Writing Action Scenes

Just recently in a writing forum where I am a member someone posted an fight scene for critique. Between offering critique on this particular scene and revising several chapters of my own novel involving action scenes in the past week I wanted to share some tips on how to write an effective action scene. Action and sex seem to be the two hardest types of scenes to write, so hopefully these tips will help with the action.

– The first thing you might want to do is to watch a few action movies. If you are intending to write a fight scene, try watching movies with fight scenes using the same kind of fighting techniques as you want to write (for example if you are writing a scene where the characters are boxing you might want to watch Rocky or if you are writing a scene with a sword fight you might watch Gladiator or even Star Wars). As you are watching take note of how the characters move.

– Something else you might like to do to help get your head inside your characters as they fight is to try out the movements yourself. Imagine yourself throwing that punch or swinging that axe. What does your body do?

Use short sharp sentences. Action scenes should be fast-paced and the best way to achieve that is to use short sharp sentences eg: “A hard boot connected with his stomach. He gasped for breath.”

– … but vary sentence length to avoid monotony. If every sentence is the same length it becomes boring for the reader eg: “He lunged forward. The swords clashed. He pulled away.” Compare this to, “He lunged forward. The metal swords clashed together. He pulled away.”

Show, don’t tell! I’ve talked about this before, and it is an important aspect of portraying realistic action scenes. Consider your characters’ five senses as you write the scene. Describe what it feels like when he is hit. Can he smell the blood or taste it in his mouth? Is there sweat in his eyes so it is hard to see his opponent? What sounds do the swords make as they connect? Bring the reader into the scene so they can experience it with the characters, rather than just watching it from the sidelines.

Show how your character feels. Does the sight of blood make your character feel sick? Does your character enjoy the satisfying crunch of a bone snapping? Who your character is will define how they feel about the action taking place. This is a good opportunity to flesh out your character’s personality. How does your character react to life-threatening situations? Does fighting go against every moral fibre in your character’s body or is it just a way of life?

Dont’ forget about your characters’ motivations in the scene too. Are they fighting for their life? Is there some prize at the end? Keep their goal clear in your mind as you write the scene. The higher the stakes the more involved your reader will become in the scene. Make the reader want to root for your character. eg: “Sarah gritted her teeth against the pain. Her sister was depending upon her. She couldn’t give up.”

If you have any other tips you have come across to make an action scene really come alive, I would love for you to leave a comment and share it with us.


I just had to add in a couple of links to some great action writing advice from author A.J. Hartley that I came across today.

Writing Action Scenes

Writing Action II: Battles

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