So I really like adventure and action stories and I come up with a lot of them but the problem is I’m not confident in my ability to write action sequences. One of the reasons is that I don’t know the mindset of a fighter (or people in danger in general). Another one of my problems is that I don’t know how much detail I should go into when describing an action scene. Do you have any advice on how I can work on these things?

The only way to get comfortable writing action sequences is to write action sequences. You’re never going to be perfect the first time out. Improving takes time, practice, and self-reflection and no one will really be able to tell you how. You’ve got to figure out what works for you and your style, which may require trying a bunch of different approaches before you find one you’re comfortable with.

Let’s break this question into two parts.

Mind Set:

Every single person has within them the capacity for great kindness and incredible cruelty. They have both, together, in equal measure, at the same time. What we choose to do with it is ultimately what defines us. This is me telling you that despite your lack of experience in that area, you can indeed get into the many different mind sets warrior characters have. Whether or not you can stomach it is another question entirely.

You have it within you to sympathize with both your protagonists and your villains. Learning how is merely a matter of practice and making the effort to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. You don’t need to share your character’s experiences to sympathize with their plight, but you do need to understand the driving forces behind their desires.

Why am I doing this?

How did I get here?

What brought me to this point?

What is my plan? Do I even have a plan?

What do I want?

What am I willing to do to get it?

Am I safe? What do I have to do to be safe?

Am I going to live? Do I want to live?

Tell me, is this worth dying for?

Even though there is no right answer, the one your looking for may not immediately come to you. Sometimes, you need assistance to get into the right frame of mind. Thankfully, the world has provided you with a multitude of aids to help you out.

Dealing With Danger/Feeling Powerless: Horror movies, particularly psychological thrillers (as opposed to hack and slash films) are a really quick way to jump start feeling hopelessness and trapped with no way out. Most horror movies ask you to sympathize and empathize with at least one victim as they struggle against overwhelming forces. Sometimes they’re a helpless bystander, sometimes they deserve it, but ultimately for the purpose of this exercise what’s going on in the film doesn’t matter. The feelings it yanks out of you? Those do. So, pick a movie that really freaks you out, then sit down and try to imagine what you or your character would do if faced with the same threat. (Stay within the setup rules, no cheating, pick a movie that really scares you.)

If you’re lucky enough to have never been in a situation where you’ve felt out of control, powerless, or in danger then going through other people’s experiences can help you understand it.

Memoirs, films that are confirmed as “realistic” by people in the profession the movie is about, video games like Spec Ops: the Line will all help you understand the different mentalities and mindsets that fighters have. The sense of fatigue, the worry, even sometimes the self-hate.

It’s not one, it’s many. Some of those outlooks are comfortable and familiar, others not so much.

Find authors you like and trust, read their body of work and study it to see how they did what they did.

Pick a place to start at your local library (Military History, Martial Arts) and dig in. You’ll be there a while.

Detail:

Detail isn’t an easy question to answer. The goal of the scene is always to serve the greater whole of the story. If it’s disrupting the story and doesn’t fit, then you change it. If it supports the story and doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb, then keep it.

I don’t know your style, so I can’t tell you. I can however provide you to some links and links to other links where we talked about fight scenes in the past.

FightWrite: Emotions, Physical Reactions, and the Flow of Combat

Character Development: Approaches to Violent Scenarios

This ask where I link a whole bunch of previous helpful posts

FightWrite: Keeping Tension High

Avoiding the Combat Sue/Stu

Overconfidence: Cocky versus Lazy

Seven Deadly Fight Scene Sins

Cause and Effect, Fight Scene Examples

-Michi