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Sunday, August 6, 2017


Post and photo (c) Doris McCraw

If you've ever been on set, the standard call is, "quiet on the set, roll camera, and action."
One of my favorite 'action' films is Scaramouche with Stewart Granger. The sword play is to die for. Here for your viewing pleasure is the trailer for the 1952 movie: Movie Trailer

I bring the movie to your notice to point out how complex action can be. Still, it drives the story along. Perhaps because I am visual as well as auditory, I find writing action scenes quite fun. Of course fifty plus years on stage, with many a choreographed dance and fight scenes, it is easy to see them in my mind. It probably helped that I briefly studied Karate in college and Fencing once I moved to Colorado.

So, you want to add action to your story. Some may want to add a fight scene, or love scene. Below are some simple 'action' scenes. 

From Louis L'Amour's "Trouble Shooter"

        "Then from out of the distance came a long shout, then a shot. Suddenly there were other shots, and then toward him, from far off, came a horseman!
         With incredible speed, he came on, heat waves making the image waiver and shift. He was lashing a foam flecked horse, riding as if the demons of hell were after him – and maybe they were!"

From Alfred Noyes poem "The Highwayman"

           "She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
            She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
            They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by
            like years
            Till, now on the stroke of midnight,
            Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
            The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!"

In both cased, the scene is written so you the reader are watching yet in the scene, feeling the tension, waiting for what happens next.

So how to add realistic action? 

1. Make sure the action is necessary, that it moves the story forward.
2. Use the action to add depth to the characters
3. Each time you have an action scene, make sure you're not just repeating the standard, punch, block, punch scenario.
4. Sometimes less is more. Give the highlights of the action. If you give the step by step, it can get a bit boring to you and the reader.
5. As in 'The Princess Bride' and 'Scaramouche'. the action is accompanied by dialogue. Watch action in movies. See how the really good ones get it right.
6. Remember, the conflict/action is about feelings, heightened emotions. Use them to create a real scene your reader will relate to.
7. When in doubt about a scene, act it out if you can.

Below are some 'action' scenes to 'study'. *smile*

And the 'funny' action scene

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
also writing as Angela Raines
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History

For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 

Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here


  1. Action scenes are always a challenge for me and I probable spend as much time on them as I do the love scenes. It's all the blocking that's required lol.

    1. Kristy,
      Yep, that blocking thing is a time eater. I think that also growing up around boys, well, I had more than my share of wrestling matches when I was a kid. I'm sure that helped. *GRIN* Doris

  2. Doris, you are lucky to have all your stage experience to call on when you are writing action scenes! I really detest writing fight scenes, but they are necessary, and I do them. I always put dialogue in my fight scenes. They are always talking to each other and usually divulging a bit of info that we didn't know before or something that is guaranteed to make the hero a little rattled so he might miss a step or a punch, etc.

    Those are all good examples. Oh that scene with Robin Williams and Carol Burnett was so good! LOL Excellent post!

    1. Cheryl,
      I knew their was a reason I loved your books. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and the links. Action isn't always fight scenes. Sometimes it's moving people from one place to another. LOL. Doris

  3. Doris,

    I always turn to Louis L'Amour's books and John Wayne's movies for inspiration with visualizing my action scenes. The fight scene at the end of Louis L'Amour's book, "Conagher" is one of my favorites. (It doesn't hurt my feelings one bit that Sam Elliott played Conagher in the movie.) *grin*

    John Wayne's barroom brawls are great, too. "North to Alaska" has a wonderful saloon-to-the-muddy-street brawl.

    I love 'The Princess Bride' so much. I took fencing lessons in college about the time this movie came out. Fencing was the only P.E. class I ever looked forward to attending. lolol

    And Robin Williams with Carol Burnett... it just doesn't get any funnier than that. Carol had the crazy Mel Gibson eyes going there for a second. lol


    1. Kaye,
      Louis was so good, and I've always loved his stories and characterizations. Wayne had Yakima Canutt as his stuntman in the early years, and he is considered one of the best ever in the business.

      I get you on the fencing class, they were so much fun and of course 'The Princess Bride' is a classic.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the Robin Williams Carol Burnett piece. It was written by a 'playwright' who did a number of short pieces like that. Doris

  4. Love the Carol Burnett/Robin Williams clip! Thanks for the reminder about action scenes. Sometimes you get into a habit and forget to shake things up in such scenes.

    1. Keena,
      It's something I try to stay aware of also. Not always easy, especially when it's not the easiest to write. LOL

      To me the Robin Williams/Carol Burnett is a classic. Glad you enjoyed it also. Doris

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you so much Caroline. That means a lot to me. Doris

  6. I love all the comments. And talking about classic John Wayne, I have a couple more scenes to add: Rio Bravo jail scene where Dean Martin is relaxing on a cot and sings My Rifle, My Pony and Me and Ricky Nelson strums the guitar. Such a lovely jewel in a good western. And talking about fights, well my fave fight is the one in McClintock and everyone slides down into the mud pond, even John and O'Hara. And just thinking about the John Wayne scene in Birdcage with gay Nathan Lane's character trying to be manly and walk like John Wayne. I start laughing before the scene even begins. I love Louis L'Amour. He is amazing.

    1. Elizabeth,
      The Rio Bravo scene is my very favorite in that film. The song they are singing is the melody to "Red River", which is a fabulous Wayne movie and one of my favorites.

      Just thinking about the scene in McClintock has me giggling. It is a great one for sure. And for story and character L'Amour is hard to beat. Doris

  7. Very interesting blog, Doris, but also very useful, especially your 7-point list. Writing action is hard, but if you (like me) write western fiction you have to do it. It’s tough because you have to describe a fast, complicated situation where a lot of things happen rapidly – and you have to do it CLEARLY, to avoid confusion, but also QUICKLY, to keep the pace of the story and make the action exciting. I agree less can be more – I think you should aim for the fewest words possible to convey the necessary information. A couple of writers who impressed me when I was learning how to do it were A.B. Guthrie in THE BIG SKY and Jack Schaefer in FIRST BLOOD and SHANE. Both sometimes used long sentences to keep the momentum of the action moving. SHANE: ‘His left arm hooked and the second gun was showing and Shane’s bullet smashed into his chest and his knees buckled, sliding him slowly down the wall till the lifeless weight of the body toppled it sideways to the floor.’

    1. Thank you Andrew. It is a long learning curve, but so worth the journey. I wish you well on yours, for you have some wonderful teachers in the books you chose. Here's to writing. Doris

  8. I loved those old Errol Flynn movies with sword fights and clever commentary while they fought.
    When it looks like the hero is going to get whooped, it makes the scene even more exciting. I'm mentally urging the hero on, to keep fighting and not give up which, of course he does continue to fight because he's the hero.
    To make it more intense give the hero some injuries. Short sentences create more urgency as well.
    This was an excellent blog, Doris.

    1. Great advice Sarah. The greater the payoff the more the reader engages.

      Thank you for the kind words. I confess, I love action sequences also, and Flynn's are on the top of the list. Doris

  9. Thanks for the information, Doris. I always wanted to study fencing--not something that's easy to find in Southern Illinois. lol

    1. Agreed Tracy, as you noticed, it wasn't until I moved out west that I took those lessons. They were fun and even the few I took were invaluable when it comes to the give and take of combat. *smile*. Hope someone shows up so you can give it a try.

      Thanks for the kind words. Doris