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Arts & Entertainment

Writing Action

David Baldacci

Lesson time 11:36 min

Action in your story can reveal information about a location, someone’s motivation, and someone’s special skills. David explains how you can use choreography and pacing to maximize the impact of your story’s action.

David Baldacci
Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - Action can be just for action's sake. You want a jolt of adrenaline and get the reader kind of juiced again if maybe the story had flagged a little bit, so all of a sudden you throw, you know, a strike right down the middle and see if they can hit it. But action can also convey information about a location, about someone's motivation, about someone's special skills. Will Robie is an assassin, you know, so obviously in those books, there's a lot of action taking place, but action conveyed through Will Robie shows his sense of professionalism, the special skills that he has, the way he goes about his work. As any of us would with our job, he has certain tools, he has a plan laid out, and he has to execute on that plan under pressure and then exit cleanly. So when I do an action scene where he goes and does a hit, and, you know, he sets it up, and I show you the setup, and I show you the execution, then I show you that egress, getting out safely-- because that's all part of it. You know, it's not a success if he gets killed, you know, in the middle of it. All that shows is really a character study in Will Robie. Even though people might say, "Oh, that's pure action." No. What did you learn about Will Robie in that scene? Well, he's incredibly professional. He knows exactly what he's doing. He puts a lot of prep work in this. It's almost like as you prep is stage, you know, as you all-- as we're doing right now, you prep a stage, everything has to be right down to the last detail, and that enhances your chances of success or not. Same could be said for writing a novel. No detail is too small for this guy because he knows that it's really in the small details where you get tripped up. And it's not does he would lose his job if he makes a mistake and means he's going to lose his life. So action, for me, particularly with a Will Robie series, is a way to really flesh out and deepen his character. [MUSIC PLAYING] You know, and for putting together realistic fight scenes, I think you, again, have to draw a perimeter around what's believable and plausible and what's not. And, for me, I want to have a visceral feel about the effect. When somebody's in a fight, both people are probably going to get some consequence to it. They're going to get hurt. Somebody is going to get gut shot, or knifed, or hit, or bruised, or wounded in some way. So it shouldn't-- the totality shouldn't be on one side or the other. And I like it where-- I like to slow down action scenes. I don't want them to take place too fast. You know, this is not a Bruce Lee movie. So everybody gets to really feel, at the emotional level, of what's going on in this scene. These are human beings. These are not robots going at each other. So what does it feel like to be hit in the gut, or have a kidney punch, or somebody smash you in the throat so you can't breathe, or being slashed with a knife, or shot even in the oblique? So those things have conseque...

Captivate your readers

David Baldacci has captivated readers across the world with gripping, suspense-fueled thrillers. Now the New York Times–bestselling author of 38 novels shares his techniques for crafting authentic characters, developing research-based plots, and navigating the world of publishing. Learn how to write a novel with red herrings, clues, and plot twists that will keep your readers turning the pages.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Very informative! Sit down and pay attention with pen in hand because he talks really fast but he's worth listening to! Thanks David!

Amazing Class. Serious writing tools, techniques and passion to write make up this class. I watch this class over and over!

Very important writing lessons closely connected to my own genre and style. Thank you David.

This has been one of the best so far. I'm loving my master classes.


Dale U.

Writing action scenes comes easy to me. These tips will make it a bit tougher but much more effective in the finished version.

Olga B.

I like the advice to slow down in action scenes. I thought you had to go fast to make the reader wanting to turn pages to follow the story. I like more this resource. It goes more with my style. I also found very interesting the advice to visualize the scene and choreograph the movements of my characters. Somehow I have a difficulty to convey what my imagination is seeing to what the reader is reading


I always worried that I'd kill the momentum of the story if I slowed it down during the action bits, but I see impact it has. Your example helped quite a bit. Thank you

laura J.

Here is a wild wish, to see a page that David is actually writing with its cross-outs and arrows? Or is that flash across the screen his writing? I feel like a voyeur wishing to look over his shoulder to see his page.

laura J.

Slow it down! I get it now, don't rush them, got it! I need to go back and list my research on one character that I had lost because I rushed the scene (not knowing how to proceed with the person until now).

Val C.

I like that Mr. Baldacci adds scenes from his own writing to illustrate points. In this case, his comments gave me a deeper appreciation of the character. A friend and I have taken martial arts for many years and I often ask him to act out a fight scene with me. Sometimes I'll bring it to the instructor as well. (I think he has fun doing it.) It's a lot more interesting to write a fight scene that's plausible - it helps me understand the ramifications on the characters afterward as well.