Finding the perfect balance between what your character is doing, seeing, and feeling in an action scene is the toughest part of writing for me. I want to give the reader everything without overwhelming them. The death of an action scene is when the reader has to stop and go back to get it.
Action is so fast it requires me to use my mental rewind to catch everything that's going on, but in a novel you never want your reader to rewind. It pulls them out of the story and we never want that to happen.
So here's my magic recipe for Writing Action Scenes:
Note: You will write this scene three times. There is no way around it so just accept it.
The First Draft: Write what your character sees. Line by line you should be capturing anything and everything that comes into the characters view, but also be aware of what is important to your story. If there's a mail box on the corner we only need to know about it if it impacts the story. Like say if your character collides with it. If your character is racing to drop off a letter. If there's a bomb about go off inside that will kill hundreds of people. That's when a mailbox matters. If it's not important leave it out. You're going to need that space for the things to come.
The Second Draft: Add in reactions. What is your character doing? If they're being chased, do they look back to see how far their chaser is. Are they out of shape, clumsy, what kind of shoes are they wearing? We already know what happens in the scene and now we want to know what your character does about it. But again all reactions are not necessary. We don't need to know every swallow or bead of sweat. We don't need to know which leg they lead with. Give us meaningful reactions that will show their thought pattern. If your character runs into someones yard, why that yard? What are they hoping to gain out of this move? Also keep in mind that your character is not only running away from someone they are also running to something. Give us both.
The Third Draft: Add in the emotions. This is where it gets tricky. Every line of internal monologue will slow down the action. You don't want to just throw in what your characters feeling. What you want to do to keep the scene going is build their emotions off of what your character sees and does. Give emotional weight to their movements. Describe the visuals with words that have meaning to the character. If the chaser shoots at them it's not just a sound, it's not just what they feel at that moment, it's the way that sound makes them feel. If I were being chased and a gun fired my paranoid mind would actually think I was shot. There would be an explosion in my chest and phantom pains in my back. I'd even pat my chest looking for the blood.
Or you can go a different route:
Maybe the gun fire propels your character to run even faster. Where the fear is not just being caught, but that they could actually die.
It could catch them off guard and they stagger a little. They struggle to stay on their feet, knowing that they're attacker isn't far behind and falling is just a sure as giving in.
Or you can really go for the gold and let your character get shot. Lets face it, you have an inexperienced character being chased by someone dangerous enough to not only have a gun, but who can also shoot while running. These bad guys know what they're doing and your character is going to get shot. It might be in the arm or graze them, but the injury is more realistic than "I dodged all the bullets."
Dialogue in an action scene:
Do your characters go mute during an action scene? Do you not know where to add the dialogue? Keep in mind that just like monologue any dialogue will interrupt the action. So make sure it's worth it. Characters are thinking a lot doing action. The general consensus is "Oh Shit!" :o) Here is where your genre comes into play. Make sure whatever dialogue you add is authentic to the tone of your story and genre. Action Adventure usually have a lot of dialogue during their action scenes and I hate to say it but it's pretty cheesy. Dark edgy stories are more internal. Contemps are all "Why is this happening?" If you have comp novels see how they handle it and mimic. (It's not against the law)
Tempo in Action Scenes:
Think of it as a roller coaster. How you start the trek up the tracks slow and easy, then you're at the top and there's the big drop your stomach sinks, the pressure builds and then you hit the curves. You're jerked from side to side dazed and confused and next come the loops. Upside down, sideways, then down again. You lose all sense of time and direction and just before you start to lose your lunch it's over.
What's left is a surge of adrenalin. You can't have a near death experience without it. It might be accompanied with relief or horror, but the adrenalin is always there. Make sure not to forget that part.
The Aftermath of an Action Scene:
Make sure there's some reflection after an action scene. Now don't get crazy and start throwing in explanations. If your character doesn't know what the heck just happened then say that. Don't feel the need to over explain it, but do give the reader a moment catch they're breath.
So that's my way of writing action scenes. They're challenging, but I can't write a story without them. You know your scene is good when you're out of breath by the time you're finished reading it.
Oh, and one more tip. Don't forget the slow-mo and fast forward buttons in fiction.
Slow-mo: Long Sentences
Fast Forward: Short Sentences
If you have special tips to writing your actions scene's please comment below.