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Writing Action Scenes

Techniques for Creating High-Stakes Drama and Suspense

By Barbara KingPublished 5 months ago 4 min read

Action scenes are some of the most thrilling and exciting parts of a story. They can keep readers on the edge of their seats and create high-stakes drama and suspense. Whether you're writing a novel, a short story, or a screenplay, knowing how to write effective action scenes is essential to keeping your readers engaged and invested in the story. Here are some techniques for creating high-stakes drama and suspense in your action scenes.

Establish the stakes

Before the action even begins, it's important to establish what's at stake. What are the consequences of failure? What is the goal of the action scene? What will happen if the characters don't succeed? The higher the stakes, the more invested your readers will be in the outcome of the scene.

Use sensory details

Action scenes are all about movement and excitement, but it's important to remember that they're not just visual. Using sensory details can help bring the scene to life and make it feel more immersive for your readers. Consider incorporating sounds, smells, and physical sensations into your action scenes to create a more vivid and engaging experience.

Vary sentence structure and length

When writing action scenes, it's easy to fall into the trap of using short, choppy sentences. While this can create a sense of urgency and tension, it can also become monotonous and exhausting to read. To keep your readers engaged, vary your sentence structure and length. Incorporate longer, more complex sentences to break up the shorter ones and add some variety to the pacing.

Show the consequences

Action scenes are all about cause and effect. It's not just about what the characters do, but also about the consequences of their actions. Showing the consequences of the action scene can add weight and tension to the scene, and help readers understand the full impact of what's happening.

Use foreshadowing

Foreshadowing can be a powerful tool in action scenes. It can create anticipation and tension, and make the eventual payoff even more satisfying. Consider hinting at what's to come before the action even begins, whether it's through subtle hints or more overt foreshadowing.

Don't forget about the character

Action scenes shouldn't just be about the action itself. They should also reveal something about the characters involved. How do they react under pressure? What do their actions say about who they are as people? By incorporating character development into your action scenes, you can create a more well-rounded and engaging story.

Keep the pacing tight

Action scenes should be fast-paced and exciting, but that doesn't mean they should be rushed. It's important to keep the pacing tight and focused, without sacrificing clarity or detail. Consider breaking down the action into smaller, more manageable chunks, and using short scenes or chapters to keep the momentum going.

Use cliffhangers

Cliffhangers can be a great way to create suspense and keep readers engaged in your action scenes. Consider ending chapters or sections of your story on a cliffhanger, leaving readers wondering what will happen next. This can create a sense of anticipation and excitement that can carry over into the next scene.


In conclusion, writing effective action scenes requires a combination of technique and creativity. By establishing the stakes, using sensory details, varying sentence structure and length, showing the consequences, using foreshadowing, incorporating character development, keeping the pacing tight, and using cliffhangers, you can create high-stakes drama and suspense that will keep your readers engaged and invested in your story.

Keep writing and keep reading!

With Love, 

B.K. xo

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About the Creator

Barbara King

Barbara King is a full-time writing coach and novelist. King is a recent college graduate from Southern New Hampshire University where she earned her BA in Creative Writing.

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