Margie Lawson

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Writing Action Scenes That Don’t Cramp Your Style

When it comes time to write an action scene, style matters. Different styles of action require different conditions, such as:

  • Pace
  • Duration
  • Stakes
  • Risks
  • Outcomes

All these conditions combine to meet specific reader expectations.

The nine of the most common types of action scenes with examples (books and movies)

  1. Escape—the characters seek to free themselves from capture or confinement, or from some form of disaster or life-threatening situation (The Maze Runner, Escape from Alcatraz, San Andreas)
  2. Rescue—A character is trapped in a location or situation that is dangerous or life threatening, and others try to save them (The Martian, Apollo 13, Hacksaw Ridge)
  3. Chase—one character in pursuit of another (The Bourne Identity, The Fugitive)
  4. Race—opposing characters trying to reach a goal or prize first (Fast and Furious, Speed, Cars)
  5. Fight—close combat, hand-to-hand (The Karate Kid, John Wick, Gladiator)
  6. Shootout—guns and grenades used between individuals or small groups of individuals (Magnificent Seven, Die Hard, Unforgiven)
  7. Battle—fights with weapons between large groups of people (Lord of the Rings Return of the King, 300, Dunkirk)
  8. Sport competition—between teams or individuals (Major League, Moneyball, Rocky)
  9. Robbery—a story that focuses on the planning, execution, and aftermath of a robbery or series of robberies. (Ocean’s Eleven, Die Hard, Gone in 60 Seconds).

The examples above have several scenes of the same type throughout the same story. Yet, despite the story’s over-arcing style, they may also include individual scenes in other styles. For example, the Bourne Identity has an over-arcing chase style, but also includes several fights scenes between the protagonist and those who are trying to catch him.

Most action scenes have a fast pace, but they also need moments of rest and recovery. Combining pace with duration can create a unique time environment that the reader both expects and enjoys for each type of scene. In a Jason Bourne story I know the protagonist is being hunted for the entire book, so a fast and relentless pace. Yet, I also expect slower scenes where I learn about the motivations of both the protagonist and antagonists.

Many actions scenes have high stakes—freedom, survival, safety, safety of others, proving one’s worth, completing one’s job.

Risks could include all or only one of the following:

  • Job
  • Safety
  • Love
  • Respect
  • Freedom
  • Survival

Outcomes can depend on if you intend for your story to have a happy ending, or a happy for now ending, an ambiguous ending (nobody wins), or a twist ending (surprise!). Sometimes I enjoy a villain so much that I want the bad guy to win. 😊

Teacher

Julie Rowe

Julie Rowe’s first career as a medical lab technologist in Canada took her to the North West Territories and northern Alberta, where she still resides. She is the author of the Biological Response Team series, The Outbreak Task Force series, and the Trapped with Him series. You can find out more about her books at her website www.julieroweauthor.com, on Twitter @julieroweauthor, or at her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/JulieRoweAuthor.

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