Tips on writing an Action Scene
Ever have an amazing scene in your head, but can't figure out how to write it down? I also plan very elaborate fight scenes in my head and it took me a long time to figure out how to write them. Obviously there’s no right or wrong way to go about writing a fight scene, but here’s my method:
1) Find some good fight scenes to reference. Note that while it should look *something* like the fight you’re going to write, you can be pretty flexible as long as you can translate the movements of the original fight into something that makes sense for your setting. For example, I once adapted elements of a bending fight in Legend of Korra into a lightsaber duel, even though the LoK fight didn’t involve swords or melee weapons, because I was able to retain the spirit of the LoK blocking in swordfight form. Turning that LoK fight into something involving guns, on the other hand, would be tricky. The reverse is also true - it’s tough to turn a gunfight into melee combat.
2) Watch the reference scenes a few times, and try to identify what about the blocking makes it cool.
3) Watch the reference scene again, but this time watch it in slow motion or pause it every couple seconds. Make a mental note of what’s happening frame by frame. Try to break it down into smaller pieces as well as large movements - don’t just say “he swings a sword,” make a note of the micromovements that go into swinging a sword.
4) Block your fight scene without any flair or description. Just write a list of simple, one-line descriptors of what happens blow by blow. Draw on your observations of the reference fight scenes from steps 1-3. You shouldn’t copy a fight’s blocking verbatim, but you can borrow individual elements as long as the way you describe it in Step 5 brings something new to the table. (The equivalent in art would be using references. Tracing a picture and calling it yours? Bad. Plagiarism. Looking at pictures similar to the thing you want to draw and using that to figure out how it should look? Or looking at art and saying “hey the way they did x is really cool, I want to emulate that part of their style”? Good and fine.)
5) Once it’s blocked, THEN you go back in and add flourishes. Note that you shouldn’t add flourishes to every sentence. Some of them should be short & declarative. But figure out the places where you can add relevant information and flesh those out more.
If you’re still struggling to write a fight scene, here’s a list of questions you can ask yourself about the fight scene. Use the answers to inform the blocking AND how you embellish on that blocking.
Here are some other good questions to ask yourself while writing:
Are there lots of acrobatics?
Is it fluid or choppy?
Are the characters going for glancing blows or are they throwing their whole weight into the strike? If melee combat, do they have to follow through? If ranged combat, is there recoil? If it’s a heavy blow or recoil is involved, what does that feel like?
How do the characters and their weapons hold up as the fight progresses? Do they need to reload ammo? Do weapons break? Do they injure themselves? If the answer to any of those is yes, how does that change the course of the fight?
Are characters using the environment in interesting ways?
Does the fight damage things around them?
Are the weather or other conditions (lighting, smoke, hazards) complicating the fight?
Does the fighting style reveal something about the character, or the relationship between two characters?
Does a fight have extra dimension because of the characters’ relationships, or the context of the fight?
What do the characters want out of the fight? Is it a no-holds-barred fight to the death, or is it a ceremonial fight with rules and norms to follow?
Is it strenuous? Do the characters tire? Do they sweat? Do they get dirty? Do any of those factors affect the fight as it goes on? How do characters deal with pain?
Are the characters used to fighting? Are they scared? Do they enjoy it? What does it physically feel like to experience those emotions while fighting? If they’re fighting to the death and they kill somebody, does that bother them? Have they done it before? Do they feel guilt or regret? If they’re numb to what’s happening, is it because they’re a hardened killer or because they’re running on adrenaline and survival instincts?
Have fun writing!