Thursday, February 24, 2011

Writing Action

Blog post on LTUE panel #2

Author on the panel: Larry Correia

Larry is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Monster Hunter series. His books are truly phenomenal and packed with eye-popping action sequences.

As obvious as it may seem, if it's boring, fix it. A twenty page excerpt of nothing but bombs, guns and blood can bore your readers to tears if the text is lacking the emotional pull. Without emotion, readers will feel no connection to your characters. If they feel no draw to your characters, they could care less what happens to them. Avoid the checklist--the play by play list of movements. What is your character thinking? Feeling?

What are you trying to accomplish? If you're just including the scene to spice things up because the plot seems to be dragging, it may be time to rework your plot. If the scene isn't serving a specific purpose to help the plot forward, cut it.
Don’t think of action as separate from plot, characters or emotion. A good action scene should aid the plot.

Don't overdo it. If it's too wordy, readers will start to skim. If it's not necessary, cut it!

Remember whose head you're in. If your character knows absolutely nothing about guns, they're not going to know the details about that particular gun, how fast it shoots, what it's loaded with, etc. Keep it true to the character. If a certain detail is necessary to the comprehension of that particular scene but that character wouldn't know that detail, put a different character in that scene or find another way to inform the reader. You are telling the story through the lens of that character.

Do your research. A person cannot sustain a major blow to the leg, for example, without causing them to lose a significant amount of blood and slow them down substantially. If your character shrugs off a severe injury, the reader will have a hard time buying it.
Know a bit about biology – what does the body do when put through a certain trauma? Keep it real!

Find people who are experts in a needed field and put them on your alpha read team. They'll catch things you never would have thought to research in the first place.

Know your stuff but don't be obsessive. You can't possibly research everything. You may get a few things wrong but as long as you don't misrepresent huge details, the reader will understand.

Don't let the fear of getting something wrong or not writing it sufficiently get in your way. The more you write, the better you'll get.

In a life or death conflict, there's not a lot of time for self-doubt and internal dialogue. Include those in short slices throughout the scene. Your character is not going to stop and ponder the meaning of things when the villain is raising a sword to his head.

Pick the direction of your genre and keep it consistent. If you're writing fantasy/sci-fi and you have a different system for the way things work, set some rules and keep it consistent. Even in a magic-based society, the characters cannot do everything. Your readers will get bored.

Don't make your characters too powerful. Give them some weaknesses. They need a few things standing in their way or solving the problem at hand will be too easy and uninteresting.

You do need a little down/growth time between the action. Some brief moments when the characters can figure out what just happened and what it means. They don't have to be long, you should vary the pacing, but neither do you want four-hundred pages of nothing but intense action.

If you choose to open the story with an action scene, give a little time for readers to emotionally invest in the characters (unless you can do it during the scene).

A little chaos is okay but don't over complicate it. Give unnamed characters designations (the guy in the orange shirt, the girl with the scar trailing down her arm, etc) so your readers can keep track of what's going on, who's doing what. If your reader gets lost, they'll start to skim (or put the book down altogether).

Don't be afraid to hurt or kill your characters when you have a purpose for it. Pain helps people to learn and grow and if there's a purpose behind the trauma, your readers will connect with the characters on a much deeper level.


  1. I especially like the "down time" idea, that not every single scene has to be blowing your hair off.

  2. Great post...I agree that down time is an absolute must.

  3. The worst as a reader is when you feel the need to skim...I don't want my books to be skimmed!!!