Thursday, 2 April 2009


I think the simplest way to show how to write an action scene is to give some examples (good and bad).


Extract from 'The Yillian Way' by Keith Laumer.

…Retief stood, the Yill topping his six foot three by an inch. In a motion almost too quick to follow, Retief reached for the sabre, twitched it from the Yill's grip, swung it in a whistling cut. The Yill ducked, sprang back, snatched up a sabre dropped by another dancer.

"Someone stop the madman!" Spradley howled.

Retief leaped across the table, sending fragile dishes spinning.
The other danced back, and only then did the orchestra spring to life with a screech and a mad tattoo of high-pitched drums.

Making no attempt to following the weaving pattern of the Yill bolero, Retief pressed the other, fending off vicious cuts with the blunt weapon, chopping back relentlessly. Left hand on hip, Retief matched blow for blow, driving the other back.

Abruptly, the Yill abandoned the double role. Dancing forgotten, he settled down in earnest, cutting, thrusting, parrying; and now the two stood toe to toe, sabres clashing in a lightning exchange. The Yill gave a step, two, then rallied, drove Retief back, back -

And the Yill stumbled. His sabre clattered, and Retief dropped his point as the other wavered past him and crashed to the floor…

So what's good about this?

Look at the paragraph length - very short. Frequently, only one sentence. Sentence length is very short as well.

Look at the choice of active words - pressed, chopping, relentlessly, abruptly, lightning…

All these words are indicative of speed and motion. Dramatic words abound - cutting, thrusting, parrying - a sequence of verbs separated by commas. More evidence of violent motion and speed.


This is one I created specially for this workshop.

The alien, that was hideous with its mottled orange and green skin, charged towards me. I was forced back, retreating, having to block its talons as the swung towards me again and again.

I was panting, gasping for breath. My heart was pounding. The blood was throbbing in my temples. I tripped over a rock, falling to the ground as if in slow motion.

The alien towered over me, resting a clawed foot on my chest…

So what's wrong with this passage?

Have a go at rewriting it following the pointers I gave for the good passage.

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