All of us are risk-takers. Just getting out of bed in the morning sets us on the road to making hundreds of decisions each day. What a character eats and wears aren’t very interesting unless they’re enjoying exotic foods in faraway places. No one really cares if the character brushes her teeth, we just assume she has. A reader wants to experience life by living vicariously through the activities of others.
Choices have consequences. Our characters get themselves into terrible predicaments. It’s those crises readers like. They experience being stalked by a madman or chased by zombies from the comfort of a Barcalounger. Driving too fast, mountain hiking without bear spray, driving while drunk, aerobatic flying, firing someone and getting pregnant are all potentially dangerous common experiences from choices made and sometimes regretted. When characters get themselves into dangerous situations the events must be realistic.
We like to read exciting books about complex characters who keep us awake long after the lights should be out. How do we write action scenes about risks and make them compelling? Conflict drives a story. The character is often in deep trouble because of poor choices that carry risk to lives, safety, lovers, finances, family or world. If you are writing an action scene, reading how other great authors do it can save you time and angst.
The event must be appropriate to your genre and characters. Accuracy is also important. If you are writing a gun scene and have never fired a weapon, research online and handling the type of weapon used in the scene along with interviewing a reliable shooter will make your scene more accurate and believable. If, on the other hand, you’re writing a memoir, you have the emotion, circumstances and scene embedded in your brain forever, but can you write it effectively?
Be sure the scene reveals your character accurately? Having someone critique your work is important to assure validity and readability. Being factually correct is essential in nonfiction. In fiction, we just make it up, but this doesn’t mean you don’t have to be accurate. Each of us has expertise in varied areas and when scenes are factually incorrect, readers will notice, and reviews may be negative.
If you have questions about specific aspects of your scene, ask another writer with expertise in the area, or interview someone in that field. My history of flying, marksmanship, and practicing ER medicine frequently generates questions from authors who are writing related scenes. A law enforcement crime scene evaluation course I took has proven valuable when writing about investigation processes.
Here are a few thoughts on constructing action scenes:
- Remember, each scene has a beginning, middle and end.
- Building tension with conflict begins with simmering emotion that accelerates and foreshadows the event. Include mood and setting.
- Action verbs are key to sweeping a reader into the scene. Example: He ran quickly… is not nearly as effective as: He bolted through….
- Clarify the characters’ needs and emotions. What is at stake? What if she/he loses?
- Use time-lapse to intensify the scene. Is time running out?
- Be sure actions are shown and dialogue is short. Intensify a visual of emotion by few words and a descriptive action. Examples: He yelled, “You can’t go. Please stay. I love you so much.” More effective: He pulled her back in an embrace. “Marry me.”
Take some risks in your writing, join a critique group. Contact Authors of the Flathead.org to join a group of writers helping writers.
Be safe and enjoy life.
Happy Thanksgiving from my yard to yours.
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