How to Use Action Writing in Your Story

Businessman skateboarding on urban sidewalk

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Action writing has been around since the beginning of fiction writing simply because people (whatever their age or their income) want to be entertained. Action writing is like going to the movies: all you have to do is sit back, eat your popcorn and let someone else do the work for you. And, in this case, work-motion. This means that the writing should speed up along with your characters. Action writing doesn't call for long descriptions of setting or character. Everything you write should pertain to the action.

Example of Action Writing

John Le Carre is the master of action writing. Let's see how Le Carre handles the final action scene in "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold":

Leamus was blinded, he turned his head away, wrenching wildly at Liz's arm. Now she was swinging free; he thought she had slipped and he called frantically, still drawing her upwards. He could see nothing -- only a mad confusion of color dancing in his eyes. Then came the hysterical wail of sirens, orders frantically shouted. Half kneeling astride the wall he grasped both her arms in his, and began dragging her to him inch by inch, himself on the verge of falling.

Notice how Le Carré allows us to see both what Alec is doing and what he sees. Part of what builds the tension of the scene is the fact that he adheres to Alec's point of view. It also makes it easier to describe if you're telling the story from third person limited. This way you don't have to worry about describing everything that's happening in a scene; only your protagonist's slice of it.

How to Write a Snappy Opening

Here's a template for grabbing the reader right from the get-go:

  1. When introducing a character, don't start by describing what he looks like. Instead, make sure the character is "doing something" from the very moment you introduce him.
  2. Open with dialogue. An engaging line of dialogue is a perfect way to launch your writing.
  3. Start with a bang! Don't blow up a car but "make something happen." 
  4. Don't fret the opening. If you can't come up with a killer opening, let it go. As the piece unfolds the opening will become apparent.

Careers in Action Writing

We can't all be John Le Carre or Stephen King but we can study their work (i.e., read their novels) to perfect our craft and then, once we've done our homework, look for jobs that make use of action writing. Surprisingly there are many avenues you can pursue.

If you don't have the skill set or interest to be a novelist or screenwriter then consider a career as a blogger, a magazine writer, or a marketing communications writer in the corporate world. Even politicians need help with their Twitter, Facebook and other social media feeds because much of what they post is a "call to action."