Our own Mafia member, Lisa Lewis Tyre, is holding a short-story contest called The Bertie for students 10-13 years old. The Middle-Grade Mafia will serve as judges and will be posting writing tips for students in the weeks leading up to the contest. Today’s topic is:

Writing Action

Books have superpowers. They move us. They transport us away to far away places. They allow us to experience thrilling adventures without the risk of being stabbed by a pirate’s sword, wrestle a bear, or eaten by a dragon.

Writing action scenes requires the writer to change up their writing in order for the reader to be swept away. Here are a few simple tips for creating exciting scenes a reader can’t put down:

Act out the scene

Action movies can be thrilling. The visuals on the big screen are great, but there is a better screen that you can’t view with your eyes… the human brain. As a writer, you become the director of the movie playing in the reader’s mind. In order for the scene to make its way from the page into a vivid mental image the writer must clearly describe the action. The best way to do that is by doing the movements the characters are performing. Understanding how the body moves can create a sense of realism and allow you to understand what your characters are doing in the scene. Plus, it’s just fun!

Find the right verbs

Verbs are like paint. Choosing the right verb can turn an average action scene into a thrilling masterpiece. There is a difference between walking to the door, creeping to the door, and rushing to the door. There is a difference between sitting in the chair and plopping down in the chair. The difference words will convey the tone of the scene, as well as defining the character performing the action. In addition to choosing the right verb, you should make sure you familiarize yourself with a variety of verbs that communicate the same movement (this is a good rule for non action scenes as well).

Shorten the sentences

Long sentences filled with beautiful metaphors are great. Taking a whole paragraph to describe how a character’s hair moves in the breeze can be wonderful. Put the poetic metaphors and lengthy descriptions aside when you want to get to the action. The only descriptions that should be included would be to describe things fit with the tone (heart pounding in his chest, her breath slowed as she pulled back the bow, etc). Using shorter sentences will allow reader to move through the action at a faster rate – pacing is vital in creating exciting scenes. Reading the passage aloud will let you know if your scene moves at the right pace.

Limit dialogue

The next time you watch a thrilling action scene, pay attention to what is said. Other than the occasional “look out” or “get them,” you don’t hear a lot (except roars and grunts). Just as in sentence length, keep your dialogue to a minimum. Short dialogue does make sure the scene moves at a good pace, but it also matches how people talk in pressure situations. Think about firefighters rushing to a fire. Which of the following would fit the scene:

“Go to the back of firetruck and get the hose with the yellow nozzle so we can hook it up to the hydrant and spray water on the fire.”


“Hook it up.”

This is an easy choice, but when writers get into writing a scene, we sometimes get caught up in what we want to say when we should only include what needs to be said.

Hopefully, the next time you want to create action in your story, you keep these simple tips in mind. Remember, you are the director of the movie to be played in your reader’s mind. Be bold.

To learn more about The Bertie, the prizes, deadlines, etc. click here!