Please welcome Jessi Rita Hoffman as our guest today. Jessi is a developmental editor and story coach who helps authors clarify and elevate their material. She is a former publishing house editor in chief and an optioned screenwriter. Her clients have produced manuscripts that have garnered agents, book deals, literary awards, and bestseller status.
Clunking action scenes are one of the most common problems I come across as a book editor–whether the author is writing a thriller or trying to pull off an exciting scene in some other genre. In this article, I explain what causes the difficulties and how to tone up a limping action scene.”
How to Write a Thrilling Action Scene
Whether you write YA, romance, fantasy, or actual thrillers, there are times in any novel where an action scene is called for. These scenes can be among the hardest to write. What runs like an exciting movie in your imagination can end up clunking along on the page, causing even your own eyes to glaze over. And we all know dull action scenes are the kiss of death for any story.
So what goes wrong in action-scene writing? What can you do to avoid the pitfalls, and how do you tone up a limping action scene ?
In this article, I’ll share the common errors I’ve observed writers make in my work as a book editor and writing coach. Surprisingly, it’s usually not what is missing in an action scene that’s the problem—it’s what is there that needs to be removed.
Why? Because an action scene needs to pop. It cannot tolerate clutter of any kind. Other sorts of scenes are more forgiving, but action scenes must speed across the page with the pace of the action they describe. For that, there can’t be interference. Even a few minor flaws are enough to weigh down the writing and spoil the tension. Typically, the problem with action scenes is not lack of imagination. It’s lack of translation—translation of the writer’s vision to the page.
Here’s the awkward first draft of an action scene written by one of my clients, an aspiring novelist: