Writing Specific Genres: Action

Die Hard

Action movies are thought to be the “bread and butter” of the movie industry. Every summer there’s a fresh wave of action movies and for good reason, they’re consistently popular at the box office. Give a man a little violence and a lot of explosions and they’re sold. Also with the increasing popularity of home-theatre systems, action movies DVDs sales have increased greatly, adding to their profitability.

There are a certain amount of conventions that, once you know, makes it a lot easier to write an action-based screenplay. Follow the tips below and you won’t go far wrong.

Start Fast

Begin your script with a big action scene, but not so big that it can’t be topped later on. This immediately grabs the attention of the audience and helps keep them gripped when you set-up the story of the film after the opening scene.

This initial scene often takes the form of a chase or shows the hero of the story bringing in a low-level criminal before the introduction of the main villain.

Reversals of Fortune

In the Scriptwriters Network Newsletter, William Martel wrote:

“The key to good action scenes is reversals…It’s like a good news/bad news joke. The bad news is that you get thrown out of an airplane. The good news is you’re wearing your parachute. The bad news is the rip cord breaks. The good news is you have a backup chute. The bad news is you can’t reach the cord. Back and forth like that until the character reaches the ground.”

What this does is add suspense to the scenes which is a key element of action films. This also shows the resolve and will of the character. When nothing quite goes to plan it takes a lot of heart to stick to something.

Keep It Simple Stupid

People don’t go to action movies to think, so don’t make the plot so intricate that it becomes hard to follow for the average movie goer. This is a simple one to gauge as, once you have finished your screenplay, you can hand it out for a test read to a bunch of trusted friends. If they can follow the story then you’ve done your job.

Personal Motivation

Give your main character a reason to be as deeply entrenched in the action as they are. You can’t get much more personal than threatening the lives of members of your main characters family. This is the type of motivation required to push an ordinary person to do something extraordinary.

In the original Die Hard movie, John McClane’s wife is amongst the hostages being held at gunpoint. That is the situation it takes to turn McClane from a regular cop into an action hero.

Love Interest

This one isn’t a must-have, however a love interest help humanize your main character, be used as the personal motivation (see above), and help keep the interest of female viewers.

An excellent quality for an action hero is they’re not actually that good with women. This can either be through shyness, insecurities, lack of understanding of the opposite sex or something else similar. What this does is make the action hero like nearly every man in the movie theatre, well meaning but with the flaws of a human. No-one is more dislikeable to the male audience than the “perfect” man.

Constant Danger

In a good action screenplay your main character should never be able to relax, because they’re in constant danger from the villains. This even includes going to the toilet, as we saw in Lethal Weapon. Even the most humdrum of activities can have an element of danger added to them some how. Your main character shouldn’t be able to relax for one moment throughout the film until they’ve put an end to the villains of the movie.

As always I hope the third in the Writing Specific Genres series has helped you. If it has, the please spread the word. If it hasn’t, lets just keep that between us, eh?