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Writing Great Action Sequences

The biggest problem many screenwriters who have trouble with is writing great action sequences. Glenn Benest gives tips to grab your reader.

Glenn M. Benestis an award-winning writing producer with seven produced screenplays, including two that were directed by Wes Craven. His independent film, HUNGRY HEARTS, was nominated for numerous awards at film festivals throughout the country and is being distributed internationally by Shoreline Entertainment. Mr. Benest is a celebrated lecturer and instructor and his professional screenwriting workshops have launched six feature films, including SCREAM and EVENT HORIZON. Follow Glenn on Twitter: @GlennBenest

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During my tenure as an instructor, the biggest problem I see on a weekly basis are screenwriters who have trouble with action sequences. They're either too detailed and fall flat or the writer(s) end up writing paragraphs that are flabby and don't capture the true excitement of a fight or gun battle. We call these scenes "set pieces," and they can be in a straight action movie or a scene or set of scenes in another genre.

Screenwriting began to change when Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. He pumped a new energy into the action genre with a specific Voice and way of describing action that took Hollywood by storm.

Now writers like Tony Gilroy (The Bourne movies) and Randall Wallace (Braveheart) format their action sequences so they instantly grab you by the throat and don’t let go.

How specifically do they do that?

Part of this is achieved technically, by laying out the page so the reader’s eye moves vertically from one image to another -- rather than horizontally. What everyone needs to understand is that readers or directors or producers skim through the description of a screenplay and pay greater attention to the dialogue. If the action isn’t written with style and energy, details can easily be lost and action scenes lose their impact.

Great action sequences should be thought of more like haiku (Japanese poetry). Haiku is written very sparingly, it moves vertically down the page not horizontally, and it’s written in visual images. Haiku is charged with energy, it has style and rhythm and each line captures the reader’s imagination. Most of all, it’s fun to read.

Learn from the great action writers working today. I’ll show you many examples of how to reformat your narrative, how to make your sentences active rather than passive, how to spend more time finding the right action words (verbs) rather than adjectives, and how to grab the reader’s attention by employing many “tricks of the trade” used by the great action writers working today.

Join my webinar on June 29 and learn how to make your action scenes literally jump off the page.

Writing Great Action Sequences Webinar by Glenn Benest

Wednesday, June 29th 1:00 PM

At a Glance:

Writing Great Action Sequences by Glenn Benest | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting #amwriting
  • During this webinar you will learn the best techniques for formatting and constructing action “set pieces.”
  • Get specific examples of how to give the feeling of a fight or battle without going into exhaustive blow-by-blow descriptions.
  • Discover how to make your action scenes come alive, so you can grab the reader in the most evocative way possible.