I’ve been recently confronted with the challenge of creating action scenes in my rewrite. This is excellent since prior drafts suffered from a slow, dragging pace, with the “climactic” ending the only real action the whole time. Now I’m finding half a dozen action scenes in the book, but it has revealed how hard they are to do right.
I’m obviously no expert, but here’s some basics that critique group has highlighted about writing action:
Keep it short: The most obvious rule–keep things short. Punchy. Snappy. Never use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice… This rule has been easy enough to internalize, but still takes editing passes to root out the wordiness.
Clear players: In several scenes, my main characters are attacked by people the reader has never seen before. Establishing clear identification for those assailants and using it consistently is extremely important. Unless it’s crystal clear or has another purpose, use of synonyms for those additional characters confuses things in a hurry.
Clear choreography: Similar to character identity, surroundings should be crystal clear. This doesn’t mean filling out every detail, but it does mean sharp, unique descriptions to ground the reader. Keeping it simple helps. I had a map of one building’s layout to help me choreograph the characters’ movement. When I get done, though, the read shouldn’t need the same thing, whether the picture in their mind is identical to my map or not.
Clear, brief, snappy writing… sounds so simple, but it takes skill to pull it off.
Another tactic I’ve been taking to learn about this is reading (or in many cases re-reading) some action-oriented authors. Right now I’ve got the following on my docket:
What authors stick out in your mind as the peak of solid action writing?