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2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
10 YEAR anniversary!

Friday, 15 January 2021

Weekly writing prompt: action scene

Action Scene

This is the final writing prompt in the run-up to the online Imaginary Worlds course this February. Bookings for the course close on 19 Jan 2021, so if you want to leap deeper into inventing or enriching your own imaginary worlds this Feb and March, book here!

This week's prompt is an ACTION SCENE. Especially if those words fill you with alarm! That doesn't mean it has to be a fight scene – it could be, but it could equally be an escape scene, a rescue scene, a chase scene, a race scene, a shootout scene, a battle scene, a sports / physical competition scene, or a heist. Basically, any high-stakes scene where the focus is on the physical events.

Most writers tend not to be pole-vaulting sword-wielding fight-fiends. In fact, most people tend not to be. So if you're writing literary fiction, or contemporary mainstream, you can probably get away with never having an action scene. But when it comes to fantasy and science fiction, that kind of wariness doesn't wash anymore. Stuff happens. Exciting, big, physical stuff happens. Even The Handmaid's Tale, that very literary dystopia, has a stunningly brutal action scene when the handmaids kill a man with their bare hands and feet in the 'particution' and an escape scene. Giving birth isn't usually on the "types of action scenes" list, but I reckon it absolutely fits the criteria. So if you've always been wary of action scenes, or tried to duck around them, now's the chance to leap in. It doesn't need to be 007 swirling around with gadgets and offing henchmen left right and centre: anything high-stakes and physical is an action scene.

The most important trick with action scenes is to add twists and new developments, so it's not just one kind of action stretched out. For example, a chase scene with two people just running after each other has no twists or developments. They both run; whoever's faster or has more stamina will eventually get away or catch up; that's it. It's boring. So what twists and new developments can we add into the mix? Do other people join the chase? Do the characters reach an icy stretch? If so, who's better at navigating ice? Is your character especially good at jumping or climbing? Are there obstacles in the way? Do they fall down a hole?

If you already have a story you're writing, have a look through it for any action scenes you can add or which you're shying away from. If you don't have a possible action scene to hand, try this. Your character's been kidnapped and tied up in an underground tunnel network. (That could be natural caves, sewers, secret nuclear bunkers, your choice.) They've just managed to untie themselves. The enemy is around, but not right there. It's time to escape.

You can do this free-writing, adding a twist or development whenever you get stuck, OR you can plan it out roughly beforehand if you prefer. To plan it, take your central action (eg running away) and add 2–4 twists or developments, each of which changes the action and mood a bit. While you're writing, glance at the plan but don't feel obliged to follow it religiously. New discoveries emerge in the writing and, after all, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy! And most importantly, as always, have fun.

If you'd like to book for the Imaginary Worlds course this February–March, there are just THREE DAYS left to book: bookings close on Tues 19 Jan. You can read more about the course and book here.


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