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.
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?
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