Chapter 8, Part 2: Writing High-Action Scenes

In today’s Journal

* The Bradbury Challenge Writers Reporting
* Chapter 8, Part 2: Writing High-Action Scenes
* Update
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Thought of the Day

Like you and everyone else, I have been absorbing Story and all its aspects from every direction since I was a young child. The difference in us as writers is only that I trust that.

The Bradbury Challenge Writers Reporting

During the past week, the following writers reported their progress:

Short Fiction

  • Balázs Jámbor “Ghosts and loves” 2800 Superhero fantasy
  • George Kordonis “Eyes Like Blue Alabaster” 3216 Urban Fantasy
  • Adam Kozak “On the Wine-dark Sea” 2019 General Fiction
  • Christopher Ridge “Floppy Shoes Massacre” 3600 horror
  • K.C. Riggs “Mind Duels” 4941 Fantasy

Longer Fiction

  • Balázs Jámbor *Kylen’s Story* (tentative title) 3000 Fantasy (34000) Finished
  • Alexander Nakul *Under the Lighthouse* 6025 Historical Fantasy (52153 to date)

Writing High-Action Scenes

If you couldn’t tell, I personally like to focus-in on high-action, high-tension scenes. I want the reader to not only see the action but feel it. I want him to experience it, albeit vicariously. These scenes can happen in any genre.

I want the reader to see what the POV character sees, hear what he hears, smell what he smells, and all of that while immersed in the action of the moment.

I want the reader to feel, both physically and emotionally, what the POV character feels as he’s going through the fast-action scene.

This is much easier done in “normal” scenes when lives are not at stake. Those can be as long as you like, take whatever time they take, and work themselves out. They’re also a little more bland. Bland is good sometimes, like when you’re giving the reader a break.

But in a high-action scene, you can’t have bland. You can’t have even one word of bland. You can’t write anything that will either gloss-over or take-away-from the action.

In high-action scenes, the stakes are higher (usually life or death) and the scene is “shorter” (more tightly condensed) and much more tense regardless of the number of words on the page.

In one scene I wrote there were 994 words, yet it encapsulated maybe 5 to 10 seconds of time in the story. And it took me a couple of hours to write. (No, there was no conscious-mind rewriting involved. All cycling with the creative subconscious.)

I want the reader to experience the tension the POV character is experiencing. If the POV character’s heart is pounding in his chest, I want the reader’s heart rate to increase too.

As the POV character calms down in the aftermath, I want the reader to calm down too. If the POV character feels remorse or sadness or elation or relief or fatigue, I want the reader to feel it too.

There’s a way to do that.

If you’ve ever been in a high-tension situation (scene) in your own life, you know that your senses are heightened far beyond the norm and in directions you would think odd in normal, less-tense times. You notice things you wouldn’t notice in a normal situation, and you notice them much more intensely and with all your senses.

If your car is spinning out of control on an icy road, you might be trying to determine, through your windshield, where you’re going to end up. At the same time you’re very glad you aren’t on a road with a sheer cliff on one side and a sheer 500-foot drop-off on the other. Or you are, and you’re frightened out of your wits at the possibilities.

You might notice other vehicles, which also might or might not be out of control, and try to calculate in your mind whether you’re likely to collide with any of them.

You might notice how unbelievably white your knuckes are as you grip the steering wheel. You might notice the smell of your passenger’s fear. You might not even hear his scream, though you might wonder why his mouth’s so wide open and when he got that new cap on his incisor.

Got it?


So when I write a scene like that, I filter the setting through the POV character’s physical and emotional senses so the reader can experience it too. I also allow the POV character his opinons of the setting.

He might not only wonder when his passenger got that cap on his tooth. He might wonder when his passenger got that “stupid” or “gaudy” or “really cool” cap on his tooth (all of those are opinions).

Or he might wonder “is that real gold?” Or he might think “It looks horrible!” or “It looks good!” or “I wish I could afford to pamper myself like that” (envy). That’s also the POV character’s opinion, one he would never say outright to his friend, but one that he feels.

And it all belongs right in the middle of the high-action scene.

Why? Because it’s real. It’s what he’s experiencing in the moment, and I want the reader to experience what the POV character is experiencing in the moment.

So to that end…

At first, I just wrote the 994-word scene I mentioned above into the dark (as I always do). It took only about a half-hour. I always write high-action or fast-action scenes very quickly. I wrote those 994 words in probably a little over a half-hour.

Then (as I always do) I cycled back over it. When I cycle back over a “normal” scene, the characters might add or remove a little description. They might even reparagraph a little to speed-up or slow-down the pacing.

If they or I make a lot of changes (we usually don’t) to a “normal” scene or scenes, it might take me up to a half-hour to cycle through 3000 or 4000 words.

Yet cycling through this little 994-word scene (two or three times, in segments) took me over two hours. No, it doesn’t always take that long, and the cycling session isn’t always that intense. This scene actually occurs in Blackwell Ops 5: Georgette Tilden.

The seed of the scene was there. All the necessary good guys and bad guys were where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to do. All of it written into the dark.

So when I cycled through it the first, second and however many other times…

  • We changed a word here and there from a less-tense, less-descriptive term to one that was more tense and more descriptive.
  • We moved a few clauses and phrases that were originally at the end of a sentence to the beginning of the same sentence (or from the beginning to the end) to give the sentence greater impact.

I learned (conscious mind) a good while back that sentences have areas of greater and lesser impact and carry greater and lesser impactful information. Like any valuable thing I’ve learned, that filtered through to my creative subconscious. Matching the information in the sentence with the area of importance makes all the difference.

For just one example,

I’d originally written one sentence like this. The “he” in this is the POV character’s enemy or opponent:

He frantically tugged at his tunic, still struggling to reach for something on his left side even as he fell away from me.

It now reads like this:

Even as he fell away from me, he frantically tugged at his tunic, still struggling to reach for something on his left side.

Exactly the same words, but do you feel the difference in tension? If not, try reading both examples aloud.

  • We shifted one paragraph to a slightly different, earlier place.
  • We shifted three or four sentences to different places in the sequence in a paragraph.
  • We also hit the return key (the enter key) a few times to create new one-sentence paragraphs. One-sentence paragraphs, if they’re the right sentences, enhance emotional impact.
  • And finally we did a lot of mixing and matching, shifting the reader’s attention from one assailant to another and also to an unseen assailant who was behind the POV character for almost the whole scene (and whom the POV character hoped was being handled by his partner) just as the POV character’s attention shifted.

Attention shifts are important in high-action scenes, just as they occur in high-action situations in “real” life.

As I mentioned, I cycled through this scene three or four times even though I usually cycle through “normal” scenes only once. That means I read it, beginning to end, for pleasure and allowed my fingers to lie on the keyboard.

When something didn’t feel “right” (as evidenced by a character tugging on my sleeve), we “fixed it” by adding, deleting, shifting, replacing, etc. And after the third or fourth time through, we felt the scene was golden. There was simply nothing more to do.

Note: As I’ve said before, if, as you’re cycling through a scene, you feel your conscious mind starting to intrude and question anything (always negative), stop and walk away from the story for a few minutes. Cycling is always done through the creative subconscious. Always.

Every word, sentence and paragraph moved the scene forward. Every word, sentence and paragraph transmitted the tension to the reader and heightened or lessened that tension as necessary for that part of the scene: the winding-up, the fight itself (which was actually five individual fights all mixed up), and the winding-down. And it was all the characters’ doing.

I was giddy when the scene was finished. But then, I always am. It never gets old.

Next up, Chapter 9. Talk with you again then.


For anyone following along, the novel did not wrap. It will wrap today. I made my 4,000 word daily goal only once during this one, so it dragged a little. I think that’s because I don’t want to let it go. This one will end the subseries.

Of Interest

Update On Special Stretch Goal The class in this Kickstarter might be of interest to some of you.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1630

Writing of Blackwell Ops 20: Soleada Garcia: Into the Future

Day 1…… 3681 words. To date…… 3681
Day 2…… 3044 words. To date…… 6725
Day 3…… 3375 words. To date…… 10100
Day 4…… 3349 words. To date…… 13449
Day 5…… 4262 words. To date…… 17711
Day 6…… 3153 words. To date…… 20864
Day 7…… 3152 words. To date…… 24016
Day 8…… 2192 words. To date…… 26208
Day 9…… 2493 words. To date…… 28701
Day 10…. 2578 words. To date…… 31279
Day 11…. 3330 words. To date…… 34609

Fiction for February……………………. 38295
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 155899
Fiction since October 1……………… 458956
Nonfiction for February……………… 25880
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 57840
2024 consumable words…………… 213739

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 3
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 85
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 239
Short story collections…………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 8, Part 2: Writing High-Action Scenes”

  1. It reminds me the ideas used in climax scene of Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein.

    Act 4 of it (The Odessa Steps) is about 20 mins long, scene of baby carriage rolling down Potemkin Stairs in Odessa mixed with scenes of police cavalry attacking the crowd. Actually it needs about 30 secs to roll baby carriage down this stairs.

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