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Note To Reader: IOU One Action Sequence

There once was a time the spec pile only ever involved two or three genres, especially from the “newer”, Brit writers: the reader would be treated to the uber-low budget social drama, the horror where everyone is stuck in one place and the low budget rom com where everyone hangs out in two or three locations. There were obviously exceptions, but when I first started reading, Brit spec writers *generally* seemed to stay away from the likes of period drama, the supernatural (barring vampires and their lack of make-up) and of course, the big explosion-style action movie.

I’m pleased to say that Brit spec writers are branching out more now. No longer do I hear cries of “But it’s too expensive!” on a daily basis. Writers seem to have realised, finally, their scripts ARE speculative; they can do what they want. What’s more, they’re realising the more ambitious they can be, the more they can show off what they can do. After all, as good as your spec is, it’s unlikely to be made EVEN IF it gets optioned. That’s just the way of it. Write what you want, show what you can do. If that so happens to be low budget – brilliant. But if not, don’t be afraid of writing it; don’t think it’s worthless. Use it as a sample. Stick your writing in *somebody’s* head, get yourself remembered.

However, one thing I do see with some regularity is a lack of good action sequences -even in action movies. Very often, an action sequence will say *something* like:

“The building blows up.

LATER: carnage.”


“Dianne gets in her car, races through the streets. Jack follows. Dianne crashes.”


Doin’t give your reader an “IOU” like this: you’re essentially saying, “When this is a REAL MOVIE, you can see the rest of it.” Noooooooo! I can’t speak for other readers because they’re not me, but this really winds me up since a) the writer is reminding me THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A MOVIE and b) there’s a big space where the story should be!! Obviously, you want to be lean on the scene description – and that’s cool. But that doesn’t mean you can just LEAVE IT OUT altogether.

A really good, well-written action sequence not only adds to your story, it can reveal character too. If your character is willing to grab a bomb and run with it through the streets to shove it somewhere AWAY from pedestrians, that says a lot about them. Equally, if they run AWAY from the bomb and let the pedestrians take their chances, you have character there too.

Whilst no one wants to see explosions, deaths and car chases in there for pages and pages AND FOR NO REASON in the story, equally you don’t want to go too far the other way too and skimp on the action. What’s more – you should note there is no “right way” to write an action sequence beyond going overboard or skimping on it; I’ve seen sequences that are half a page and really exciting, just as I’ve seen ones that go on for several pages that are fantastic. As long as it works within the context of your story and what your characters want/need, it’s all good.

So next time you find yourself wanting to write an action sequence, don’t skimp. Make it part of your story, reveal some character if you can, take us along for the ride.

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9 thoughts on “Note To Reader: IOU One Action Sequence”

  1. But what about Dianne?
    Is she ok?
    You can’t just tell us she crashed and then leave it there.
    I bet Jack caught up to her and put a bullet in her head just to make sure she was dead. Jack is like that. He’s cold Lucy.

    Stupid that they should argue over who ate all the Strawberry Quality streets anyway.
    Jack has such a short fuse

    Todays WV – nonsoti. I’m sure it’s Italian for nonsense. I think Blogger is trying to tell me something. :o)

  2. That’s the way to do it, Brain – Jack IS cold! lol

    Did you see your blog is in Scribomatic now? (the pink thing with all the blog updates on here)

  3. Well said Lucy – if "true character" is revealed by the decisions your characters make under stress, then there's a fair chance that these moments are going to take place during action sequences.

    I was listening to an interesting podcast Q&A with Jonathan Nolan (co-writer of The Dark Knight) yesterday, and he made the same point while talking about how his action sequences looked on the page:

  4. Don’t know if it’s true, but I once heard that ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ had the following for its action sequences: “They fight.”

    And re your Twitter exchange about piano tuners, I’m reliably informed by someone who used to work in the Dept of Employment that the UK Government used to give grants for training in specific areas related to their physical ability; so, blind folks would be encouraged to train for jobs which emphasised other senses, and the like.


  5. JS – yes I heard something similar re: piano tuners. Good! If it’s true about Crouching Tiger – not good! Tho on the whole I preferred House of Flying Daggers anyway.

    Tom – thanks for the link Tom, v useful! Now I just have to figure out how to listen to podcasts…

  6. I was sent a draft of a potential collaboration script and the big chase scene at the end said “and the usual blah, blah, blah chase.”

    Were they putting that in as a placeholder for me to go nuts with it anyway I wanted, or is it laziness? I don’t know yet.

    Word Verification was POISDUR (I just know that means something somehwhere ha)

  7. The [blah blah blah] action sequence is more common than you think, MQ! I’ve certainly seen a lot of them over the years – the [blah blah blah] sex scene too!!! My favourite one was “And now for the gratuitous sex scene… Oooh baby”.

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