Helpful things for action writers to remember




  • Sticking a landing will royally fuck up your joints and possibly shatter your ankles, depending on how high you’re jumping/falling from. There’s a very good reason free-runners dive and roll. 
  • Hand-to-hand fights usually only last a matter of seconds, sometimes a few minutes. It’s exhausting work and unless you have a lot of training and history with hand-to-hand combat, you’re going to tire out really fast. 
  • Arrows are very effective and you can’t just yank them out without doing a lot of damage. Most of the time the head of the arrow will break off inside the body if you try pulling it out, and arrows are built to pierce deep. An arrow wound demands medical attention. 
  • Throwing your opponent across the room is really not all that smart. You’re giving them the chance to get up and run away. Unless you’re trying to put distance between you so you can shoot them or something, don’t throw them. 
  • Everyone has something called a “flinch response” when they fight. This is pretty much the brain’s way of telling you “get the fuck out of here or we’re gonna die.” Experienced fighters have trained to suppress this. Think about how long your character has been fighting. A character in a fist fight for the first time is going to take a few hits before their survival instinct kicks in and they start hitting back. A character in a fist fight for the eighth time that week is going to respond a little differently. 
  • ADRENALINE WORKS AGAINST YOU WHEN YOU FIGHT. THIS IS IMPORTANT. A lot of times people think that adrenaline will kick in and give you some badass fighting skills, but it’s actually the opposite. Adrenaline is what tires you out in a battle and it also affects the fighter’s efficacy – meaning it makes them shaky and inaccurate, and overall they lose about 60% of their fighting skill because their brain is focusing on not dying. Adrenaline keeps you alive, it doesn’t give you the skill to pull off a perfect roundhouse kick to the opponent’s face. 
  • Swords WILL bend or break if you hit something hard enough. They also dull easily and take a lot of maintenance. In reality, someone who fights with a sword would have to have to repair or replace it constantly.
  • Fights get messy. There’s blood and sweat everywhere, and that will make it hard to hold your weapon or get a good grip on someone. 
    • A serious battle also smells horrible. There’s lots of sweat, but also the smell of urine and feces. After someone dies, their bowels and bladder empty. There might also be some questionable things on the ground which can be very psychologically traumatizing. Remember to think about all of the character’s senses when they’re in a fight. Everything WILL affect them in some way. 
  • If your sword is sharpened down to a fine edge, the rest of the blade can’t go through the cut you make. You’ll just end up putting a tiny, shallow scratch in the surface of whatever you strike, and you could probably break your sword. 
  • ARCHERS ARE STRONG TOO. Have you ever drawn a bow? It takes a lot of strength, especially when you’re shooting a bow with a higher draw weight. Draw weight basically means “the amount of force you have to use to pull this sucker back enough to fire it.” To give you an idea of how that works, here’s a helpful link to tell you about finding bow sizes and draw weights for your characters.  (CLICK ME)
    • If an archer has to use a bow they’re not used to, it will probably throw them off a little until they’ve done a few practice shots with it and figured out its draw weight and stability. 
  • People bleed. If they get punched in the face, they’ll probably get a bloody nose. If they get stabbed or cut somehow, they’ll bleed accordingly. And if they’ve been fighting for a while, they’ve got a LOT of blood rushing around to provide them with oxygen. They’re going to bleed a lot. 
    • Here’s a link to a chart to show you how much blood a person can lose without dying. (CLICK ME
    • If you want a more in-depth medical chart, try this one. (CLICK ME)

Hopefully this helps someone out there. If you reblog, feel free to add more tips for writers or correct anything I’ve gotten wrong here. 

How to apply Writing techniques for action scenes:

– Short sentences. Choppy. One action, then another. When there’s a lull in the fight, take a moment, using longer phrases to analyze the situation–then dive back in. Snap, snap, snap.
– Same thing with words – short, simple, and strong in the thick of battle. Save the longer syllables for elsewhere.
– Characters do not dwell on things when they are in the heat of the moment. They will get punched in the face. Focus on actions, not thoughts.
– Go back and cut out as many adverbs as possible.
– No seriously, if there’s ever a time to use the strongest verbs in your vocabulary – Bellow, thrash, heave, shriek, snarl, splinter, bolt, hurtle, crumble, shatter, charge, raze – it’s now.
– Don’t forget your other senses. People might not even be sure what they saw during a fight, but they always know how they felt.
– Taste: Dry mouth, salt from sweat, copper tang from blood, etc
– Smell: OP nailed it
– Touch: Headache, sore muscles, tense muscles, exhaustion, blood pounding. Bruised knuckles/bowstring fingers. Injuries that ache and pulse, sting and flare white hot with pain.
– Pain will stay with a character. Even if it’s minor.
– Sound and sight might blur or sharpen depending on the character and their experience/exhaustion. Colors and quick movements will catch the eye. Loud sounds or noises from behind may serve as a fighter’s only alert before an attack.
– If something unexpected happens, shifting the character’s whole attention to that thing will shift the Audience’s attention, too.
– Aftermath. This is where the details resurface, the characters pick up things they cast aside during the fight, both literally and metaphorically. Fights are chaotic, fast paced, and self-centered. Characters know only their self, their goals, what’s in their way, and the quickest way around those threats. The aftermath is when people can regain their emotions, their relationships, their rationality/introspection, and anything else they couldn’t afford to think or feel while their lives were on the line.

Do everything you can to keep the fight here and now. Maximize the physical, minimize the theoretical. Keep things immediate no theories or what ifs.

If writing a strategist, who needs to think ahead, try this: keep strategy to before-and-after fights. Lay out plans in calm periods, try to guess what enemies are thinking or what they will do. During combat, however, the character should think about his options, enemies, and terrain in immediate terms; that is, in shapes and direction.
(Large enemy rushing me; dive left, circle around / Scaffolding on fire, pool below me / two foes helping each other, separate them.)

Lastly, after writing, read it aloud. Anyplace your tongue catches up on a fast moving scene, edit. Smooth action scenes rarely come on the first try.


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