Lesson Twenty-Seven from a Manuscript Red Line: Fluidity in Action – How to write a good action scene

An example of a poorly written action scene:

Jason punched Eric in the face.  Eric fell to the floor.  Eric groaned and rolled over.   Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  Eric popped up, and Eric swung at Jason, but missed.  Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  Eric crumpled to the floor.

(Yes, I totally made this paragraph up.)

The publisher’s comment on a similar (but not as poorly written) sceneThis is a very stilted fight scene. It reads action, next action, next action, next action without the fluidity that’s needed for a fight scene.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

I have to admit, when I read the action passages in the Gold Mine Manuscript, I had the same comment.  The author was satisfied with the speed of the scenes though, and only made moderate changes.  Not being an expert, I backed off and figured it was just a “style choice”.  Guess not.

This fits in very well with my recent post on “Art of the Conflict”.  This scene is not about dialog, but this is definitely a conflict.  This one needs something inserted to break up the action, rather than action inserted to break up the dialog.

Now, I am not going to put a lot of time into this, since the scene is totally fake.  But let me add a little “art” to make it “flow”.  Fluidity is what they asked for.  Okay, here it goes…

Jason grunted as his fist swung toward Eric’s face.  Eric tried to dodge, but instead felt the sting of the older boy’s ring cutting into his jaw.  He fell to the floor with a muffled thump, and groaned as he rolled over.

Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  “I told you to stay down.”

Eric pushed up onto his knees.  “Why, so you can just pummel me?”  He popped up and swung at Jason, but missed.

Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  There was no time for Eric to react.  His head creaked back, and his jaw rattled as he crumpled to the floor.

Better, huh?  Not perfect by a long shot, but not bad for three minute flash fiction.  Can you feel the difference?  The staccato choppy “This happened-That happened” feel is gone, and the scene “flows”.

Of course, this is a first draft.  In editing, I would have to remove the “ing” word and the telly “felt”.  I would also insert a little emotion when Eric realized he missed, but this is definitely better by far than the first.  The art draws you into the scene.  You experience it, rather than just watching it.

The art of the conflict… If you don’t have it, go get it.

If you want to see a great published example, pick up a copy of  THRONE by Phillip Tucker and open up anywhere in the last hundred pages or so.

I hope this helps to make it more clear!

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8 responses to “Lesson Twenty-Seven from a Manuscript Red Line: Fluidity in Action – How to write a good action scene

  1. Hi Jen, Love this advice, always need help with those fight scenes

  2. Great explanation of how to better master the art of conflict. Loved it. Thanks Jennifer!

  3. Thank you! I struggled with action scenes, and this was another good “do not do” to add to my list.

  4. Thanks Jennifer, this I will remember if I want a scene where someone kicks a$$ … love the difference between your two examples. Great resources even for those not doing a “fight” scene 🙂

  5. Fight scene or love scene, the lesson is the same. Too much action, not enough emotion, all you get is a bored reader. Good post, Jennifer.

  6. You know another way to get rid of the problem of stilted fight scenes? Get rid of them all together. LOL!! That’s what I did with many of my fight scenes. The ones that remain in my novel have also been rewritten to show action and emotion. I haven’t read Throne, but George R.R. Martin and Raymond Feist are my hero fantasy fight authors. I try to study their styles every chance I get to perfect my own. It’s not easy.