Day 8: Ready, Set, Action!

Day eight, don’t be late!

We’re in week 2 of our writing advent and we need a little something to shake us up and give us a dose of adrenaline. 

Time for some ACTION. 

Slow motion boomarang gif of a person running and leaping into a moving golf cart.

Now, writing an action scene is a real skill. It’s not all just explosions and running, jumping, climbing trees (though that’s always fun too). 

Writing a great action scene is more about the pace, the atmosphere, the details and the human reaction to whatever the heck is going on.

The brilliant Alex Clark wrote us a whole article on exactly this and we highly recommend you go and read the whole thing, but here’s a couple of brief quotes to give you the general gist:

Last summer, a police car speeding along the A road outside our house clipped the kerb, careered into a spin, took out the side of a bus stop, and was stopped, after twenty metres, by the steel railings of a pedestrian crossing. Astonishingly, no-one was seriously hurt. I can still remember the sound it made as it braked, or tried to brake: a long, ear-filling, groaning roar like a jet engine in reverse, the kind of noise you imagine a meteor making as it Dopplers through the atmosphere, seconds before hitting Earth. The final, crunching umph of impact, and the second that followed after; the tiny shock-rift between experience and the arrival of horrified comprehension.

[…]

It’s this personal immediacy, rather the bells and whistles of your set-up, which will engage your readers when you write action. Epic description has its place, but a blow-by-blow explosion or car chase or battle scene won’t impress by and of itself, unlike on a cinema screen. The most engaging action writing is rooted in the character’s experience, in their thoughts, emotions, sensations and reactions, in that odd combination of detail, slow motion and detachment.

How to Write Action by Alex Clark

Read the blog, check out the examples, and see if you can think of a few choice action scenes from your favourite books/films/TV shows to analyse.

How do they handle the pace and tension of the moment?

How do they describe/depict the impact and shock of it all?

How do the characters involved react?

And does it work? Can you vividly visualise the moment? Feel what the characters are feeling? Imagine the atmosphere?

Remember:

The most engaging action writing is rooted in the character’s experience, in their thoughts, emotions, sensations and reactions, in that odd combination of detail, slow motion and detachment.

NOW: YOUR TURN

Pick one of the images below to prompt you into ACTION mode.

Image of a boxer walking down a catwalk towards the boxing ring.
Image of two cranes fighting in mid air against an ocean backdrop
Image of a woman in a floral jacket and black jeans tentatively reaching forward as she makes her way across some jagged rocks on the top of a mountain
Abstract image of what looks to be a battlefield. A crowd of figures are sillhouetted against a red background and seem to be holding swords or sticks. It could be a riot or a protest or a concert crowd or a battle.
Image of a running race showing 9 women rounding a corner on a running track. Their expressions are determined and they are mid-stride.
Image of a black Ford car that has clearly been in an accident. The left side is smashed up, one tyre is askew and the license plate his hanging off.
Image of a man hanging off a wooden ledge, reaching up for help.
Image of a woman riding a white horse in a dusty desert with a red fence and mountains in the background. She is yelling and the horse is skidding in the dust.

Set a timer for 20 minutes and try to immerse yourself in the moment. There’s no need for exposition or setting the scene, just dive right into the action and try to describe it in the most immediate and engaging way possible. 

Some things to think about while you’re writing: 

  • The sensory details of the moment: sounds, sights, smells, textures, tastes…
  • The contrast between fast and slow: accidents happen in an instant but our processing of them can often feel like slow motion
  • The before and after: how has the action changed the situation, both physically and emotionally?
  • And finally, that personal touch – all those emotional details relating to how your character experiences the moment  

And, when you’re done, come and share your little snippets of action on the forum

Then have a nice quiet down and some Christmas chocolate because all this action is EXHAUSTING!

We’ll see you tomorrow for another day of advent frolics. See you then.


Useful Stuff & Things:

Blog: 
Working on something a bit less ACTION and a bit more internalised? Read this blog on Ramping up the Action in Literary Fiction

Course:
Need more ideas and examples? Try this unit on Heart Stopping Climactic Scenes from our First Draft course!

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