your own action scenes.

Action sequences must be fast

Good action sequences are Never slow. They grab the reader by the throat and force him to hang with white knuckles until you decide to let go. The best way to do this is to use short sentences and often short paragraphs, using as many action words as you can imagine. Words like “zip,” “snapped,” “whizzed,” and “punch” are great choices. In a fight scene, your hero shouldn’t have time to think and any dialogue should be short, sharp, and forceful, usually just a few words that could be shouted across the room.

The only exception to this would be if you are trying to do a John Woo-style slow motion sequence for a short part of the scene. Here it can take much longer to describe the action in detail, such as the way the bullet casing arches upward, turning end to end as it passes through the smoke cloud. But don’t overdo it and get back into rapid-fire action as quickly as you can.

Push the characters to the limit

The characters must be tested in their action scenes. There is no point in writing something that is easy for them to overcome, because it will not create the right level of tension in your story. Instead, your heroes should be pushed into situations where there is a real chance that they won’t come out intact. In fact, it is better if they often don’t because it means that the stakes are real, and not just a joke.

Don’t be afraid to hit or shoot your characters. Australian action author Matthew Reilly believes that if a character slows down the action too much, they have to die. While that may be a bit extreme for your story, killing a character or two could show your reader that you are serious about the stakes.

Make the most of the environment

Which is more exciting: a kung fu fight in an empty apartment or one in a crowded china shop? If you’re like me, you’d rather watch the action rip apart the stage as fists and feet fly. When you’re creating your action scenes, try to set things up to take place in an environment where you can add to the excitement of the scene, where one wrong move could make things a lot more difficult for your heroes.

So, it is better to have a fight on the roof of a skyscraper, or in the heat of an iron foundry, rather than in an empty warehouse or in the desert. The more you can store your scene with usable accessories for your heroes to wear, the more interesting your scenes will be.

Make the action scenes relevant to the story.

Action sequences shouldn’t stop your plot development. Instead, they should be an integral part of driving your story forward. If you find that you are adding an action sequence just to liven things up again, then you will need to re-examine what is at stake in the scene and find another way to help you link the scene with those that precede and follow it. The reason for having an action sequence in your story must make sense in terms of the flow of the story; if not, you should rewrite it or delete it entirely.

Write your action sequences as suspense scenes.

Suspense in a scene is vital if you want your reader to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. Your action sequence should raise a lot of questions for the hero, rather than just a description of what is happening. John Rogers – in his Kung-Fu Monkey blog – he said, “Don’t write action scenes. Write suspenseful scenes that require action to solve.” When working on the main question of your scene, don’t ask “Will the hero win over the bad guy?” Instead, look for a question that brings into play a problem your hero has that is important for him to learn. If you learn it, then you can win the scene; otherwise you should lose. This way, the reader can see how the action sequence causes the character to grow and change, rather than just another free fight.

If you keep these points in mind when writing your action scenes, then an exciting journey awaits your hero and your readers will turn the pages as fast as they can to see what happens next.

And that is precisely what you want to happen.