How Do I Handle Action Sequences?

by jeanineoloughlin

Thinking Through My Fingers

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov

Action sequences such as, combat, chase scenes, or even sex scenes bring excitement to a narrative. My first pass of an action sequences reads like an instruction manual; Character A moves their hand this way and Character B moves out-of-the-way. Not very exciting at all. If I have a story that has a big action sequence a lot of my time in the first draft editing is to take the list of instructions and turn them into a narrative adding description and embellishment. I try to consider sensory elements, what it’s felt like to have similar situations or feelings occur to myself. I’ve had the wind knocked out of me, or felt my heart racing in fear or excitement. If you’ve never been in a sparring match or a fist fight you might not know exactly how it feels to kick something that feels like a brick wall. However, you probably have had a moment where you’ve jumped off something and when you hit the hard ground you got that sharp pang up your leg from the impact.

When writing stories like the Hunter series I have extraordinary characters doing extraordinary things and I have to try to understand how it feels to do something so I can give that to my reader. I have had martial arts training when I was younger, which helps (thanks Dad), but I also have watched demonstrations online or ask people around me who do those things. I think being able to experience something yourself is the best way, if at all possible, and can be so much fun. I was a theatre rat (drama kid) in high school and one thing that every drama teacher will talk about is method acting… taking an experience you have personally had and using that to generate the emotion of your character. I feel that this kind of method also can help in action sequences or any high drama scene you’re writing. Put yourself in the place of the character and just tell the reader what you feel.

Things I’ve done that have helped me with action sequences:


You can usually find introductory classes around and they aren’t expensive

Martial Arts

Most gyms have a kick boxing class and learning what it feels like to actually strike a solid object is very helpful for any combat scene


Not just jogging I mean sprinting or running until you want to collapse. Feel your lungs burning and your legs go numb (okay maybe not that far but you get the idea).

Rope/Rock Climbing/Pull Ups

Feel what it’s like to try to lift your own body weight. Ropes aren’t soft and cuddly either… You can get splinters and burns from it too.

Balance Beams/Curb Walking

Try walking along something narrow a 2 x 4 from Home Depot will work. Balance as you go across. My favorite was 2 ropes between two trees (one for your feet and one for your hands). You can set these up just a few inches/feet above the ground to keep it safe. It’s harder than it looks, especially if you lived somewhere windy like I did.

All of these are things you can easily do and really can help you understand the skills a lot of our extraordinary characters have and can be done with minimal expense. Just be safe and smart about it and really take in how you feel during the entire experience.

Happy Writing!