Writing effective and interesting action scenes requires appropriate description and careful pacing.
Use simple language when describing action. Technical terms or jargon will get lost and can easily confuse readers in a fast-paced scene. If certain terms are important to the story or scene, be sure they are explained in an earlier scene so readers are familiar with them and don’t have to stop to look up or wonder at their meaning. This slows the pace and breaks the reader’s focus.
Action scenes aren’t the place for similes and metaphors, either. Large-scale metaphors may be communicated by the overall scene, but avoid using metaphors and similes in fights scene because they slow the pace and can be distracting.
Use shorter sentences that match the pace of the action taking place. Long-drawn out sentences slow the reading speed and ask the reader to more carefully consider the meaning of the sentence. Shorter sentences keep the pace moving in time with whatever action or movement is taking place.
Be specific when describing what is happening in the scene. Vague descriptions slow the pace and can confuse the reader unnecessarily. Clarity is crucial during action scenes or readers will miss important information. Be clear about who is involved, where it happens, weapons or powers used, risks involved, and consequences of the action or overall scene.
Avoid the passive voice. Action should always be described using an active voice. This makes the action feel more immediate and draws the reader into what is happening rather than making them feel like they are being told about what happened after the fact. For example, “Mark slapped Adam” is more active and compelling than “Adam was slapped by Mark.” Draw the reader in with active description. Remember, the characters are involved in the fight scenes, it’s not happening to them as passive bystanders.
Pacing and Action Scene
Appropriate pacing keeps an action scene from dragging on and boring readers. It also helps to keep the scene from seeming too short and inconsequential. Pacing of the scene should match the action taking place in it as well as the overall importance of the scene.
In order to appropriately pace a scene, vary sentence length to match what is happening in that moment. When you need a break in the action, use longer or more complex sentences. This gives the action a break as well as gives the reader a moment to take in everything that has happened.
Mix dialogue with action to give the reader a mental break to process the action and learn something important about what is happening in the scene. Limit internal thoughts and dialogue to avoid slowing the pace too much. Use these when a pause is intentionally written into the scene.
Don’t drag the scene out unnecessarily. An important part of pacing an action scene is determining how long it reasonably needs to be in order to communicate what is happening and why. Fight scenes and chase scenes, especially, only need to be long enough to accomplish their purpose. These types of scenes can quickly get boring for readers when they are not concise.