Friday, January 13, 2012

Tis a Writer's Life for Me! Action Scenes!

Progress on Escape to Paradise:  I finished Chapter 8 of my second draft this week!  That's out of 35 chapters so I have a ways to go, but at least I'm making progress.

One thing that slowed me down this week was an action scene. You may think those are easy to write becaue there's a lot going on, but they are hard to write precisely because there's a lot going on!  So, how do you write a good action scene?  By action I'm talking about something major is happening.. and earthquake, a war, a tidal wave, a fire, gunshots, an assault!  In this case, my rebel ship was being chased and fired upon by a Union frigate.

Oh NO!!  What are they going to do? Will they survive? And How? What's going to happen? Those are all the questions you want your reader to be thinking during the scene. But not only thinking.. you want them to be FEELING the stress, the tension. You want your reader to be scared!  Muaaahhhh.

The keys to writing a great action scene that will grip your reader are, in my opinion:

1. Get into the head of your point of view character (the one who's experiencing the scene), close your eyes, and ask yourself after you write each paragraph the following things.

What is she seeing?
What is she smelling?
What are her thoughts?
What are her biggest fears?
What is she feeling?
How does she react?

The point here is to incorporate all your character's senses. Put yourself on that ship being chased by a frigate. When they fire their cannons at you, what do you do? What are your thoughts? What is your body doing? your heart? your blood? Are you numb? Can't breathe? If you die, what are your regrets? Who do you leave behind? Do you fear death? Can you smell the smoke? Do you hear screams? Did the shot hit the ship? Can you hear the wood snap? The captain yell? 

Repeat these questions often during the scene to make sure you're staying in character and you haven't drifted into describing the action rather than being right in it!

2. Use the setting to enhance the stressful mood. 

No matter if you're on land or sea, or in a house, setting is a great tool to enhance any scene. If you are outside, you can change the mood instantly by having a storm rush in.. the wind pick up, a chill overcome your character. In a house, the power can go off, a window break, a dog howl... And of course on a ship, the spray stinging your face, the wind clawing your skin, the mighty swells rising and falling..  Use your setting!

3. Use other character's expressions and reactions to convey stress.

Have a character wailing in terror. Perhaps another one praying! Have another one tell your character they are doomed. Have your character try to help someone but they die. How other characters around you are reacting can up the stress level significantly. .

4. Use short, choppy, sentences to convey stress and action.

This is a great trick of the trade. Long, drawn out sentences give a feeling of comfort and ease and a sense that you have all the time in the world.  Short, choppy ones give a sense of urgency, as in the passage below (taken from Escape to Paradise)

Perspiration slid down Eliza’s back. Her palms grew moist. The ship pitched over a wave. Her feet skipped over the deck. Above her, sails caught the wind in a boom nearly as loud as a cannon. She’d heard more than her share of the monstrous beasts on the battlefield. She'd seen the devastation they could wreak, but she had never been in the middle of a battle. Especially at sea.
The brig swung to port. Her timbers creaked and groaned and heaved as the ship tacked away from their enemy. The port railing swept up toward the sky. Eliza clutched it lest she tumble across the deck. Her mouth went dry. Why didn’t the blasted Union leave them alone? Hadn’t they done enough damage?

The ship righted again. Wind tore Eliza’s bonnet from her head, tossing it into the agitated sea. Strands of hair whipped her face. She brushed them aside just in time to see a yellow flame spear from the union ship.

“Hands down!” the captain yelled.
Lights, Camera, Action!


  1. Fri Jan 13th,
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    Oh ... once again ... my hat is off to you !!! Just reading the excerpt from your newest book ... I can feel, sense and visualize the scene you wrote of. With your writing ... I am literally transported right into the story ... seeing and thinking what your characters are too. I love it ! Your writing is authentic, MaryLu ... very honest and believable ... the stories "come to life". Exactly what you are wanting to accomplish !
    Do I think writing an 'action scene' would be easy, even for one minute .... absolutely not !!!
    But if anyone can do it ... you most certainly can !!!!!!!!!!
    Keep on writing there girl !!! We 'all' wait in anticipation of a new release from you !
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. Happy Friday, MaryLu! Great tips, thanks for sharing :) Glad to hear the writing is progressing and coming along nicely. You know how to hook in your readers even in your examples, wow! Can't wait for Veil of Pearls, keep up the good work and thanks for such great adventures!

  3. Okay, so what happens next? hehehe
    I know, you can't say, but it sounds so exciting! Boy, it really takes a lot of thought to write an action scene. So glad that you know how to do it so well. Keep up the writing. I pray that you have a great weekend.

  4. I LOVE this tips! Thanks a lot for sharing them. :D I certainly can't wait to read the rest of the book!!!!!!!

  5. Thank you, Brenda, you're always so sweet to me!

    Happy Friday to you, Kara! Thanks so much. :-)

    Debbie, I pray you have a great weekend too!

    And you're welcome, Heather...Thanks.

    Have a great weekend, Ladies!

  6. The part about Eliza's feet, made me enter into the action. In my minds eye I felt the ship pitch and my feet skip. Such a different and unexpectd way to use that verb - skip. So real, so true.

    Chapter 8 - progress!!!

    Have a great weekend!

  7. I completely agree with Brenda. I didn't even have to know what has been going on before this scene, I'm just automatically swept up in the moment. You have a wonderful way of describing details, both big and small. Thanks so much for sharing this scene and your writing tips. I can't wait for more of your books!!

  8. Thanks Jennie! Yes... skip just came to me while I was "in the scene" And thanks so much, Sarah.. you all are the best!

  9. Hmmm...Never knew how much work actually put in to make a scene like that! Its a credit to you that your action scenes are really that-action! and full of it. I love these tips. They make people think twice about saying that being an author is easy-which, it apparently is not! :)