Action scenesGuest postsNovel writing

How to write action scenes

guest post by Chrys Fey

Writer Chrys Fey recently volunteered to share a post from her own blog with Silver Pen. After reading it, Scott and I agreed that it would also make a great guest post for Write Well. With Chrys’ permission, we are sharing her original post (with minor edits) and have added a few comments of our own.

Here’s Chrys–


Every writer has tips that help them write, rules they follow, and methods they use. Below are ten tips that I find helpful when I am writing action.

1. Show action and reaction. In a fight, every movement from one person causes a reaction with their opponent. What happens when someone receives a punch? Their head turns with the impact, they stagger, and sometimes they fall. Bones breaking and blood gushing are also reactions.

Examples of action-reaction:

–He shot off a round of bullets. She dodged them and fired back.
–Her fist connected with his face, breaking his nose.

2. Describe, describe, describe! Remember that prose we were talking about? Use it here, but go above and beyond! Give a crime scene details so that the reader can see the morbid sight imprinted on their eyes. Describe each step of a fight, the cocking of a gun, and the pain a character feels from injuries. Bring a car accident to life with speed, bending metal, and shattering glass. Let your words make the suspense!

3. Use action verbs! If you can, try not to use the same verbs over and over again. A thesaurus can help you to find a good alternative.

My favorite action verbs:


4. Write short sentences. Short sentences quicken the reader’s pace and give the illusion of fast action.

5. Use “all of a sudden” and “suddenly” sparingly. Back-to-back paragraphs starting with these will become annoying to the reader and is a bit lazy.

[RICK’S NOTE: This was part of the late Elmore Leonard’s Rule #6 of his Ten Rules of Writing]

6. Don’t forget dialogue! Action is not all about what a character does, but also what a character says. Have your characters spit threats back and forth, and let them curse. Also, injecting a character’s thoughts can add a great deal of suspense.

This is it, he thought. I’m going to die.

7. Read books by your favorite authors and study how they write action. Note words and phrases they use, but don’t plagiarize!

8. Get into the mood for writing action. Listen to rock music or any kind of song with a fast beat that makes you want to get up and cause havoc.

Songs that help me write action:

* “Shoot It Out” by 10 Years
* “Your Betrayal” by Bullet For My Valentine
* “Hold On” by All That Remains
* “Blood On My Hands” by The Used
* “I Will Not Bow” by Breaking Benjamin

9. Act it out. Remember when I said that I sometimes talk aloud to create dialogue between two of my characters? Well, I also act out fight scenes. Granted, I can’t move or do half the things a fighter can do, but by acting it out (the best I can) I can understand how a body moves and better describe the movement with words.

10. Watch action movies. Watching movies can help you to understand the rhythm and flow of fighting. It can also give you ideas. Depending on what you need to write, find movies that show a lot of it, and then study them. How do the characters move in fight scenes? What do you see when there is an explosion? Now, write the scene in your book as if you are watching it unfold on a television screen. This is how I do it and it is my best strategy for writing action.

Movies that help me write action:

* Underworld Awakening
* Matrix Reloaded
* The Fast and the Furious
* The Day After Tomorrow
* UltraViolet

Chrys Fey
Thrilling, Magical, and Heroines of Steel


RICK AND SCOTT ADD: We appreciate very much Chrys’ sharing her blog post with us and want to add a few more suggestions.

Action and fight scenes are wonderful high points in any novel, but there are a few caveats to using them. There can be too much of a good thing, especially when it’s repetitive or overdone. If you have multiple fight scenes in your novel, be sure that:

(1) they are not repeats of the same type of fight with simply different characters or in a different location. Make each fight scene unique and be sure it has a clear and distinct purpose.

(2) each scene (true of all scenes) advances the story in a meaningful way.

(3) you don’t fall into the trap that some movies do and have fight scenes be little more than the character fighting his way toward a goal one fight scene after another. A good fight scene should be about more than simply which side wins.

These principles apply to any type of scene, even sex scenes. A good sex scene must be about more than the sex, just as a good action scene should be about more than the action. Chrys mentioned the importance of character thoughts and dialog in action scenes. These add depth to the character, hence meaning to the scene itself.

Finally, the action scenes should be adjusted to fit the tone of the novel. You wouldn’t write the same type of action scene for a sci-fi novel, a detective novel, a spy novel, and a martial arts novel. The vocabulary and descriptive words need to match the novel’s setting. Also, if the novel is a very descriptive one with lots of sensory detail, you would use a different writing style for its action scenes than you would for a novel with sparser description and sensory detail.

Scott writes excellent action and fight/battle scenes, but the ones he writes for his sci-fi novels are different from those he writes for his fantasy novels and for his police detective novels.

So, please do follow Chrys’ wonderful advice, but be sure you craft your action scenes in a manner appropriate for your novel.

One thought on “How to write action scenes

  • Thank you, Rick and Scott, for publishing my post. With your added notes it is fabulous! 🙂

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