Skip to main content

Expert Tips for Writing Action Scenes

Think “action scene,” and you probably think of the Hollywood version: A character is thrust into high-stakes, physical drama (a gunfight, a daring rescue, a desperate escape) that changes her in some important way, and moves the action forward.

Action scenes serve the same function in your fiction, but they need not be over-the-top to be effective. A surprise phone call, an unexpected visit, or an ill-timed delay will force your character to respond quickly (rather than reflect), and allows you to advance the plot without miring it in long descriptive passages and explanations.

The key to writing action scenes is to make sure that somethinghappens that impels your protagonist to act, reveals her capacity to deal with problems, and affects future events in the story. “The only requirement of an action scene is that it rely in part upon physical movement through the space you’ve created, and evoke a sense of time passing,” says Jordan E. Rosenfeld, author of Make a Scene. To make your reader feel like he is part of the action, try these techniques from the book:

  • Ensure that the events unfold in “real time,” allowing the reader to feel he is participating in the events of the scene.
  •  Make the pace quick, and include some kind of physical movement.
  • Force the protagonist to make quick decisions or react—to run on instinct rather than intellect.
  • Create unexpected consequences for the protagonist to heighten the drama.

As you write action scenes, keep in mind that it's easy to go overboard, says Rosenfeld: "This scene type will certainly drive the reader forward, but be warned that people have a tendency to skim action scenes, driven forward with their urgency, so you will want to balance them with other types of scenes."

Read an excerpt from the book

Buy the book

Read "10 Ways to Launch Strong Scenes" on WritersDigest.com

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Forgetting To Read

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Forgetting To Read

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so this series helps identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's mistake is forgetting to read.

Tapping Your Memories for Emotional Truths on the Page

Tapping Your Memories for Emotional Truths on the Page

Sharing even a fraction of our feelings with our characters will help our stories feel more authentic. Here, Kris Spisak explains how to tap into our memories to tell emotional truths on the page.

Poetic Forms

Trinet: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the trinet, a seven-line form based on word count.

Tammye Huf: On Real Love That Sparked Inspiration

Tammye Huf: On Real Love That Sparked Inspiration

Debut novelist Tammye Huf discusses how her own familial love story inspired her historical fiction novel, A More Perfect Union.

Announcing the Second Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Announcing the Second Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the second annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards!

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Going Rogue

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Going Rogue

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character go rogue.

How to Love Writing a Book

How to Love Writing a Book

When you’re in the weeds of the writing process, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started in the first place. Here, author Radhika Sanghani shares her tips on how to love the process of writing your book.

How Daily Meditation Can Lead to New Stories

How Daily Meditation Can Lead to New Stories

In seeking meaning did author Randal Maurice Jelks also find purpose and understanding. Here, he shares how daily meditation can lead to new stories.

5 Tips for Writing a Domestic Thriller

5 Tips for Writing a Domestic Thriller

Author Leah Konen offers 5 tips to help keep the goosebumps coming in your domestic thriller—from focusing on a small cast of characters to allowing yourself to be surprised in the process, and more!