The end of Manuscript: Beta of The Warden of Everfeld: Memento is nigh, and my characters (most of them) just survived a battle scene that ended as abruptly as it began.
But uptempo pacing is not the only way to write an exciting battle scene. Here are four other practices to try out to make your action sequences the adrenaline-pumping rushes they deserve to be.
In the midst of a battle or fight, the character has little time to think about what is happening. Even in scenes where the action seems to slow down for the character, they are not likely to stop and consider the weight of the moment — that comes after.
What do characters tend to focus on when time slows? The smells, sounds, tastes, sensations, or sights around them.
Use sensory observations to heighten the visceral experience of the battle for both your character and your reader. And don’t bog down the physical movement of the action with too many inner thoughts or dialogue.
Abrupt Changes in POV
Obviously, this mechanism only applies to stories that have established multiple points of view among different characters (or want to introduce it for a battle to give a more rounded perspective of the action).
Either way, quickly shifting from one person’s head to another help build the chaotic nature of violent conflict. Just as the reader settles into one perspective, the narrative changes, and they have to keep up.
These changes have to make sense to the overall narrative, but they can be a useful tool when planned and plotted well.
It’s great to use long sentences with many component parts to try to express a drawn out idea to the reader — at least on occasion.
But action scenes demand punctuation. And I don’t mean excessive exclamation points. Short, action sentences drive the excitement. Every beat of the paragraph tells the reader something news about what is happening around the character.
Subject-Verb-Object. Tell the reader what’s happening and get the hell out.
The wording of an action sequence can do more than just set the pace and punctuate the action itself. Explosive excitement needs explosive language to thrive. Go bigger with verbs and adjectives. Exaggerating how the action affects the character increases the impact of the scene. Make your character, and reader, feel it.
Metaphors and similes can also be used to paint a vivid picture of the action. If your character is frozen in time, give them something to look at. Use stark colors and light to help the reader see the tone of the scene.
I’m not one to harp on adverb usage in normal writing, but for an action scene, I try to avoid them.
The hunter stepped lithely away from the sharp point.
How does someone step lithely? And if they’re merely stepping, they must not be in a big hurry…
The hunter danced around a sharp thrust of the blade.
By replacing stepped lithely with an action verb, danced, we can convey the same image with fewer syllables.
Do you have any other general rules you like to follow when writing an action scene? Share your ideas in the comments.