As the first book of This Broken Earth, The U.S. of After draws to a close, my heroes find themselves in the middle of a struggle to survive as a militia warlord bears down on them for one last attempt to wipe them off the face of the broken earth. There are many factors at play in the creation of a good action scene, one that is suspenseful enough for the reader to not want to put the book down and also one that is not too predictable.
A writer needs to achieve three things when writing a good action scene:
1. Suspense – There needs to be some kind of utter peril in the action scene, either the heroes’ lives are in danger or someone they dearly love is about to die. Either way, the character or characters who are about to die need to be characters that the reader deeply cares about. The way this is achieved is throughout the novel the writer has created those characters with the reader in mind. The character who is in peril is a character who if killed would make the reader experience a catharsis, or a sadness at experiencing a tragedy. The stakes could definitely be a goal that the hero needs to accomplish, but often the reader will not care enough about this in order to create enough suspense in the reader’s mind.
2. Surprise – A good action sequence is not expected too much by the reader. The best ones are usually in the style of an ambush, where the main characters are not expecting the action sequence to occur. If the characters are headed into battle, for example, this effect can still be achieved by shifting the action of the sequence so that a character or antagonist does something unexpected that turns the entire scene. Someone who is usually very timid becomes the hero of the action sequence when the usually brave characters lose their nerve.
3. Sacrifice – A good action sequence needs to have some element of sacrifice. Someone is mortally wounded or seems to be mortally wounded, one of the main characters disappears from the group, a child is in danger, someone gives up their life for the heroes, or a main character dies unexpectedly. Death is not always meaningful, and there does not have to be a reason why a character dies. This finality will bring an edge to your action sequence that is unprecedented. As a kid I watched The A-Team, and was always amazed that even though they fired off some pretty impressive automatic weapons, not a single person was ever hit or killed. The most memorable episodes for me were the ones toward the end of the series where people actually did get hit or killed.
I go now to write my action sequence and possibly finish the rough draft by the end of the week. As you can see to the right my deadline is fast approaching. The suspense is mounting. Sometimes I feel like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, that boulder of a deadline looming behind me, and I escape from the tunnel with cobwebs blocking my vision. I will escape unscathed just as Indie always does. Now back to the novel.