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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

4 Ways to Make Your Action More Gripping

Have you ever read an action scene and been bored? Hopefully not. If so, chances are it wasn't written particularly well.

Want to grip readers with your actions scenes? Here are some tips for doing just that.

Photo Credit: narniaweb.com
1) Make sure your characters fight differently. A ninja will fight differently than a marine. A knight with a long-sword will fight differently than Reepicheep in Voyage of the Dawntreader. And a seasoned killer will fight differently than an untrained teenager. Make sure you give your characters (all who are participating in the action sequence) different styles of fight and stick to them.

2) Use the Environment. If you were being attacked, you'd fight hard (where do you think the expression "tooth-and-nail" comes from?) and you'd grab for anything in your range to use as a weapon. This should hold true in your stories as well. Let your characters use things around them to try and gain the upper hand. Make sure the landscape or building (if they're indoors) they're in figures in the scene. In reality, if there were things around they could stumble on, chances are they would!

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A great example of this was The Princess Bride. Why was the sword fight between Inigo Montoya and Westley so thrilling? Because the landscape made the entire fight! (That and the dispute over ambidexterity. :D) Another good example is Die Hard. Not saying these fights were particularly realistic or anything, but in the first movie, the building the story took place in was under construction. Go watch it again. The action sequences make good use of all the materials lying around. (Hear that? I gave you a reason to go watch an action movie; research for writing your fight scenes! :D Your welcome!)

CW's Supernatural
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3) Use some degree of physical danger or violence. I'm sure it appalls some people to read this, but I'm not advocating blood and gore--or at lease not necessarily. Violence is always guaranteed to pull your reader in. Why? Because we're all human. Because we've all experienced pain. Because violence will always evoke a visceral reaction in your reader, whether it's your twelve-year-old MC being pushed down by a bully and skinning his hands, a female character being abused by a man in her life, or a the victim of a serial killer being tortured. So put in a little physical drama. (Trying to come up with a euphemism for violence here. Not sure I'm succeeding.) Make sure it's appropriate to your age group and genre, of course, but the moment your MC is physically threatened or knocked down, your audience will sit up and take notice. Besides, this is an obvious problem that must be solved for your character. The reader will be interested to see how you will solve it. :D

4) Don't forget the aftermath. Any kind of violence takes both a physical and emotional toll. If it's shocking enough, it may even be a psychological toll. Make sure you deal with all aspects. Especially when it comes to action movies, we like our heroes to be Jack Bauer-esque and just brush off everything that's happened and keep going. In reality, this is not how human beings function. When anything shocking happens, we tend to go through a period of shock. (Aptly named, no?) The shock period is directly proportional to how great the shock was. For bad news, we may just need to stare at the wall for a bit to process it all. If our best friend is killed right in front of us and we are spattered with their blood, well, let's just say we aren't going to be turning cartwheels ten minutes later. If you show how a character reacts after the action or violence, the action will seem much more real, based on how your character handles it.

Photo Credit: imdb.com
Let me give a quick example of this. In the film End of Watch, which I recently reviewed, there is a scene where two cops enter a house because a woman called them saying that when she woke up, her children were missing. A man she'd obviously been doing drugs with was passed out on the couch. When he awoke and realized what was happening, he immediately told the woman to shut up and not tell the cops anything. One of the cops walked back through the house, and the way the film presented the oddness of the situation, I was sure they'd find the kids dead in the house somewhere. *mild spoilers ahead* Luckily, they weren't dead, but mom's boyfriend had tied and gagged them (a three-year-old and a one-year-old from the looks of it) with duct tape and left them in a closet so he and their mother could do drugs in peace. It was shocking and tragic. Yes, the children were okay, but both cops nearly vomited and had to hold themselves back to not beat the crap out of the guy who'd done it. So you see, their reactions not only heightened the tension but also drove home the depth of emotion in the situation.

Use these things to make your action pop and become an integral part of your story. If you do, your readers won't be able to walk away. ;D

Random Movie Quotes (RMQ)

Don't know what this is? Click here.

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Yesterday's RMQ was "What the gods can digest will not sour in the belly of a slave." This was said by Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments. No one guessed this one. I SO miss him! :D

Today's RMQ is:

"These mashed potatoes are so creamy..."

One point for film, one for character, one for actor! Good luck! :D 


  1. Hi Liesel - I think the quote was more like - 'These potatoes are so creamy. Mary mashed them.'That's if we're thinking of the same move - While You Were Sleeping.Character was Midge I think.

    1. Yup! Your correct! You got the quote! Yeah! I update the post linked to the "click here" under the RMQ heading each week with winners and how many points each person has. I'll put you on there in the next couple of days. If you accrue enough points, you get prizes! Great job guessing and congrats! :D Thanks for participating! :D

  2. Thanks Leslie! I normally write women's fiction so the romantic thriller I'm working on now is a departure from my usual fare. I'm excited, but a little nervous about choreographing the fight scenes and building tension, so I am on the lookout for advice on the topic.

    I appreciated the point about making sure each character has a unique fighting style that fits their profile. That makes sense. It's like dialogue. No two characters should sound the same.