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Writing

How to Write a Thrilling Action Story: 5 Tips for Writing Action

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

Action writing requires more than crafting crazy car chases, secret missions, and violent fight scenes—effective action in fiction writing needs strong characters to move the story along as well as entertain readers. Great action can be a compelling way to draw in your audience, get their adrenaline pumping, and keep them reading to see what will happen next.

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4 Elements of a Good Action Story

There are many elements that come together to form a good action story and allow you to tell your own story in your own perfect way:

  1. Sentence length. Writing action scenes involves knowing how to pace the narrative so that readers are fed the action at a steady and satisfying speed. If your action sequences are built with long-winded sentences full of verbs and descriptions, it will likely confuse and overwhelm your audience. Shorter sentences get to the point more simply, delivering the visual quickly and efficiently, cutting down on bulky filler words.
  2. Active voice. Keeping the narrative voice active keeps up the momentum of your story. Readers see how the main characters are actively working and reacting in their environment in what feels like real time, packing more punch into the syntax and keeping the narrative lively.
  3. Character goals. Action should occur for a reason—characters’ actions should be based on their motivations, their points of view, and their previous choices. A protagonist’s actions should always propel them towards their main goal in a way that is related to the plot events at hand. A character’s goals affect their character development, forcing them to change and evolve depending on the way events unfold in your story.
  4. Consequences. Action can be fun to see unfold, but without the element of danger or a potentially disastrous outcome, it lacks that exciting element that keeps audiences on the edges of their seats. Action writing should make the audience feel like something could happen to the hero at any moment, without being overwhelmed with events and losing their place in the narrative.

5 Tips for Writing Effective Action Scenes

If you’re looking to write your own action story, the following writing tips may help:

  1. Show cause and effect. From the first time your character receives their call to action, follow up activity with the consequences of their decision. Sometimes the character is causing the action to occur, and other times they’re reeling from action that just occurred. Moments can also be built up so that the cause of certain effects or the effects themselves aren’t realized in their entirety until much later.
  2. Create visuals. Use action in a concise, impactful manner in order to deliver strong images for the audience. The clearer your scenes are, the more easily the audience can understand and absorb them. You don’t want readers or viewers to be hung up on seemingly impossible details or sequences that don’t flow. Visuals that get right to the point and can be quickly understood are best for conveying action.
  3. Drive the story forward. In a great story, the moments in between where the action is happening should still feel alive and like the story is always progressing. Even if your hero isn’t facing off against the villain just yet, the scenes without action should still be driven by the character’s goals—readers or viewers may become disinterested by a sudden slump in energy and stagnancy to the writing. Use montage, flashbacks, or other story writing techniques to keep up the pace while delivering necessary narrative information.
  4. Keep action moments short. Action-adventure stories have many moments of high-intensity activity, and it’s best that they happen in short spurts so that the reader does not get exhausted with high-octane events. The battle against the rogue android in your science fiction action story shouldn’t be one scene that’s 50 pages long—the readers need a breather once in a while in order to reset the intensity and have it built back up for them all over again.
  5. Use effective language. When you write a fight scene or a chase scene, the action is moving quickly, so your language should too. Short sentences packed with powerful images that move at a logical pace are useful in conveying strong action sequences that are easy to visualize. A character should bolt to their destination, not just run. Specific diction can make all the difference in how the action of your story is perceived and how your story is experienced overall.
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