Peggy Bechko has Some Serious Tips for Action Writers

by Peggy Bechko

Love to write action sequences? I know I do. But, since we like to write these things we need to do our research ahead of time so we don’t write something really dumb into our scripts or novels. I’m not going to go into every possible scenario, but let’s thinks about a few things to get our brains in gear and pondering the realities of what we write. Plainly we can take some license in our creations, but it’s best to know what’s real before we go off on our own paths.

Like what, you say? Well, for one thing, those fisticuffs? Those mano on mano, hand-to-hand fights we sometimes cook up are a lot of work. In ‘real life’ they usually last only a few seconds for regular folks. Might last longer for someone really well trained in martial arts or some form of hand-to-hand combat.

The combatants are going to tire out really fast because it’s really hard work, not to mention painful when somebody gets slugged. That character you just put in a fist fight for the first time will react differently than the character who’s been brawling all his life. Definitely something to keep in mind when you write those slug-fest scenes.

And weaponry is another thing to think about. Swords are generally heavy. They’ll bend or break if your character hits something hard enough. They get dull quickly and have to be well taken care of (remember the scenes where things are quiet after a battle and the guy is sitting there using sharpening or polishing a sword?) Since they can and frequently do break, there’s the ‘replacing it’ issue.

How about arrows?

Arrows are very effective and commonly used in battle scenes. People get wounded. People bleed (more on that in a few paragraphs) and no, it’s not possible to just yank one out without really tearing things up. Points for accuracy in those movies where the arrow breaks off inside the victim. Yep, that’s what usually happens.

A real archer is a strong guy (or gal). You might go to a sports store or an archery range and draw a bow. Seriously. It takes a lot of strength to draw that bow, then hold it steady and drawn back until the target is lined up. You, as the writer you are, can also research online, searching things like ‘draw weight’. What that is, is the amount of force needed to pull that bow string back and loose the arrow. Really. Research that! It’s not as easy as it appears unless you’re playing with your little kid’s toy boy and arrow set.

Now I’m going to talk about blood. Above I mentioned people bleed. They can bleed a lot. And if the character has been running and fighting for a long time, the blood is rushing around inside at a very fast pace and will leak out at a comparable rate if the ‘package (i.e. the skin) is punctured badly. A little more on the less likely to be fatal side, if that character gets punched in the face, nose broken it’s probably going to bleed.

Either way, with a lot of exercise going on the injured character is probably going to bleed a lot. Scalp wounds bleed…a lot. Kinda ewww, but real nonetheless. You might consider going online to check out how much blood a person can lose before he or she dies. Hey, knowing these things will help a writer add the real touches to a story that brings that story wholly alive.

Ponder leaping and jumping. Slamming down hard can shatter bones in reality, depending on how high the jump or fall. There’s very good reasons behind diving and rolling.

And just to remind you about all your character’s senses, the fact of the matter is a real, full-blown battle like we’ve seen on Game of Thrones would smell gawd-awful. Sweat, blood, urine, feces. OMG. And battle isn’t clean. Limbs are severed, guts are spilled, people slip on blood and guts. All of that can also make it hard to keep a grip on a weapon. Ever wonder why there’s a groove in a sword? To channel the blood – hopefully away from the hand.

Look, EVERYTHING affects your characters. Think about it, research it. The payoff will be much more three dimensional characters and very powerful writing.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.