How to write an Action Scene for your novel

If there’s one thing I did right on my first two books, it was the action scenes. No, I’m not saying that to stroke my ego or anything like that. This is based off of reader reviewers and beta readers who didn’t necessarily like the book but loved the action scenes.

Ironically, I find action scenes to be one of the most frustrating things to write about and writing one can sometimes lead me to despair.

Action scenes are complicated little things. It’s very easy to draw them out for too long and make them boring.

If the reader cannot visualize your action and gets confused by all the little details, then you’ve just created a thousand words of wasted space.


But if you get it right and your action scene works, oh boy does it work!


So come with me and let me share with you my personal secrets into writing a great action scene. These tips will generally revolve around fighting but the same logic applies to other high intensity moments.

First things first, punctuation is key. How. you. punctuate, will change, the flow, and speed of your scene. A jab, a kick, a throw. Punctuation will create the rhythm of your action sequence. Yes, rhythm exists in writing and you can feel it when you read it aloud or in your head.

Cindy stood toe to toe with her opponent. She took a left, then a right, her spit sprayed through the air, cheeks swollen with blood, she refused to go down.

It’s important for your action sequences to be short and punchy and not bogged down by too many details. You will find that the more detail you add, the more confusing your action scene becomes, which makes it more difficult to visualize.

Cindy stood with her fists tucked under her chin, bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet, jacket ruffling with her movements. She extended her left arm and buried her fist into the thug’s face using a classic Krav Maga technique. He stumbled for a bit, wobbling from side to side, then hooked his arm outward so that his fist would come charging to her face. She threw up her hands to block his punch and at the same time threw a counter punch that hit him square in the jaw.

TERRIBLE! Don’t do that!

Adding all that detail significantly slowed down the pace of the scene and made it difficult to visualize. Avoid this at all costs! As writer’s we are tempted to write in every single detail of every scene because we’re afraid that the reader won’t -get- the specifics of what we’re trying to convey. We see the scene in our heads, sometimes even have a celebrity in mind for a character, and then write down every little detail because for some reason we think that’s good writing. Well that’s not true.

If you want to write a great and engaging action sequence (or even a great novel for that matter), you need to put the reader’s brain to work.


Which leads to my second tip.

Use words that evoke a thought.

Avoid uncommon but pretty words like callipygian. Did you get a visual when I said it? Do you even know what it means? It’s okay if you don’t because it’s not common but it sure sounds fancy doesn’t it? Callipygian means that someone has a great ass. Ah, but when I say the word ass or butt, now you have a better visual, correct? Let’s see if we can create an example.

Her callipygian backside sat snugly in her seat. (Ugh, no.)

Her khakis stretched into a perfect curve as she sat down in her seat. (Better, let’s break it down.)

I used the word khakis to specifically create the visual of khaki pants. I didn’t tell you what color or how many pockets it had or the name brand, just khakis.

Then I say stretched into a perfect curve because that specific action, description forces you to think about it.

Once I say sat down in her seat, the whole picture should come into focus.

Avoid being literal (telling).  Instead, describe why his or her butt looks so great in as few words as possible (showing).

Highlighting key details with specific, strong words will create the visual you desperately need to engage your reader. Here’s another example:

A mob of soldiers surrounded the commander. He raised his sword, sunlight glinting off steel, and let out a guttural battlecry before he and his horse fell to the mob.


Cool? Cool.


The last and most important thing that your action scene will need is suspense. You have to treat an action scene or a fight sequence like a mini short story. There needs to be a rising action, climax, falling action. When the fight starts you can have your hero or heroine winning the battle, defeating thugs, making it seem like it’s easy. This will be your rising action. However, the climax or plot twist is going to be when your protagonist suddenly finds themselves on the losing side.


A sneak attack from behind or a gun that came out of the antagonist’s pocket in the middle of a fist fight. The protagonist needs to fail or come close to failing so that the action scene has depth and high stakes. (This also means that you should consider having less but more impactful action scenes so that this pattern doesn’t get boring or predictable.) Then, depending on your story, the falling action will be the results of the fight or action scene. Whether the protagonist won or lost.


Make sense? Let’s recap:


  1. Keep it short and sweet.
  2. Choose strong words.
  3. Try to focus on key details rather than all the details.
  4. Keep it suspenseful and exciting. (If your protagonist is invincible, then hurt them emotionally and mentally. Kill off a loved one or destroy everything they’ve been working towards.)


Well that’s all I’ve got for ya. I hope my tips will give you ideas or help you to write better action scenes. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment on the facebook page, tweet me, or send me an e-mail.

Wilmar Luna