If you’re writing an action movie then there is a good chance that there will be some element of violence in certain scenes. With violence comes injuries. It is important that your characters feel the ramifications of violence in subsequence scenes because this allows the audience to sympathize with them. Pain and injuries show your character to be human and give your story a gritty, realistic edge.
Imagine you’re watching a movie and the main character gets in a huge fight with a bunch of goons, taking plenty of blows in the process. In the next scene the hero appears to be fine, their clothes are straight and their hair is perfectly styled. The James Bond character has often suffered (or not as the case may be) in the past from this “violence with no consequences” writing which is why the series took a big hit in popularity. Only now is the James Bond franchise becoming more gritty and realistic while maintaining the flair you expect from the character.
If your main character takes a punch to the ribs then they should be holding them in the next scene. Make the violence hurt the characters or else there is no point to it whatsoever other than to “look cool”. You should always go for style over substance.
Violence Causing Common Injuries
While gun fights and the like can be exciting most people (thankfully) don’t know what it feels like to be shot. That makes the situation hard to relate to and therefore hard to sympathise with. Violence is a great tool to make the bad guys look wicked and cruel while making the good guys look brave and heroic. I feel this is achieved much better with violence that results in “common injuries”.
Common injuries are those which the average person has a good chance of having had during their life, or at least know of someone who has had a similar injury. Broken bones are a great example of this. Anyone who has broken a bone, seen someone break a bone or even just known someone who has broken a bone will know that sickening snap and feeling as soon as they see it on the screen. It will make them wince, they will know exactly what the character is going through and be able to relate to them.
One movie that made great use of this was the original Die Hard. John McClane was the ordinary man who had to push himself to do extraordinary things. There is one scene in the film that I will always remember. McClane is covered in a computer room, involved in a gunfight with three other men. It is most important to note that John McClane was barefoot. The bolded part is the common injury.
Letting The Imagination Rule
I’m someone who walks around barefoot quite a lot and because of that I have stood of many painful things, glass, sharp stones, nails, etc. I know exactly how that feels and every time I watch this scene I relive my own similar experiences. I can relate to John McClane’s pain, and I’m sure you probably can as well.
This is a technique not used too often but was perhaps most famously used in Reservoir Dogs, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. In one memorable scene Mr. Blonde dances to “Stuck in the Middle With You” around his hostage, an LAPD cop. With a straight razor Mr. Blonde slashes the cop’s face. Then the camera pans to the left, as Mr. Blonde cuts the cop’s ear off. We hear muffled screams and a fruitless struggle but we don’t see a thing.
This moment was shot like this for a reason. Tarantino reasoned that the audience’s imagination would paint a more gruesome visual than he ever could on film. He was dead right. Rather than having the visual given to you, Tarantino forces you to think exactly what it would have been like. In this case it is an extremely effective and memorable method.
Most of you reading this have probably received some sort of cut before which helps you imagine what it would be like to feel your ear being hacked off. This makes it an extension of a common injury.
I hope you now see how violence is best used in a way that is as easy as possible to relate. You get the audience involved and you make them care about what is and what will happen to your characters. If you can do that in the rest of your screenplay then you have a script that is bound to sell.