How to Write Action
- Base your characters on Archetypes. Action stories usually have very simple characters that fulfill archetypal roles such as hero, villain, and mentor. Similarly, their main characteristics are simple qualities like loyalty, anger, vengefulness, or intelligence, rather than complex human personalities. org maintains a free database of popular archetypes in mythology and pop culture, which is well worth a visit if you’re going to write an action story.
- Decide on a conflict and create a villain. In any action story, your conflict has to be a villain that your hero can square off with. In the simplest action stories, this can be a very simple villain like a maniacal terrorist or a resurrected zombie-Hitler. But to make your action story more compelling, you should make the villain a little more creative. Villains are best when we feel drawn to them in some way, or when we can understand why their goals might be attractive, even if in the end the villain is still evil. (Sometimes an action story has no villain, for example when it’s a disaster story; but usually there’s a clear villain at fault.)
- Set up some compelling fights. No action story is complete without a few good fight scenes. The action genre is driven by violence, so you’ll have to be ready to write some compelling, dramatic fight scenes. Remember that a fight scene needs to breathe – it can’t just be an endless series of punches or hammer blows. It should speed up and slow down, and should have a story structure all to itself. Think of every duel as a story in miniature.
- Plan out some character development. Even in a very simplistic action story, the hero should grow or change in some way over the course of the story. Perhaps he starts out as a whiny teenager, but then learns to be strong and independent. Or perhaps she starts out as a tough loner but learns to be close to friends and lovers.
When to Use Action
Action stories are just for fun – they’re not considered very sophisticated in an artistic sense, largely because their characters and plotlines are so archetypal (and therefore very predictable). In most creative writing classes, the instructor will look down on action stories because they are very simple in this way. This is not because action stories are easy to write – far from it. But they are very simple, and don’t afford as many opportunities to teach students about the nuances of creative writing.
However, you might find ways to make your action story less simplistic. For example, you could draw on the familiar archetypes but combine them in some unusual way (such as having a character start out in the hero archetype but gradually make a transition to a different one). You can also write action stories with complex characters, though this is not very common – most writers choose to focus on either the human element or the action scenes, and it’s hard to do both at the same time, even for the best writers. You can also complicate your action story by adding elements of satire or spoof.