Writing a Thrilling Action Hero

Action is pretty much king in TV as well as films these days, which means that knowing as much as possible about writing action and the heroes who use it is a requirement for establishing a writing career. This article from Screenwriting 101 gives us the much-needed basics on our action-packed subject:


by Eric Owusu

No, this isn't DIE HARD. It's a character without whom there couldn't have been a DIE HARD. Good ole...whatsisname?

No, this isn’t DIE HARD. It’s a character without whom there couldn’t have been a DIE HARD. Good ole…whatsisname?

Die Hard is ranked in many opinions as one of the greatest Action-Adventure movies ever made. But it wouldn’t be so highly regarded if its screenplay were unimaginative. Writers Jeb Stuart and Steven E. DeSouza crafted a screenplay that moves, introduces characters fluidly, and conveys fast-paced action scenes and tension in creative and thrilling ways.

When writing your own action screenplay, it’s your job to give the hero(s) several things that will make them pop to readers and audiences, and stand the test of time.

Give Your Hero Personality

The Die Hard movies and their protagonist John McClane have been celebrated and imitated since their debut in 1988. McClane is a funny, determined, interesting hero who spits out funny witticisms and good comebacks the entire movie.

McClane talks himself through tense situations during the action of the screenplay. At one point, he pulls a fire alarm to get the authorities to come to the Nakatomi Plaza building to help him, his wife, and hostages escape. When he sees fire trucks swing off Santa Monica onto the Avenue of the Stars, he says out loud, with no one else around him, “C’mon, baby… Come to Papa. I’m gonna kiss your Goddamn dalmatian.” We’re already rooting for this hero to beat the bad guys and save the hostages, but we like him even more because he’s funny and has personality. He gives situations a different level of interest. When writing your action hero, be sure to give them a heroic sense of humor or interests characteristics as well.

All good movies need conflict; things that keep the protagonist for achieving their desires. And most action movies need stakes that involve explosions and loved ones in dire straits. In the first act of the Die Hardscreenplay, we are introduced to a jetlagged John McClane, his estranged wife Holly, with whom he’s trying to reconcile on Christmas, and his young children. When the bad guys take his wife and her coworkers hostage, it’s up to McClane to save them and stop the villains. He has to stop the bad guys, stay alive, save his wife, and see his children. These stakes give our hero goals to strive towards. As they achieve them, we cheer and hold our breath as they come face to face with another conflict that might end them. Keep your action screenplay full of intense stakes for your hero to operate under and to keep your audience invested.

Read it all at SSN Insider