Action scenes

Action scenes in novels or films are a notoriously tricky thing to pull off. In fact, I find they are actually the hardest thing to write in either a screenplay or prose.

There are several pitfalls to avoid. Too little action in a story that demands it will feel flabby, often with a second act that seems to drag. Too much and it feels overblown, and character empathy is lost. Writing prose compounds this issue, as simply reading description – of a battle for instance – doesn’t work the way it might in a screenplay which will ultimately be filmed.

How then to approach action scenes in prose? I try to always emphasise the senses – smell, taste, touch, the noise, etc. Also describing the emotions experienced by the character helps a great deal, as do various other methods. Take the afore-mentioned battle scene problem. In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien dealt with this by building suspense. For example, the Minis Tirith siege is experienced by characters within the walls, slowing observing the advancing menace from Mordor. It is handled very differently in the film version, but the novel mostly stays with Pippin and his point of view.


It can also be a good idea to keep battle scenes in books brief. The Battle of Five Armies in The Hobbit is essentially dealt with in a few lines, whereas the film version went on for the best part of an hour. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s simply about making the right choice for the right medium.

There are various ways I approach action in stories that demand it. Sometimes it can be fun to bookend a story with large action sequences, providing a sense of full circle. Other times it is good to gradually build action scenes (what I call the Die Hard approach) with each outdoing the last. This is generally my method with the George Hughes series. There is normally an action scene fairly early on – in chapter 2 – before the main plot kicks in properly, and the scale of the action becomes bigger and increasingly outrageous.

GGTN 1600 x 2400

George goes to Neptune, the final novel in the George Hughes series, obviously features plenty of action. It is released on the 25th of October for download on Kindle, and can be pre-ordered here. Print copies will be available from the 31st of October.

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