Action is not an easy thing to write. There are so many things to think about: what’s happening when, who’s involved, what your protagonist is thinking, what your protagonist is feeling, build-up and pace. It can be daunting to know you have some action coming up in your story and not know if on paper it will sound as good as it does in your head. From experience, the best thing to do if you’re scared is just go for it. The scariest part is always just before you begin and you should write what scares you. Challenging yourself is one of the best ways to improve. But here are a few tips anyway so you know where to begin.
My point I made about description and the senses is very relevant here. But as well as describing the action itself, you also want to include what your character’s feeling, especially if they’re scared or angry. A block of descriptive action without emotions tied to it will seem dry. A block of your character explaining why they’re scared or angry will also slow down the pace. So you have to try and do a bit of both.
To start with, you could try a simple action then emotion type of approach and then once you’ve finished, go over it as a whole and see what works. Almost like action-reaction. For example: your protagonist could punch someone and then feel satisfied. Your protagonist could start to run away and feel a jolt of fear. Once you go back over it, you can take out any emotion that slows down the pace, or even add more if you feel as though something is skimmed over too quickly, especially if it’s a big deal.
If there are a lot of things happening at once where lots of characters are involved, including emotional responses or pieces of description could help the reader sort out in their heads exactly what’s happening. If it’s just action, action, action, sometimes it’s hard for the reader to keep up with you. You don’t want it to be a struggle for them.
Action is all about pace. If you feel your action sequence is too long and wordy, try using short sentences and paragraphs to make the reader breathless. There’s nothing more dramatic than a one sentence paragraph. Use these with caution though. Too many will make your reader breathless when they don’t need to be which will take the power away when the action is at its climax.
Sometimes the build-up is half the battle. You want your reader to know something bad is about to happen without saying “I had a bad feeling”. I’ve toyed around with many ways to do this quiet recently and as well as using the weather which a lot of people tend to do, I’ve used animals and the characters themselves. For example, in the story I’m currently writing, the protagonist has a dog which barks at the antagonist. This is important because when the dog does this, you don’t know that character is the antagonist. The protagonist even discounts it, saying it’s because she’s stressed out that the dog is playing up. It’s almost subliminal. Little things like this help towards your build-up. I drop hints throughout the beginning of my story that one of my protagonist’s friends is the antagonist but I never do too many hints in any one part of the story. The desired effect being that when I reveal the antagonist, the readers are shocked but on the other hand feel as though they’ve known that all along. This way when the action comes, the readers are ready for it without being aware that they are.
I know that last paragraph wasn’t strictly about action but I hope it helps all the same. If you have any questions about action and the build-up to it I’d be happy to answer them.
In short: include action and emotions, think about pace, create bulid-up.
Why not write a short paragraph of action in the comments below? Think about pace and try and hook your reader in under a hundred words.