Mailbag: Suggestions for writing action scenes

I recently received this email from fellow Michigan writer, Jaclyn E. Dunlop. She had a very good question:

Jaclyn’s Email:
Hey. Do you have any suggestions on how to write a combat scene? …My main character is fighting a dragon to prove her worth, and I’m not sure how to go about it.

C.K.’s Response:
The best advice my own editors have given me for writing action and combat scenes is to use short, punctuated sentences. Combat/action can be difficult to follow, especially if there is too much choreography and cerebral reasoning going on.

Here’s a bad example:
She swung her sword overhead in order to shield herself against the fiery blaze of the dragon’s breath before darting out of the way of his massive, swinging tail, just narrowly missing its heavy, returning thrash.

I’d rewrite the above sentence as:
She swung her sword overhead, shielding against the fiery blaze of the dragon’s breath. The dragon swung its massive tail. She darted out of the way, narrowly missing its heavy returning thrash. 

Use short, verb-oriented sentences. With action, it’s better to have more sentences composed of fewer words than one long, action-packed run-on. Also, choose active voice over passive. Instead of Her flesh was pierced by the dagger, we want: The dagger pierced her flesh.

Those would be my suggestions. Good luck!

Do you have a writing question? Contact me!

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