Purple Prose + Novel

Writing Kickass Action Scenes: Part Three

I’d like to welcome back S.J Kincaid, author of the upcoming YA dystopian novel for boys, Insignia.

If you missed part one of her post on writing action scene, click here and here. Her analysis is based on the book Watership Down. I watched the movie as a kid, and cried. A lot. (Not a great movie to watch if you have pet rabbits).


The entire clash between Bigwig and Woundwort is spliced between the other aspects of the larger battle going on, but the entire outcome hinges on what happens between these two rabbits. It doesn’t drag on too long, it doesn’t eclipse everything else going on. Instead, we get to experience a tiny triumph before the much larger triumph later in the battle when General Woundwort encounters his greatest surprise of all (but I’ve spoiled enough).

I can’t go into much more depth about this, because it’s been ages since I’ve read Watership Down, but I remember the Bigwig/Woundwort skirmish vividly. IMO, that’s the mark of a powerful scene—the fact that I remember it after all this time.

The most important thing to take away from this is that I truly believe emotion matters the most, when it comes to writing a decent action scene. That’s what makes a fight scene interesting, and it’s what gives the reader a stake in its outcome. The rest, the technical stuff (the mechanics of throwing punches, of laying down sentences, of word choice), that’s just window-dressing. It’s merely the vehicle for expressing the larger, emotional idea of what’s going on in the scene. Consider the special effects of a movie: yes, they look cool, but if the movie only consists of special effects, what do we care? This is why the clumsy sword battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is so riveting, and the sophisticated, dazzling swordplay between Darth Maul and the two Jedi in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, is so completely lame in comparison. It’s all about what the audience feels. Same principle applies to writing. The trick of an action scene is above all to convince a reader to care. The reader’s emotional engagement in the scene will do the bulk of the work for you.

This is why I often dread writing action scenes. There is so much to consider, so much to put in place beforehand, and it is incredibly easy to throw in an explosion and superficially make the plot more interesting, without bringing a reader along for the ride emotionally. When you do pull of a fight scene, though? When you read your own writing and realize you’ve hit those points you were aiming for? That’s one of the most satisfying things in the world. If you’re an aspiring writer, I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself. So although I dread writing them, I know if I can pull them off, the payoff will make the writing worth it.


Thanks S.J. Kincaid for you awesome posts on writing action scenes. Here’s the blub to the book my son and I can’t wait to read. It’s due out July 10th from Katherine Tegen Books (Harpercollins).


More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

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Writing Kickass Action Scenes: Part Three + Novel