Six Tips for Writing Action

Six tips for writing engaging action and fight sequences in your fiction…

TRANSCRIPT:

Hello, folks, as I get closer to the end of this draft and I start ramping up the tension and the stakes and the action and, well, I’m about to embark on a big old action sequence. Here are six tips for writing action in fiction. Number one, don’t just have action for the sake of it. It needs to advance the story. By that, I mean it needs to create change and have consequences. Your characters will have to make choices in the heat of the moment that will affect what comes afterwards.

If you can just take that action sequence out of the story, and the scenes that sandwich it still work together, then maybe the action sequence isn’t earning its keep. Remember, we had two big action sequences lined up for Robot Overlords. A chase in an ice cream van. And later, a chase with our heroes pursued by a new robot called Octobots. And these were fun sequences, but ultimately they had zero effect on our story and characters and they had to be cut.

That said, I’m still keen to try out an ice cream chase one day. I always file these things away for later. Two. Let the reader do the work. This is where, strangely, action sequences have something in common with sex sequences. Don’t feel the need to give the reader a blow by blow account.. Oh, behave. We don’t need every punch, kick, swerve, stab and parry. It gets tedious pretty fast. Give the reader just enough detail for them to create the action in their head.

And if there’s some sort of skill involved with a sword or a gun, then it’s worth doing a little research to make it feel real. Again, we don’t need to know the inner workings of a Glock whatever to know that it goes bang and that bullets hurt people. I rail against a lot of modern thrillers where the author seems to get sexually aroused when talking about guns. In fact, I try to put mistakes in my stories just to wind up NRA members. Ha! Three. Pace.

That is, don’t just give us big blocks of action, mix it up with some dialogue, write in short, punchy (ha!) sentences and keep the internal monologue visceral. This is not a time for ponderous reflection. That can come later. This is a time for panic, fear, anger, fight or flight. Use all the senses, the crunch of the bone, the taste of blood, the sweat and filth of battle. That will really help put the reader in the middle of the action.

Four. Think of the setting. Is it a chase down narrow streets in Paris, or the skies above the Grand Canyon? When your hero falls, is it on sand? Tiles? Stinging nettles? Can they hide in the jungle, or are they exposed in a wide open desert? What weapons are at hand? I love those unconventional fight scenes where Jason Bourne uses a rolled up magazine or John Wick uses a book. Use the setting and its props to make the sequences as fun and inventive as possible.

Five. Give it a beginning, middle and end. I’ve used the word “sequence” a few times already and I find that it helps to think of any action beat as its own little short story with a beginning, middle and end. One where the stakes are continually raised with a growing sense of urgency. Compacting all that story into a frenetic action sequence can make your hero make bad decisions — creating those consequences I was talking about earlier — and it will leave the reader breathless and wanting more. I’m quite breathless myself.

Six. Aftermath and keeping it real. In too many stories, the hero walks away from a fight with nary a scratch, and even if they do get wounded, they often bounce back with superhuman speed. That may be appropriate for some stories, but readers will better relate to characters who hurt, who get the shakes, who mourn the deaths of their friends — and enemies — who regret having to do terrible things. This is, again, where a little research will help as well.

What does it feel like to break your ribs, be shot or stabbed? I bet it hurts a lot more than we might imagine. I speak as someone who stubbed my toe recently. Well, I hope that was helpful. Any questions or comments? Then please pop them below until next time. Happy writing and stop fighting.

Ten Things About Me

The lovely people at the Hair Past A Freckle asked if I could tell them ten things about me as part of the blog tour for The Crow Folk, so here goes…

Animation by Emily Stay

How’s the new normal going for you?

To say that things are weird at the moment would be the understatement of the 21st century and I’ve been meaning to update the blog for about two weeks now, but the time never quite felt right.

I’m sure you’ve all seen social media posts and blogs urging folk to “start writing that novel, there’s never been a better time”, but I’ll be honest with you, I really struggled to concentrate on writing those first few weeks.

Apart from the world going topsy turvy, I had also just finished some intense final draft work on a screenplay, so I was pretty wiped anyway… but I’m back in the groove now, and the thing that’s really helped me is using the BXP2020 challenge method of just 200 words a day. That little and often method really helps build a habit, especially if you’re picking it up again after a bit of time off. 

That said, if you’re not in the mindset to work, you should give yourself permission to take a vacation from creativity.These are crazy days and no time to be pressurising yourself.

WATCH, LISTEN & READ

What I’m watching…

My daughter Emily and I recently finished a months-long Game of Thrones marathon. My second time, her first. I don’t care what you say, that final season is magnificent and all the more effective when you give it a seven-season run-up. 

Picard was an emotional rollercoaster and yes, parts of the ending were silly (I see Trek has fallen into the same “More spaceships! More! More!!!” bear trap that Rise of Skywalker opened), but a simple scene of a final farewell between two old friends was more engaging than any number of starships.

I’m three episodes into The Mandalorian (we only just got Disney+ in the UK) and it’s exactly what I want from my Star Wars — just the right mix of Western steeliness, blaster action, strange creatures, childish cuteness, wry humour and jetpacks. All the jetpacks.

Emily and I are also one episode away from the Locke & Key finale, which reminds me…

What I’m reading…

I recently re-read the Locke & Key comics by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez and it’s fascinating to contrast them with the Netflix show, which is appealingly YA in its tone. The comics can be much more nihilistic (particularly with the villains who regularly murder innocents in the comics, but are slightly more sympathetic on TV). I wonder if that indicates a change in Joe and Gabriel’s work since the comics, or simply what it took to unlock it for TV?

I’ve also been researching for various projects. Lots of magic and witchcraft. The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic by Christopher Dell is a wonderful illustrated history, and The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate is thorough without taking itself too seriously.

I’ve also been reading Tempest, the final volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Story-wise it’s not as satisfying as the previous adventures, but the concept of adopting different styles of comics through the ages is ingenious.

What I’m listening to…

I’ve really gone back to basics during the lockdown. Lots of Beatles and Floyd — stuff I can sing along with. While writing this I had on Matt Berry’s TV Themes (tons of nostalgia dipped in acid jazz) and Mozart’s Requiem (weirdly soothing).

I’m also listening to… other people! Before the Corona-crisis I would put off phone calls, knowing I would catch up with people sooner or later. Now I’m taking calls all day, often with old friends I haven’t spoken to in yonks. One of the positives in all this madness.

Leaving the plugs till last…

A couple of my books are on offer at the moment…

In the UK, Back to Reality is 99p in the Kindle March sale. Just a few days left!

Also in the UK, the eBook of Robot Overlords is 99p for the foreseeable future. I asked Gollancz to do this as the opening of the book — where everyone in the world is confined to their homes — seemed somewhat apt. Here’s me reading from it over on my Facebook page. It’s available on KindleAppleKobo and Google.

 Oh, and here’s an important message from our Robot Overlords.

Finally, if you want your book edited, copy-edited, proofread, or just want a reader’s report, reply to this email and we’ll get the ball rollingI have all sorts of services for writers and I have plenty of time on my hands (that won’t last, by the way… I’ve recently had some news about some TV, film and book projects that will make me a very busy boy in the second half of this year!).

Hang in there…


This won’t end overnight. We’re in this for the long run. Weeks at least, months most likely. But together we’ll get through this. I usually sign off emails with “All the best” or “Speak soon”, but lately I’ve been using…

Stay safe and healthy,

Mark

Surviving your first year as a debut author with Ed McDonald

I had the pleasure of speaking to the superb Ed McDonald on the podcast this week. Ed talks very honestly about his first year as a professional author, achieving his dream of getting published, and then he asks the question, “What next?” It’s a very revealing chat and you can listen here.

I was over the moon to see my friend Deborah Haywood’s movie Pin Cushion premiere at the East End Film Festival last weekend. It’s funny, dark, and cat lady mad with a brilliant cast. Have a look at the trailer here.

And if you’re looking for a major time suck, the BBC have opened up their sound effects archives for non-commercial use. There’s some really freaky stuff available for your delight. Listen to this doll singing Oranges and Lemons and tell me you won’t be sleeping with the lights on tonight…Oh, and I’m 77% funded on The End of Magic with less than a month to go! If you’ve not pledged already, now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just click here and hit that lovely blue pledge button.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

The curious influences of Alex T Smith

We had the excellent Alex T Smith on the podcast this week. He’s one of those children’s authors who gives so much back to the community, not least when it comes to talks and interviews that are choc full of great writing tips. I was lucky enough to talk to him at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators‘ conference last year (a big thanks to the organisers for letting me crash the party!). I particularly enjoyed hearing about Alex’s influences, which included the likes of Frankie Howerd, Frank Spencer and ‘Allo, ‘Allo. Not the most obvious starting points when writing for young children, but he makes it work. It’s a fun interview and you can hear the whole thing when you click here.

In other news, my aunty Marion has a new book out! Actually, she has TWO! If you listen to the podcast regularly, you’ll know that we’ve mentioned her  a few times. Her memoir was an Irish Times bestseller a few years ago, and she’s spent the time since then working on what is essentially a fictionalised version of her life, with an added dollop of romance. I’m indebted to the tireless Andy Bowden who designed the cover art, which really looks the business…

And speaking of new books… did you know that you can get 10% off when you pledge for my new book The End of Magic? Go here, click pledge and type bestsellerxp when prompted.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

The End of Magic – week 2

Another week passes and I’m currently at 35% funded with 73 wonderful backers. A big welcome to everyone who’s joined the adventure in the last week. Your pledges mean the world to me.

I’m also amazed to see that the ‘Be in the book’ pledges have sold out! Thank you Craig, Phill and Andy… I look forward to giving you all glorious deaths on paper very soon.

I’m currently hitting my target of 1% per day, and if we keep this up then we should be fully funded on 4th May, so if you’ve already pledged please continue to spread the word and let any fantasy fiction fans you know that the book is coming. Word of mouth is the best way to help make this happen. Here’s the link: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/

We discuss The End of Magic and how Unbound work in this week’s episode of The Bestseller Experiment podcast. Have a listen here… http://bestsellerexperiment.com/unbound-and-the-end-of-magic/

 

 

“Therefore, but…” with Cass Green

We had the amazing Cass Green on the podcast this week and one of the things we touched on was the “Therefore, but…” rule for writers as explained by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone in this vid.

We also discussed a recent blog by Mark Chadbourn on how writers should be looking for not one, but multiple streams of income to pay the rent. It’s a fascinating piece, and could well change your life!

And we were delighted to see the podcast featured on Buzzfeed as one of the podcast you NEED to start listening to in 2018. Buzzfeed! My kids were actually impressed for about 30 seconds…

And stay tuned for some big news on an exciting new project!

Mark

PS.

Oh, and my first book Robot Overlords is in the UK Kindle half-term sale. Thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy so far. If you haven’t you can grab a copy for only 99p now!

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Jen Williams – Even Aliens Have Issues

Really happy to have spoken to Jen Williams on the Bestseller Experiment podcast this week. Not only is she an award-winning fantasy author and founder of the Super-Relaxed Fantasy Club, but she’s a jolly nice human being, too. I’ve been a fan of her stuff for a while, but if you’ve not read her before then check out The Ninth Rain, which kicks off her latest series. I’m convinced she’s invented a new genre: GrimFun – you heard it here first…

In this episode you will discover…

  • Top tips for building and writing captivating characters
  • When character should come before plot
  • The importance of a complex villain and why even aliens have issues
  • And how you can be super relaxed and meet your heroes

CLICK HERE to listen now!

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Oh, and don’t forget to grab a copy of our book BACK TO REALITY now!

 

LUCY VINE

We had one of those Youtube live show thingies on the podcast this week…

I’m often stopped in the street and asked, “Hey, Mark. How do those Youtube live show thingies work on the podcast? They look so much fun. How can I get involved, man?”

And I say, “Dude, it’s an exclusive for our Patreon thingy supporters. They get first dibs on all sorts of cool stuff, like the Youtube live shows where they can ask me and Mr. D questions about writing and publishing and stuff, and interact with us via the miracle medium of the Youtubes. We talked about how long your project should be, how to find other writers who will give you feedback, the kinds of deals a debut author can expect from a publishers and tips on building your mailing list, and there’s a whole long debate about swearing. It’s a fuckin’ gas, baby.”

“But can’t I just download the edited highlights a week later on the podcast?”

“Yeah, and that’s a stone groove, but nothing beats actually being there, and you get live pictures on the Youtube and sometimes people get naked.”

“Really?”

“No. Tell you what just check out the highlights of the last show here, and then sign up to our Patreon. It’ll totally wang your doodle.”

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PS. We wrote a book. You might like it. Others do…

SHANNON MAYER

I was on the Cover to Cover podcast this week…

I had good fun being interviewed by Lee Middleton on the Cover to Cover podcast this week. We talk Star Wars, the Bestseller Experiment, Back to Reality and my thwarted dream to become a firefighter. It’s a fab show for readers and writers alike. Click to listen… https://m.mixcloud.com/Studio5OnAir/cover-to-cover-episode-12/