It’s hard to write believable action when the most exciting thing you’ve done this year is spike your cat’s water bowl.
I say this because I’ve had a pretty action packed life and the action I’ve lived, I can write. One of my most infamous memories is of being attacked by gang members a couple years back. Thanks to that encounter, I can now say with confidence black eyes are not my style, a broken nose isn’t as flattering as I’d hoped, and hard as I try, I can’t rock stitches.
While I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, I can say that experience has positively impacted my writing. I learned some of the clichés used in books to describe action are, surprisingly, spot on. But the majority, are nothing more than fluff. It took life experience to weed out the fillers and learn to write realistic action.
Since there’s no “fight a gang” hotline where you too can get beat up, what can be done? Fortunately, there are much cheaper, not to mention less painful, ways to write believable action.
Get out of your comfort zone!
Action is not comfortable.
Sure, your reader can sit in the safety of their house snuggled up with a warm blanket and hot chocolate but your protagonist doesn’t have this luxury.
Being face with opposition in the form of physical danger is downright terrifying. Believe me. Your protagonist is going to be more than uncomfortable. If you never push yourself out of your comfort zone how can you write about it?
Challenge yourself. What’s something that scares you? I’m not talking something dangerous, just something that will give you a little of that fight or flight adrenalin. Is it going to toast masters, trying to play a sport, cleaning out that corner of the garage, meeting new people, or attempting to two step?
Try something you wouldn’t normally do and write about how you handled it. More than just sweaty palms, what thoughts were racing through your head? How did you handle the situation? How did you react physically? Later, you can pull on some of these descriptors to sharpen your action scenes.
Explore the world of your action scene
Depending on the type of action you’re writing there are different ways to do this. One is obvious. Read what others have already written. Problem with this is you never know if those writers have experience. If not, you’re going to end up playing one long game of telephone with the truth getting become more obscured with each writing.
Next, try conducting more hands on research. Check out this article on nontraditional research. Interested in having a scene where a fight ends up on the ground? Know nothing about ground fighting? Take a jujitsu class.
I did this for my novel Forbidden. There was a significant portion of my book that was supposed to show the main characters training and growing in combat. Problem was, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what that would entail. I tried googling things, reading other books, and so on, but for the life of me I just couldn’t write this section of my book.
Finally, I enrolled in a krav maga class. After several months of training I had enough notes to complete my first draft AND include killer details. The way my knuckles split after certain drills, the correct stance, the bad habits that are easy to pick up—all these things came through in my writing. Not to mention, next time I encounter some gang members wanting to beat me up, I’ll be ready.
Another, less time consuming way to research action is to talk to an expert. Want to know more about hand guns? Is there someone who works at a local shooting range you could talk to? A friend? A speaker coming into town? Want to know what sky diving would feel like? If you can’t afford to actually try it, why not ask someone who’s done it before?
Other ways to learn more about different types of action include visiting museums, watching documentaries, and attending trade shows. What things have helped you write believable action? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Kida from Candace.