by Peggy Bechko
I’m a writer. And, I admit it, I’m a writer who’s a sucker for creating action scenes. Now it’s possible you might think my everyday life is full of excitement and action to spur such scenes, but no, it usually begins with a cup of hot green tea at my computer desk.
Nonetheless I’m an action junkie; books, movies, tv, whatever.
Star Wars, Deadpool, Sword Dancer Novels, Orson Scott Card! Yes, I like detail as well, background, the backstory, but what really sucks me in is the action. Don’t make that backstory and setting too lengthy or I’ll be peeking ahead or see where the action again picks up. Not everyone is like this, but that’s me.
Probably that’s why I like to write action as well. That means I want to write it well and I put a lot of demands on myself. I also get the chance to back flush a lot of aggression – you know, run those horses, fight you ninjas, blow stuff up and even, maybe, kill off your favorite character.
It’s a lot of fun on a lot of levels and it’s a powerful type of writing short-cutting, at least for a time, descriptions and character development. Hey, they guys are pounding on each other so what’s to develop in that scene? (There are exceptions to that, but that’s not what we’re talking about here).
Short, staccato, keep it moving! And, action verbs all by themselves lend color. Who simply yells? No, it’s shriek, scream, bellow, howl, screech. Hey, what’s not to have fun here?
But, there’s more to it than Wham Bam!
The pressure is on to write a really GOOD action scene, not something the reader yawns his way through. It goes deeper. It engages the emotions. Why is the heart racing when reading an action scene or viewing an intense movie action scene? It’s simple. It’s because the reader or watcher is engaged with the characters and actually cares how it all comes out. We’re rooting for Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas to prevail and survive. We watch Deadpool and despite all his oddities, want him to come out on top.
I write primarily with a movie running in my head whether novel or script. I see what’s happening, but even more to the point, when writing an action scene, I put myself in my characters heads. The reality is, in real life, people don’t know what’s coming next. They don’t know they’re going to die (or not) in a car crash. They don’t know that killer is going to pop out of the alley and try to do them in. It’s all a surprise to them and that’s where the engagement comes in.
The trick, then, is simple and complicated.
The answer is to put yourself into the character’s head just as you allow yourself to be swept into a story when reading or watching. Feel what they feel, think what they’d think in that moment. Dig deep for the emotions of terror, anxiety, desperation.
Get those emotions on the page and the person reading the novel or the script from which the movie is made won’t just be reading – that person will be right beside the characters when the bullets fly, the horse stampedes or the great Pacific wave looms over the fishing boat. And the adrenaline will surge.
Now we’re talkin’…that’s action!