Action Scenes: The Aftermath

Action scenes don’t stop when the last punch lands or the escape is made. It doesn’t matter whether the scene was verbal action or physical, there are consequences to what just happened that needs to be taken into consideration.


Action scenes are intense, either emotionally, mentally, or physical, or a combination of two or all three of these elements. Not just for the characters either. The reader is also experiencing these high emotions as they follow the characters through such scenes.

The reader needs a break to process everything that just happened, so it’s generally a good idea to follow up an intense scene with a scene that allows for that processing and rest to occur.

Changing the pace is also important for the characters, because without giving them time to recover and work through what they just experienced you risk losing an some of the realism of the story.


Injuries are the most technical aspects of action’s aftermath to address. Adrenaline does crazy things to the human body and it takes time for the body to flush it out of its system, especially if the character is injured, and that rush of epinephrine keeping him or her from feeling the extent of the damage. Give characters time to come down from the rush, either by jumping forward in time or giving them room to breathe on the page.

Take the time to research wounds in order to accurately represent how long a character will need to recover from various injuries. Walking around two days after breaking an ankle is unrealistic and irritating for readers. Don’t try to slip something by the reader just because it doesn’t fit with your desired timeline.

Short of magic or highly advanced science, bones take a minimum of six to eight weeks to heal. Learn what areas of the body can sustain being shot without killing a person and how long it takes muscle tissue to heal to various stages of use. Authors are known for being “jacks of all trades and masters of none,” but don’t let lazy research put you in a bind with readers.

Mental and Emotional Trauma

Defining and understanding the healing process of mental and emotional trauma is much harder than scanning bones to see if they’ve knit themselves back together well enough to bear weight.

Understanding the effects of a terrifying experience, being betrayed, having confidence shattered, and other extremely hurtful experiences takes really digging into the character’s psyche. Carefully consider why they were mentally and/or emotionally wounded by the experience by asking questions.

  • Did this trigger a deeper pain or open up old wounds?
  • Was a deeply held belief or love for someone destroyed?
  • Did the event greatly shock the character and cause them to reconsider closely held beliefs?
  • Did the event injure the character’s sense of self or worldview?
  • Was the character’s trust broken?

When a person’s world is greatly altered by an event, it create wounds that may be very slow to heal. Losing trust in someone can have a ripple effect and keep a character from trusting others. Being pushed into a mental confrontation the character wasn’t ready for can cause him or her to shut down or rebel and cling tighter to the original belief.

Whatever the trauma, the effect on the character should be proportional to the aftermath.

If a friend lies about being sick when you had plans to go out because they got a last minute invite to go out with someone else, it hurts and may keep you from being too quick to make plans with that person again, but it will not shake your core trust in other friends or family.

If, however, a deeply guarded secret is suddenly revealed by a trusted friend or family member and the revelation causes great harm to the character, he is unlikely to easily trust anyone for quite some time.

This can also be a good way to gauge if the action scene is appropriately paced and weighted in the story as well. If an action scene is highly dramatic but the fallout is relatively inconsequential, something is out of balance and it may be that the action was given more importance than it should have been if the aftermath can’t be made it match it.

Consequences also have a ripple effects on other characters.

Even if only one character is directly harmed or affected by an action scene, there are still ways that the other characters will be affected, even if he or she did not actually participate in the action.

A character being brought home covered in blood paired with cries for help and chaotic energy can be quite traumatizing to certain individuals. Watching other people be harmed and feeling responsible for the outcome can have a profound effect on a character as well. Seeing someone you think you know behave in a way that is frightening or completely unexpected can shake a character’s sense of who that person is and what he or she knows about the world.

Similar to what was mentioned in the previous section, the effect on secondary players should also be proportional to the actual event and it’s effect on the main participants.

Even if you are not the type of writer who outlines or plans out all aspects of the story ahead of time, it is important to plan or keep in mind how the action will affect the characters and how that will impact the overall storyline.

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DelSheree Gladden was one of those shy, quiet kids who spent more time reading than talking. Literally. She didn't speak a single word for the first three months of preschool. Her fascination with reading led to many hours spent in the library and bookstores, and eventually to writing. She wrote her first novel when she was sixteen years old, but spent ten years rewriting it before having it published. Native to New Mexico, DelSheree and her family spent several years in Colorado for college and work before moving back home to be near family. When not writing novels, you can find DelSheree reading, painting, sewing, and working with other authors. DelSheree has several bestselling young adult series and has hit the USA Today Bestseller list twice as part of box sets. DelSheree also has contemporary romance, cozy mystery, and paranormal new adult series. Her writing is as varied as her reading interests.

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