Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tips for Crafting High Action Scenes

with guest Sandra Orchard
 

By definition high action scenes have lots of action, right? So they should be easy to infuse with tension and conflict, right? 

Well… no, it’s not so easy.



Play-by-plays of fight scenes and car chases can get boring real quick. But these tips will help ramp up your readers’ interest:

1)    Economize. Keep words, sentences and paragraphs short, simple and strong. Direct, easy to understand sentences and words make us feel as if things are moving faster. Instead of: “He planted his hands on the bar and swung his legs over the gleaming marble countertop.” Write: “He vaulted over the bar.”

2)    Get the details right. Despite what you see on TV shows, a cop doesn’t chamber a bullet as he approaches a suspect’s house. Gun smoke doesn’t smell like cordite—hasn’t for years. Know your weapons. Know your equipment. Know what happens when you take a kick to the head. For fun, check out how many times John McClane should’ve died in Die Hard 2-5 in this YouTube montage. 

3)    Keep action in the order it happens. You don’t write: Before he peeked around the door frame, he drew his gun. If you want to build the suspense, you might write: As he edged toward the door, he drew his gun. But in the middle of a high action scene, write: He drew his gun and stormed the room.

4)    Don’t tell how fast things are happening, such as: Faster than he could set down his glass, the guy took a swing. Show it, using short, crisp actions: The guy punched his jaw, glass and all.

5)    Tell the what, not the why…with a caveat. In the heat of a fight, we react. Our actions

are reflexive. We punch the brakes the instant we see a cop. It doesn’t matter whether we’re speeding or not. It’s a reflex. We don’t think first. Visceral, subconscious reactions, and reflexes happen before rational thought, action or speech. So… keep the action realistic. In the middle of a storm of bullets, is not the place for witty dialogue or the place to spend a paragraph contemplating inner conflicts. Yet, it’s the inner reaction that makes it interesting. So give the reader glimpses of that tension through brief, brief, brief thoughts and snippets of dialogue.

6)    Give the scene purpose. A scene should advance the plot and/or characterize. It shouldn’t be included just because it’s cool. Does your protagonist fight dirty? Does he anticipate his opponent’s next move? Would he shoot an unarmed man? In the midst of the action, his choices tell a lot about him, as his opponent’s does him. Maximize that.

 My favorite example of a high action or at least high intensity scene is from my Daphne DuMaurier Award winning entry that hasn’t been published. This excerpt occurs as their plane is crashing:

Oh, no, they were going to … cra— No. Not crash. Not CRASH!
Angie gripped Gabe’s hand and tried to breathe. Just breathe.

The plane slammed to a halt and Angie shot forward. The seatbelt dug into her stomach, squelching her outcry. But she’d made it to the ground. Alive.
A hiss filled the gaping silence. Fumes. She smelled fumes. And … smoke.
A heavy hand clamped her shoulder, jerked her upright. She stared at the front of the plane. Unable to move. Unable to think.
“Angie, snap out of it. We’ve got to get out.” Gabe charged to the front of the plane.
She sucked in a breath. Had to get out.
The cockpit burst into flames.
Get out! She ripped off her oxygen mask. “The girl. Save the girl.”
The plane groaned. Pitched sideways.
Angie’s pulse thundered in her ears. She fumbled with her seatbelt buckle. “Release! Release! Why won’t—?”
Flames lapped up the walls outside the cockpit. Black smoke spewed from its door.

I seem to like high action scenes against the elements. This excerpt is from a scene in Perilous Waters. Jen, the heroine, has been pushed into glacial water and rescuers in the boat have failed to reach her. There’s a lot more action prior to this and after it, but this offers a good snapshot.

Sam grabbed the life ring from Jake. “Hang onto that rope,” he shouted and dove into the river. His muscles seized instantly. Arm through the ring, he clawed to the surface with a roar, the fire in his blood overpowering the paralyzing pain. Where was she?
He twisted every which way. Water blurred his vision. He would not let her die the way he let— He swallowed the boulder-sized lump that caught in his throat and dug into the water.
“To your right,” Jake shouted from shore.
With a powerful kick, Sam surged toward her. For a fleeting second, he caught strands of hair. But they slipped through his fingers. The life ring was slowing him down. He started to pull out his arm.
“Don’t you dare let go,” Jake ordered.
Sam kicked harder. She’d been under too long. “Jen!”

This is from Deadly Devotion, book 1 in the Port Aster Secrets Series. (Blind Trust being book 2) And this shows the action leading up to the confrontation.

A cut-short scream broke the calm.
Tom’s heart climbed to his throat. He grabbed his radio. “This is Adam 64 requesting backup. I have an 11-24 at the corner of Turret Road and Turnbull, and a 10-67 in the woods. I’m checking it out.”
He sprinted toward the sound of the scream—certain it had been Kate’s. He prayed that she’d merely been frightened by a wild animal.
Tree branches slapped his face. He hurtled a log, laser focused on the direction of the scream. Why hadn’t she just trusted him to look into this?
A small shed came into view thirty yards ahead of him.
He shoved away the image of what he’d found the last time he came across an abandoned shed in the woods. Slowing his pace, he strained to hear over the roar of his pulse thrumming in his ears.
A thud. A grunt. A whimper. Then the scrape of something—or someone—being dragged across the ground.
Or this one from Fatal Inheritance. I don’t have fight scenes that I can show without being spoilers. So they’re more high urgency scenes. Pick what you think demonstrates it the best.

At the sound of dead air swallowing Bec’s whispered “Hurry,” Josh floored the gas pedal. What kind of car thief shot at a house?
Josh tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Was he reading the situation all wrong? Were the note, the incident in the barn, and these shots really about scaring Bec off her grandparents’ property?
He banked the corner too fast. His wheels bit into the graveled shoulder. He cranked the wheel hard to the left then right, pulling the car straight, wishing he could get a grip as easily on what was going on.

 
 Your Turn: Share a sentence or two from a high action scene (or any scene that would benefit from more immediacy) in your WIP and let’s see what we can do with it. 

Today I'll be giving away an E-version of Blind Trust to one commenter. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition. 


The E-version of Blind Trust is on sale for the special promotional price of $6.99 until July 14th.

Blind Trust


Caught inadvertently passing counterfeit money while buying groceries for her neighbor, Kate Adams lands in the middle of another one of Detective Tom Parker’s investigations. Determined to prove her sweet neighbor’s innocence, Kate stumbles into a pit of intrigue that is far deeper than a two-bit counterfeit operation–and strikes too close to home for comfort. As family secrets come to light, her world–and her budding romance with Tom–begin to crumble. To Kate, it’s clear that she won’t be safe until she uncovers all of Port Aster’s secrets. But is it too late for her and Tom?



Bio: Award-winning author Sandra Orchard writes inspirational romantic suspense/mysteries for Love Inspired Suspense and Revell Publishing. A mother of three grown children, she lives in Niagara, Canada with her real-life-hero husband and writes full time…when not doting on her young grandchildren.  You can learn more about Sandra’s books and bonus features at www.SandraOrchard.com or she’d love you to connect at www.Facebook.com/SandraOrchard

75 comments:

heididrukortman said...

The hero hurtled down the deer trail. He hurdled a log.

Here's an action sample from my work:.
Spray splattered his face, but the visibility had improved. He moved toward the wheel, paying out the safety cable as he scanned the deck. The sloop lurched in the water. Her bow crashed down on the next wave. He reached for the wheel.
Blarney recovered from the pitch and came down again. With that impact, the steering vane pivoted on its mounting. Great, he was on two saints’ blacklists. He hit the deck for the third time.

Tina Radcliffe said...

WELCOME SANDRA!! This is by far one of the most difficult things to master in writing.

You've done a great job showing us how to do it.

The coffee is on and the cinnamon rolls are in the oven.

Tina Radcliffe said...

AND I LOVED that Die Hard Montage. I watched it TWICE. Okay, fine, I am pathetic, but I loved it.

Alana A. Wellington said...

As the men haul them from the SUV, fear unsheaths her nerves, squeezes her chest. She throws up frantic prayers. Helpless, she watches them open her luggage and rifle through her belongings. One of them takes out her Bible, then stares at her for a long time, his eyes merciless through the only window created in his black fabric face mask.

Thank you for your insights, Sandra!

Kav said...

Woot -- Sandra, this is so exciting...both the great post and the fact that Bind Trust is on bookshelves now. I'm giddy with excited anticipation!!!

Here's one of my excerpts. The hero is rescuing the heroine from a blazing cabin.

Nolan cannonballed through the small opening. Split his chin on the corner of the kitchen counter. Coughed as he inhaled smoke. Grabbed Roxie by her scruff. “Jump.” With a mighty heave he tossed the dog out the window. Reached for Phoebe.
She moaned. Brought her knees up to her chest and rolled to her side. Singing praises to God that she was alive, Nolan hauled her up against him. She tried to get her feet under her but collapsed. Right next to the camper stove and its propane cylinder. He lunged. Grabbed hold of her shirt and dragged her closer to the window.

Jackie said...

Hi Sandra,

It's always good to hear from you. Great post today. Your new cover is beautiful.

I'm late for work but wanted to stop by. No time to give you a scene though. I hope you have an amazing day!

Sandra Orchard said...

Ah, Tina, thanks for having me here. This is one of those times that I wished your blog allowed for replies to specific posts. :D

Hopefully, I won't miss any.

Here goes...

Heidi great paragraph. Love your strong verb choices. (Not sure what the hurtled and hurdled sentences were at the top)

Alana, you create a terrific image with the window in his black mask. To tighten it, I'd delete "created". I'd probably delete unsheaths her nerves, too. For me, it isn't something I could imagine, so it slowed down the read as I was trying to figure out what it means or feels like. Do you know what I mean?

DebH said...

awesome post. I will need to review my action scenes with this in mind to see how I can improve them. In the meantime...

Ben was about fifteen feet away when Gio rose behind the diver and swiped his large hand across the man’s face, ripping the regulator out of his mouth. In the same motion, the husky diver encased his adversary in a bear hug, pinning the diver’s arms to his sides.

Good Lord, Gio was going the kill the man.

Ben sprinted forward and whipped out a short bungee cord, using it to quickly bind the diver’s flailing legs together. A huge burst of bubbles escaped from the struggling diver, his bulging eyes showing his panic. Ben snagged the free floating regulator, purged it and shoved it in the man’s mouth.

The diver immediately stilled and all three divers sank to the sea bed. While Gio continued to squeeze, the wide, fear filled eyes of the diver peered back at Ben. He bound the diver’s limbs into uselessness, wrote on his slate and then placed his hand on the man’s regulator. He thrust the slate forward for the man to read.

Don’t move if you want to live.

DebH said...

p.s.
enjoyed the DIE HARD montage. i stopped watching the movies after number 2, so brief glimpses into the others was interesting.

would love to win a copy of Blind Trust

Debra E. Marvin said...

I am going to re-read this one a few times. Thanks so much, Sandra. Believe me, I trust you on this subject!

Sandra Orchard said...

Okay, I'm back, the dog dragged me out for a walk. The nerve, eh?

Hey, Kav, great to see you here. I should've known there'd be a do in your action scene. :D

Here's an example of how word choice depends on the tone you want for the story: With a mighty heave he tossed the dog out the window.

With a mighty heave gives a heroic, bigger than life, swashbuckler feel (to me, anyway), which if it suits the tone for the story, that's great. If the tone should be desperate, because the building is in flames, I'd probably simplify to he heaved the dog out the window.

Love the word cannonballed, btw, and hauled her up against him. I am wondering about "singing praises to God". He's relieved yes, but he's in an urgent, life-threatening situation and I think that might lighten the situation too much...maybe. Something to think about.

You might also heighten the tension by mentioning flames licking dangerously close to that propane cylinder. And the motivation-reaction unit part of my brain is missing his reaction to his chin being split open and perhaps shards of glass if he broke the window he jumped through and perhaps as he's coughing smoke, give him a moment of panic when he can't see the dog or woman, shouts for them, and the dog runs to him and then he'd have a reaction as soon as he hears her moan. The reactions aren't what ups the tension.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Sandra! Welcome back to Seekerville. Thanks for the excellent tips on crafting high action scenes. Actually several are excellent pointers for any scene. Your excerpts are so fast paced that I'm dizzy! :-)

Janet

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Sandra, Welcome to Seekerville and thanks for the great post.
Hmmmm, I don't seem to have an action scene in my current wip which would indicate I NEED TO WRITE ONE. lol

Have fun today.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Coffee, cinnamon rolls and great examples....

I'm in!!!!

Hey I brought a selection of fun creamers for the coffee, my favorite of the moment "Southern Butter Pecan" as a nod to my Southern buds in Seekerville! IT'S YUMMY!!!!

Sandra, thank you so much for being here.

I don't write suspense, but I love scenes that grip a reader by the throat or the lapels or the heart and walk them into the pit....

Because that's real life.

The timing of that walk, the mix of sentence structure, internal thought to dialogue, scene/setting, crying babies...

The everyday becomes the heart-stopper when done well, and of course that's our daily goal!

I'm grabbing a cinnamon roll and running to Yankee Belle Cafe where I am talking about omelets while craving cinnamon rolls!!!!

Sandra Orchard said...

Thank you Debra & Jackie, good to see you.

Deb H, I love the last line of your piece. I hope that's a chapter ending. Great hook.

Let's look at this part:

Ben was about fifteen feet away when Gio rose behind the diver and swiped his large hand across the man’s face, ripping the regulator out of his mouth. In the same motion, the husky diver encased his adversary in a bear hug, pinning the diver’s arms to his sides.

I'm a little confused about who is hugging who. Is Gio the husky diver? Because in the previous sentence the bad guy??? was referred to as the diver and seems to be referred to that way again at the end of the last sentence above. Try to tighten it so the reader isn't trying to figure out who is who. I'd also probably add a reaction to the guy losing his regulator. If they are deep under water, he has what three minutes to live? He'd be going nuts. And that would motivate the pinning of his arms and of Ben's tying his legs.

Good Lord, Gio was going [to] kill the man.

Ben sprinted forward and whipped out a short bungee cord, using it to quickly bind the diver’s flailing legs together.

Be careful when using gerunds ("ing" verbs showing simultaneous actions). He is not whipping out the cord and binding at the same time, so you need to divide that up.

A huge burst of bubbles escaped from the struggling diver, his bulging eyes showing his panic.

This is great. I might tighten to Bubbles burst from the struggling diver, his eyes bulging. You don't need to name panic. If you insert more immediate reactions above to his regulator being pulled, we see his panic.

Hope that helps!

Sandra Orchard said...

Hi Janet, Sandra L and Ruth, thanks for the warm welcome and food :D

Okay, I'm off to get some writing done, will check in later.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Take note Seekervillians. Sandra Orchard meets her daily word count!!!!

Jackie Smith said...

Hi Sandra,
I'm not a writer so won't write a scene...lol. It is good to see you here...you know I love your books! Thanks for the giveaway..please count me in.

Jeanne T said...

Sandra, what a great post! Even though I'm not a suspense writer, some of your trips translate across genres. I loved your examples!

Myra Johnson said...

Great examples, Sandra! Thanks for being our guest in Seekerville today!

In my writing, I really try to pay attention to the order of the action, like your "peeked around the door frame" example. Also the order of action/reaction.

JEANNE is right--these are all great tips whether we're writing suspense or not!

Meghan Carver said...

Sandra, I loved Perilous Waters. Great action scenes! Thank you for your pointers and wonderful samples. Please count me in for the drawing.

Tina Radcliffe said...

YOU PEEPS GOTTA WATCH THE DIE HARD VIDEO!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

And did I welcome Alana to Seekerville? WELCOME!! We have special new visitor chair for you and we get to ply you with chocolate croissants and ask you all your secrets.

Sandra Orchard said...

Yikes, Tina, now you put the pressure on me! I only have 300 words to show for the last um...let's not even look at the time!

Hey, Jackie S, great to see you here!

So true Jeanne, all genres have a few intense scenes. Myra, yes, I just taught on MRUs at a conference this past weekend and shared a fun example I'd experienced just the day before. A squirrel ran out in front of my car, and you'd think the immediate reflex reaction would be to stomp the brake right? Not me, I lifted my left foot. Analyzing the ridiculous subconscious reaction afterward, I realized that it was if it was heading for my foot and I lifted it so I wouldn't step on him. :D

Meghan, so pleased to hear that you enjoyed Perilous Waters. I had a lot of fun researching those scenes. :D

DebH said...

Thanks Sandra!
Reading my selection again with your comments in mind give me that 'well duh' moment for fixing.

I appreciate your insight. *off to go fix ms and look for other 'duh' stuff...*

Mz.ZeyZey said...

I love this post, Sandra. I tried my hand at romantic suspense and got a couple rejects that said the tone wasn't right in the beginning. I can see a few changes that I need to make based on your tips. I like that the tips are simple and easy to implement, yet will make a big impact on how the action of the story comes across to the reader.

My attempts at action are still quite embarrassing, so I won't share today. I'll just soak in the information and go improve what I have.

Loves To Read said...

Interesting post Sandra! I really enjoyed the Die Hard clips - I'm not a writer but please enter me in the drawing.

Terri said...

Well, shucks, I'm at work so I don't have any of my manuscript pages to give an example from. LOVE the post. It is so helpful, I need to go through my manuscript using this as a point of reference. Love your books!

Wilani Wahl said...

Hi, Sandra,

Here is part of my WIP that I am getting ready to work on.

It was late afternoon and it was time to pick up Cora at her apartment and head to the apple orchard. We both love to walk along the apple trees all laden down with fruit. What fun to pick our own apples. Of course I also had my camera and was able to get some awesome shots, if I may be so bold as to brag on myself.

Wilani Wahl said...

Hi, Sandra,

Here is part of my WIP that I am getting ready to work on.

It was late afternoon and it was time to pick up Cora at her apartment and head to the apple orchard. We both love to walk along the apple trees all laden down with fruit. What fun to pick our own apples. Of course I also had my camera and was able to get some awesome shots, if I may be so bold as to brag on myself.

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Sandra! Great tips, and I look forward to going over my MS with them. I'm currently writing a murder mystery, and chapter 3 contains a spooky sequence in which the lights go out in an auditorium, several people scream, lots of thumping, and the feel of a cold mist wafting through. When the lights come back up, there's a murderous threat written on the wall. I don't have the actual scene in front of me, but that's the gist. I can't wait to apply these tips to it, and to a later scene in which the heroine is on the run for her life from the killer!

Please don't include me in the drawing, as I have no e-reader, and many others should have the chance to win. Have a great day!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Is there someone here who hasn't seen Die Hard 1-2-3????

Really?

Are they Earthlings????

Sandra Orchard said...

Glad they helped Deb and MzZeyZey.

Will certainly enter you in the giveaway L.T.R. Thanks for your interest!

Terri, pop back when you get home and post something. I'll be around. ;)

Sandra Orchard said...

Hi Wilani,

Does this paragraph lead to a scary scene? I wasn't quite sure how you'd like to intensify it. We could work a little more at "showing".

Okay, so here's what you have:

It was late afternoon and it was time to pick up Cora at her apartment and head to the apple orchard. We both love to walk along the apple trees all laden down with fruit. What fun to pick our own apples. Of course I also had my camera and was able to get some awesome shots, if I may be so bold as to brag on myself.

How about showing the pov character in motion instead of having it all in her head. For example:
I pulled up to the curb in front of Cora's apartment, visions of the orchard's apple-laden trees filling my mind. Dark clouds had already started rolling in, but if they hurried, they'd have time to pick at least a bushel. The sweet taste danced in her mouth as if she'd already snagged one and sunk in her teeth. and so on...I like the brag on myself bit. It nicely shows her character. Have fun with it!

Kav said...

Thanks for the insights, Sandra. I learn so much better from examples. And what it really amounts to is layering, isn't it? Even if it's just a single word or shortening a sentence...all those little nuances add life to the story and make it more enjoyable to read. You rock!!!!!!!

But WAIT -- you didn't tell us if you missed the squirrel!!!!

Sandra Orchard said...

Stephanie those both sound like perfect scenes to hike up the tension on. Always so much fun to do!

Sandra Orchard said...

LOL, Kav, I think I did. I didn't feel as if I went over it and didn't see it on the road behind me.

Layering is a great word. I often write high action scenes in particular very quickly and then need to go back and layer in the emotions and motivations and play with the words until they give the right feel, or...I run out of play time. :D Glad you found the examples helpful!

Sandra Orchard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kav said...

Okay -- just watched the Die Hard video. True Confession: I've never seen a Die Hard movie and after watching that video clip I can see why. I'd spend all my time with my eyes closed. I'm an action wimp. So yes, Ruthy, there are people on this planet who have not watched Die Hard. :-)

Debby Giusti said...

Great suspense, Sandra!

Pacing is so important. What to add. What to leave out. How to move that action forward.

Thanks for providing wonderful insight into the fine art of writing suspense. Great blog...and a topic that's near and dear to my heart! :)

Hugs!

Wilani Wahl said...

Thanks Sandra. That will help

Elaine Manders said...

Hi Sandra,

I can attest to the fact that you don't do much thinking in an action scene. I had a new action experience last night. My husband and I had this brilliant idea to put up posts about 18 inches high around the pool deck and connect it with a nautical rope. We haven't painted the posts yet nor put up the rope. Last night I forgot to dump the chlorine until after dark. So I ran out, barefoot, and slammed into one of those posts. No screams, no cursing. I just lay there looking up at the stars in a cloudy sky. The outcome, two broken toes and I'm on crutches for the first time in my life. Now I know how it feels to run into a wooden post set in concrete. But I don't think the words have been invented yet to describe the pain.

Mary Hicks said...

Ouch, Elaine! That hurt me!

Sandra, great post—I'm keeping it for reference. :-)

High action scenes are hard for me—actually, so are low action scenes... I struggle with all of it, so I really appreciate the information I get here on Seekerville.:-)

Vince said...

Hi Sandra:

I have an action scene in my “The Last Romantic” WIP. The hero and his best friend, both Special Forces vets going to college on the GI bill, are in the student union cafeteria which has all windows on one side looking out at the Pacific Ocean. They are talking to the heroine who the hero just met and has fallen in love with at first sight! The hero is discussing philosophy with the heroine.


“I’m afraid you’ve lost me there,” Sophie said as a glass window shattered and a bullet hole appeared just above her head.

“Get down!” Ernest shouted. He tipped the table over in front of them for cover. He scanned the area. Screaming students ran in all directions.

“That was an assault rifle,” Ernest said.

“Just one shot. Were they trying to kill us, do you think?”

“Too far and we’re fifty feet from the windows. Not a good kill shot,” Ernest said.

Three quick shots smashed a dozen more windows.

“A psycho shooter?”

“Movement. He’s on the island. Two hundred yards out.”

“That would put him on Lookout Point.”

“Let’s get him.” Ernest said.

“Get him! With what? He’s got AK-47 or something like it.” Alex said.

Ernest tapped his head with his index finger.

“You’re going to kill him with your head?”

“With my mind. There’s only one escape route from up there. We know where he’s going. We get there first and push him off the cliff as he turns the last bend.”

The men jumped to their feet. Ernest looked down at the shaking Sophie. “I’ll have to get back to you about Kant’s Categorical Imperative later.”

***

Love your post. I've already pasted it in my Scrivener writing project. Thanks.

Sandra Orchard said...

LOL, Kav. Ruthy really needs to get out and meet more people! But, shh, don’t tell her I said that. ;)

Thanks Debby :D

Glad it helped Wilani.

OUCH, Elaine! Not how you want to research your books! Praying those toes heal quickly.

Mary, glad you found the post helpful.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Suspense is one of the most difficult sub genres to write. Not only music you write action but you have to avoid the AND THEN AND THEN AND THEN stuff and keep the reader from being pulled out.

Tina Radcliffe

Sandra Orchard said...

Hey Vince, to be Scrivener worthy...awesome, thanks. :)

Okay, let's look at your first few lines. Love the title by the way.

“I’m afraid you’ve lost me there,” Sophie said as a glass window shattered and a bullet hole appeared just above her head.

I'd like to see action and reactions piled up here to mimic the chaos that would happen in a real shooting scene. Something like "I'm afraid you lost me there--" an explosion of glass cut off Sophie's response. [I don't think anyone would be noticing a bullet hole at this point.]


“Get down!” Ernest said. He tipped the table over in front of them for cover. He scanned the area. Screaming students ran in all directions.

Here maybe something like: "Get down!" Ernest dove on top of Sophie as the wall behind them splintered under a barrage of bullets (or a a bullet ripped through the wall behind them). He tipped the table...Also give him a visceral reaction perhaps before the dialogue below so you can delete the Ernest said.

“That was an assault rifle,” Ernest said.

“Just one shot. Were they trying to kill us, do you think?” (Who's saying this? It sounds too analytical after a shot is fired.Imbue with emotion.)

“Too far and we’re fifty feet from the windows. Not a good kill shot,” Ernest said.

Three quick shots smashed a dozen more windows. [is it possible for 3 bullets to break 12 windows?] ;)


See how embedded action and thoughts with dialogue evokes more emotion? I often start my scenes with dialogue like what you have, but that's just the skeleton, especially if it's a romance. He's in love with her, so he's going to be desperate to protect her. Let your reader see that desperation. :D

Missy Tippens said...

Great action scenes, Sandra! And great tips to enhance them. I have trouble getting the sequencing right sometimes (although I don't write too many high action scenes). :)

Sandra Orchard said...

Story always trumps mechanics, Missy. So if the true order of reactions (subconscious before conscious) doesn't fit or sounds awkward, don't sacrifice the story for the sake of the sequencing.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sandra, I didn't see the John McClain video this morning, so I just watched it...

OH HOW FUNNY!!!!

And fun, John died so many times!

I loved those movies and Lethal Weapon and my boys (evil things) considered them great Christmas movies. :)

So this was fun to go back and view the clip!

"Holly!!!!! There's your amazin' landing lights!!!!!"

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Sandra,

Great tips for action scenes. Even though I don't write suspense, I do have action scenes in a lot of my books. No time at the moment to search for one though. Cats are meowing for dinner. (The humans will soon be too!)

You give great critiques, btw!

Good luck with your release!

Cheers,
Sue

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Fantastic post, Sandra. A keeper for sure.

Here's a scene from a WIp. The year l944 and the setting a private swimming pool. Your help much appreciated.

From the deep end, a movement attracted her attention. Something stirred at the bottom.
Someone.
Galvanized, she bounded the rail in a single leap and ran to the edge. She looked down and tensed. I have to go in there! Dear Lord! She kicked off her shoes and dived straight down, rocketing to the bottom of the pool. Eyes stinging, Abby thrashed around until her hands caught a piece of clothing, a hand, an arm, a child. Edythe! The body was limp. Abby fought down the panic that robbed her of precious breath. She willed herself to work fast. In his lessons Jim had drilled this into her. But what else did he say? She grabbed the girl by the shoulders, placed her knee in the small of Edythe’s back, and with her right leg pushed hard against the floor of the pool. After an eternity she broke the surface.
With one arm Abby hoisted herself onto the rim of the pool and pulled Edythe up with the other. From close by in the darkness came a moan. But she saw no one. “Help!. “Hurry!” Abby called out. No response.
Abby felt Edythe’s neck for a pulse. The girl was not breathing. She coaxed Jim’s instructions to her mind. “You never know when this information might come in handy,” he’d told her. “Every second counts. Don’t bother to remove wet clothes.” She turned the girl face down on the cement and positioned herself to one side. Dropping to one knee, she positioned her palms over the lower part of Edythe’s back, one on each side. She’s so small.
Abby shifted the weight of her body forward onto her hands, to increase pressure against Edythe’s chest and to force the water out of her lungs. Jim had said this is what she must do. Oh, Jim, I need you now! She raised her body rhythmically, hands firm on the girl’s back, and maintained a forward and backward action, every four seconds, fifteen times a minute. She kept count in her head. Don’t-break-the-rhythm . . . down-up, down-up. “Could be half-an-hour before they breathe independently,” she heard Jim whisper in her ear. How long had it been already? Oh God, help me, please!
Then the child’s body jerked, once, twice. She coughed, then vomited.

Sandra Orchard said...

Ruth, a friend of my daughter's got us on to those. They are fun. They've done similar ones for a lot of movies.

Susan!! Did you get my email way back when congratulating you on your book deals!!! Way to go! Glad you enjoyed the post...yowling kitties do get demanding don't they? ;)

Sandra Orchard said...

Pat, I'm going to give yours some thought. I have lots of suggestions, but... need to go have a good cry first. Scene kind of hits too close to home. Had a dear friend lose their three-year-old to drowning.

Sandra Orchard said...

Okey, dokey, Pat, I'm back. Let's look at a portion of what you've pasted here. I think what you need to do is really put yourself emotionally in that situation and have here react accordingly. I'm going to paste it below and then in brackets add some thoughts.

Galvanized [I think this might be the wrong word. To me it makes me think of her being frozen in place. I'd just delete, she bounded [great strong verb, I'd delete "in a single leap"] the rail in a single leap and ran to the edge. She looked down and tensed. [There's nothing wrong with the previous sentence, but to vary sentence structure, you might change it to Looking down, she tensed. Although...I'm thinking tensed is too tame and slow. I don't know about you, but I'd be freaking. I wouldn't be having the following thoughts. I'd delete those. And I'm not sure I'd have the presence of mind to kick off my shoes.] I have to go in there! Dear Lord! She kicked off her shoes and dived straight down, rocketing to the bottom of the pool. [Here's where you can really beef up the intensity. Instead of "dived straight down, rocketing..." you could change to She kicked off her shoes and rocketed to the bottom of the pool. Tight and active and a fresh image.] Eyes stinging, [good sensory detail] Abby thrashed [great verb] around until her hands caught a piece of clothing, a hand, an arm, a child. [Nice, at this point, I'd go straight to rocketing straight back out and then observing the body is limp etc. Remember, she is under water too. She doesn't have time for those observations without running out of breath.] Edythe! The body was limp. Abby fought down the panic that robbed her of precious breath. [Once she's dragged the girl to ground, show her fighting down the panic, don't tell us. and show us trying to remember what Jim had said. The next 2 sentences could be condensed to What did Jim say?] She willed herself to work fast. In his lessons Jim had drilled this into her. But what else did he say? She grabbed the girl by the shoulders, placed her knee in the small of Edythe’s back, and with her right leg pushed hard against the floor of the pool. After an eternity she broke the surface.
With one arm Abby hoisted herself onto the rim of the pool and pulled Edythe up with the other. From close by in the darkness came a moan. But she saw no one. [okay the previous 2 sentences confused me. How did she see a body in the bottom of the pool if it's dark outside and not see someone moaning nearby. Is the pool lit? If so, I'd add a detail about how the light played off the lifeless form in the bottom of the pool.] “Help!. “Hurry!” Abby called out. No response.
Abby felt Edythe’s neck for a pulse. The girl was not breathing. [This thought doesn't follow feeling for a pulse. Remember ABCs. Airway, breathing, circulation. She'd be working frantically on the breathing part, not feeling for a pulse. She'd probably be too frantic to find it even if she was there. And she'd be shouting. "Breathe. Breathe. Oh, God make her breathe!"] She coaxed Jim’s instructions to her mind. ["coaxed" feels a little to sedate for the urgency of the situation. How long has she been down there? She might ask herself that question. How many minutes before brain damage sets in?...No time for coaxing memories only time for action]

Hope that helps.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Gosh, you guys are getting a free critique from Sandra Orchard. WOW. Talk about generous. Sandra, thank you so much.

Sandra Orchard said...

It's a fun way to procrastinate working on my own revisions. Of course, I should probably be working on the stack of Maggie entries I need to critique! I guess next time we'll need to bold and highlight "sentence or two." LOL ;)

Tina Radcliffe said...

:) ha!!!

Chill N said...

Sandra, several of your points apply to almost any writing -- especially keeping events in sequence. Nothing slows down my reading more than "wait, he did what when?"

What interesting excerpts from WIPS, etc. Thanks everyone for sharing so we can all learn from Sandra.

No need to enter me in the drawing -- that's an intriguing cover that really sets the tone for the story :-)

Nancy C

Sandra Orchard said...

Hi Nancy,

Got to say that I have been so pleased with Revell's cover designs. And the model even connected with me on FB to introduce herself. :D

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Sandra, I'm so sorry I brought back painful memories of that tragic incident.
Sorry the scene didn't paste here with paragraph breaks.You critiqued more than I expected. Please know that I'm so grateful for your generous help with this near drowning scene. Your observations are spot on. Applying your suggestions with edits will almost guarantee an emotional response in the reader. At least that's what I'm aiming for. Thank again.

Sandra Orchard said...

Glad you found it helpful, Pat.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Seriously? You met the model for your cover? That is cooler than cool.

Terri said...

Sandra- I'm home and found a couple of paragraphs.

Halfway down the drive a hand reached out, and grabbed her by the hair. The slick drive, coupled with the hand in her hair, knocked her feet out from under her. Elizabeth slammed into the asphalt drive. Stars burst before her eyes.

Nelson fell to his knees over her, the razor arched overhead.

Out of nowhere, headlights illuminated them. Nelson drove the razor down and it slashed into her arm. Pain exploded where the sharp blade slashed through her flesh. She watched in terror ad Nelson lifted the razor again.

"Stop, police."

"Now he can watch you die." The blade came towards her again.

A single shot split the night air. Blood splattered across her face and Nelson's lifeless body collapsed on top of her. She screamed.

Sandra Orchard said...

Hi Terri, okay, first line is problematic...maybe. I'm not a grammar expert by any stretch and often deliberately break the rules, but it reads to me as if the hand is halfway down the drive. :D Maybe show her slipping down the slick drive then Nelson grabs her hair and knocks her feet out from under her. Actually, you show this by having her slam into the asphalt (omit the repetition of 'drive') so you don't actually have to say that her feet were knocked out from under her.

Can you infuse some emotion into her reaction to that? Something more than just stars. What's she thinking? Could you compare the burst of fizzling light to her time running out? To what's at stake? What does this guy want? Does she have any hope? Does she struggle?

I'd tighten Nelson's actions in the next paragraph. But first have him taunt her with the razor blade glinting in the headlights. Then: have her turn so that the blade misses her face...Searing pain slashed her arm. Don't say she watched. You're in deep pov so whatever you describe we know she's seeing. Saying she watched distances the reader.

Perhaps describe the twisted look on his face as he raises the razor over her face.

Good dialogue. Instead of "came towards her", how about plunged or another strong verb? I'd have her scream at that. It seems late to have her scream after the shot and him falling on her. I'd also like to see her fighting him off more. :D

Hope that helps!

Terri said...

Thank you! That definitely helps. I appreciate you taking the time to look it over.

Now I need to apply those same principles to the rest of the manuscript!

Sandra Orchard said...

You're welcome! Glad you found it helpful.

Terri said...

Well, I went back and read all the critiques. I thought I could learn something from each of them. I thought right!

Awesome advice, Sandra. Hope you'll be at ACFW this year.

Sandra Orchard said...

Glad to hear it, Terri!

Dana McNeely said...

Wow, Sandra! All these adrenaline-charged examples got my blood pumping early on a Friday morning, when I sleepily picked an email to read. Thanks!

Sandra Orchard said...

You're welcome, Dana. Maybe I can market my books as a coffee substitute. :D

Mark Abel said...

Hi Sandra,
Thanks for your helpful inputs in writing action and requesting samples. I'm working on my first novel and have been struggling with this. Your suggestions and feedback are greatly appreciated with the following excerpt:

Thrashing and kicking, gasping with elbows driving into the cobbles. “Help me Lord. Help!” Arms and free leg flailing his body dragged against his will. “Help!” The light erupted then from behind him flooding the chamber with the brilliance of the sun. Pulling, kicking and clawing Batush wrenched backwards to the blinding light. Squinting he forced himself to look as something swept past entering the fight. A simple command thundered into his mind.
“Run Batush. Run!”

Sandra Orchard said...

Hi Mark,

Happy to help. What kind of chamber are we talking here? I pictured him on a cobbled street, until you mentioned chamber.

You have lots of strong, vivid verbs. But I'd not write so many of them in "ing" form to change it up and make it more immediate. Also "gasping with elbows" came out wrong at first read. :D

Perhaps: Gasping, he drove his elbows in the cobbles as he thrashed and kicked his assailant.

{I try to avoid "as" phrases as much as possible in action scenes, too for the same reason, but this construction would convey something similar to what you had. I'm thinking...is thrashing more something you'd do with your arms than legs? If so, he wouldn't be thrashing at the same time as digging elbows. I'd reorder the next part after the dialogue since it didn't make sense the free leg didn't make sense, nor the arms flailing until I got to the part that he was dragged. The construction seems different than I'm used to reading. I'd tend to say: The guy grabbed his leg and dragged him toward..."Help," Batush screamed, fighting his grip.

The next part after "sun" demonstrates the issue with using "ing" verbs. They imply the actions are happening simultaneously, but It would be difficult to do all those things at the same time as he wrenches backward. He kicked and clawed. Breaking his assailant's grip, he wrenched backward...

Consider order in the next part, the something must come into view before he knows to look. Your verbs are wonderfully strong. Play a little more with sentence construction and I think you'll find it will read with more intensity.

Mark Abel said...


Hi Sandra,

Thanks so much for your feedback it is much appreciated and your analysis is spot on. The story is speculative involving angels and demons set in second century Ephesus. The scene takes place in a hidden tomb 'chamber' where Batush is rescued from the grip of death by Raphael the good angel!

As mentioned I have been struggling with action scenes and your post was so very helpful. Will integrate your inputs and give it some more work. Thanks again, Mark


Sandra Orchard said...

Great! so glad you found it helpful.