The Dreaded Action Scene

When I first started writing fantasy I found myself procrastinating the action and battle scenes. I have to admit, they scared me. I wasn’t sure how to get movement into my story that was both exciting and yet clear.

But I’ve learned that there is a secret to executing action scenes well. It’s a technique known as pacing.

In a battle scene, for instance, there needs to be enough detail so that the reader sees exactly what is happening and can follow along. But too much detail will weigh the event, and the reader will lose themselves in adjectives and adverbs and unnecessary telling.

If the environment needs to be drawn, it should be done before the action begins because once the events start, the author needs to imply quickness. The best way to do that is to make the sentences as short and quick as the scene that is taking place.

Emotions are always an important element in every scene and I personally like to include them in high-tension battle scenes as well. But in real life how often, in the heat of the moment, are we aware of our emotions. It seems that we become too involved in the action to be feeling anything?

For instance, if you see a child about to step into a busy street you act on impulse. You race out to grab that child and bring her to safety. It isn’t until after the fact that you feel your heart beating a mile a minute, or fear overwhelming you.

The same is true for characters in a story. Up to the moment before the first shot emotion can bring anticipation. But when that first blast of gun, or sweep of a sword happens, your characters will act on impulse. All emotions and thoughts will come afterwards.

So how do we show the action itself so that it’s believable and clear?

I’ve found that short to the point sentences work the best.

Jane picked up a towel. Randy raced at her. Fist flying. Sweat beading down his face. The towel flew. Blinded by the impact, Randy fell. The door slammed. Jane was gone.

Not the best writing probably, but you get the point. Quick and precise sentences will move the story at an exciting pace.

Dianne Gardner is both an author and illustrator living the Pacific Northwest, Olalla Washington. She’s an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the National League of American Pen Women. She has written Young Adult Fantasy novels as well as articles for national maga­zines and newspapers and she is an award-winning artist. Her book The Dragon Shield is out now


  1. Thank you for posting. Very informative.

  2. You're welcome, and thank you Jo for having me on your blog!


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