Thursday, 15 June 2017

Writing Dialogue for Action Scenes

I'm heading into the last part of Act Two in my WIP, and the action is really cranking up. Enough with the talking, the thinking, the quietly figuring things out. It is time to bring out the big guns. Quite literally.

With this in mind, I found myself facing several hot action scenes, with fights, shootings, and car chases to choreograph. As I'm not overly experienced in any of these domains, I had a ton of research to do, not least because my car chase takes place in the real life setting of an area of London near St Paul's cathedral, and I wanted the setting to be spot-on. (Hello, Google Maps.)

On top of all that, the three characters involved are newly-formed allies, with a ton of stuff to say in order to get everyone on the same page, very fast, whilst escaping bad guys and dealing with a bullet wound.

Writing the dialogue and action for these scenes was hard. The kind of stuff that makes me want to throw in the towel and take up knitting instead. So I did what any self-respecting writer would do. I took the easy route.

First I wrote the car chase, with minimal dialogue (mostly 'ouches' and 'look behind yous' and 'helps') and lots of raging action, then, in the subsequent lull before the next disaster, the three amigos had a good old chin wag with a ton-load of characterisation, and got it all off their chests.

The scene fell flat.

I was sad. I cried a little, moaned a little, grumbled a little, realised nobody was listening to me, and took a break from the scene. Then, when I came back, I had an epiphany.

*insert witty dialogue into action scene*

VoilĂ .

I took most of the dialogue (with some exceptions) and weaved it into the action scene, alternating between full-on car chase and vibrant (I hope) conversation, pumping life into this scene until it pulsated with energy. Now the characters are having a real great time, bonding fast as they race through the streets of London, popping tyres and dodging bullets.

Also, I was able to cut out most of the action beats and dialogue tags from the original conversation, hence reducing word count. Since my WIP is comparable to an oversized heifer, this is good.

I plan to use this technique again. When I face a scene that requires heavy action and sharp dialogue, I'll write them separately, then blend them as one. A bit like a smoothie. Minus the lumps.


  1. Awesome to hear this worked so well for you! I've intended to home dialogue and everything else separately for non-action scenes because it's easy to hide weak dialogue in too much other stuff. Maybe one of these days I'll actually get around to it. :)

    1. Yes, sometimes it's worth just writing the dialogue out on its own to give it the focus it deserves! Thanks for commenting!