Review my action scene?

Hi there! I’ve been out of writing for a hot minute and was hoping someone that finds themselves writing action a lot might be able to help me review and smooth out the action scene I have in the first chapter of my book. I’m looking for a different perspective because I can find it difficult to explain why things sound off, and I am not as experience with action as a whole anyway. If you are willing to lend me a hand, I would greatly appreciate it! (do understand that some terms are understandable in context as it’s a fantasy, but if you need explanation of names or circumstances I am happy to answer!)

Scene:

“You will now complete a combative assessment,” The middle one said. “You have two minutes.” Mar could barely process what he said. A combative assessment? What the hell was that?

She didn’t have to wait long to find out. While she had been staring at the judging panel, the second attendant had come back into the room. He now had on pads and a helmet, and in is hand was a large ax. He lunged at her. Mar just barely processed what was happening in time to side step the man. He turned quickly and grabbed her arm. She tried to pull away but his grasp was firm.

Self defense lessons began to flood back to her. She rotated her wrist and pulled her arm as hard as she could. His grip loosened and Mar began running as fast she could. Despite his size, the man was light on his feet and that combined with his longer legs meant that Mar was only just out of his reach. The room wasn’t very big. Mar could see that she would have to change directions soon to avoid getting cornered. So just before her feet could reach the tape of the marked track, she spun on her heels and ran directly towards the man.

He was much closer then she thought. His arm reached out to stop her but she ducked. The man’s arms swept over her head as he continued moving forward. Mar used her crouch to leap forward, buying herself a few precious feet of distance while the man turned around. Her breath came out in sharp gasps and her chest was seized up in fear. The exhaustion from completing the other tests was hindering her performance. The fear of being pursued was hindering her breathing. Her legs ached and burned, but she couldn’t stop them if she tried. Margret glanced over her shoulder. The attendant was already gaining on her one step at at time. But just to her left were the water buckets. They were there for the manips taking the physical, but if she could use one as a distraction…

Once more, Mar took a sharp turn to the left. The man had trouble banking. She raced over to the buckets of water and when she looked back, the man was already at her heels, with his ax in position. Mar reached the barrels. Just one of them was almost five feet tall. She pressed her shoulder up against one and pushed with all her strength. It began to tip. The farther it leaned the easier it was to push. With one last bit of effort, it fell onto the marble floor with a solid thunk, sloshing water everywhere. The man stopped not that the barrel was in between them. It was too big to easily jump. They stood there and face each other for a split second, not sure what move would be made next. Mar feinted to the right before running left, leading the man all the way around the barrel in an attempt to follow her. But the left side of the barrel was the side with the opening. She tried to sprint away, but her feet skidded on the galleons of water that had been spilled. She lost traction and slipped.

Her hands met the ground first. The rest of her body crumpled to the floor. Her palms pulsed from the pain. Mar tried to get back on her feet but when she flipped herself over it was too late. She made a feeble attempt to scoot away, but the man loomed over her, the ax brandished raised above his head. The fear in her chest leaped into her throat. She couldn’t swallow. She raised her hands above her face and squeezed her eyes shut as if could somehow lessen the blow.

But that blow never came. Only a gasp from the judges table.

To me actually it’s pretty amazing. the scene is described well and everything is really clear which makes it easier to imagine it in my head and I don’t think it’s sound off. you have really written well describing all the tension,movements and thoughts.

I think it’s well written and you’ve made good use of short choppy sentences, but it could use some white space/shorter paragraphs to create more tension beats. White space helps control pacing and standalone lines in the right spots would emphasise suspenseful moments.

I can go through it and add spaces where I would use them if you like.

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That would be helpful! I had longer paragraphs cause I always worry about mine being too short, but maybe for once that that’s in my detriment!

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Grammar corrections in square brackets. Other notes/comments in bold.


“You will now complete a combative assessment,” [t]he middle one said. “You have two minutes.”

Mar could barely process what he said. A combative assessment? What the hell was that?

She didn’t have to wait long to find out. While she had been staring at the judging panel, the second attendant had come back into the room. He now had on pads and a helmet, and in is hand was a large ax.

He lunged at her.

Mar just barely processed what was happening in time to side step the man. He turned quickly and grabbed her arm. She tried to pull away but his grasp was firm.

Self defense lessons began to flood back to her. She rotated her wrist and pulled her arm as hard as she could. His grip loosened and Mar began running as fast she could. Despite his size, the man was light on his feet and that combined with his longer legs meant that Mar was only just out of his reach.

The room wasn’t very big. Mar could see that she would have to change directions soon to avoid getting cornered. So just before her feet could reach the tape of the marked track, she spun on her heels and ran directly towards the man.

He was much closer then she thought. His arm reached out to stop her but she ducked. The man’s arms swept over her head as he continued moving forward. Mar used her crouch to leap forward, buying herself a few precious feet of distance while the man turned around.

Her breath came out in sharp gasps and her chest [had] seized up in fear. The exhaustion from completing the other tests was hindering her performance. The fear of being pursued [hindered] (edit note: active language is better in action) her breathing. Her legs ached and burned, but she couldn’t stop them if she tried.

Margret glanced over her shoulder. The attendant was already gaining on her one step at at time. But just to her left were the water buckets. They were there for the manips taking the physical, but if she could use one as a distraction…

Once more, Mar took a sharp turn to the left. The man had trouble banking. She raced over to the buckets of water and when she looked back, the man was already at her heels, with his ax in position.

Mar reached the barrels. Just one of them was almost five feet tall. She pressed her shoulder up against one and pushed with all her strength.

It began to tip.

The farther it leaned the easier it was to push. With one last bit of effort, it fell onto the marble floor with a solid thunk, sloshing water everywhere.

The man stopped [not that the barrel was in between them] (edit note: something is missing/typed incorrectly in this sentence). It was too big to easily jump. They stood there and face[d] each other for a split second, not sure what move would be made next.

Mar feinted to the right before running left, leading the man all the way around the barrel in an attempt to follow her. But the left side of the barrel was the side with the opening. She tried to sprint away, but her feet skidded on the galleons of water that had been spilled. She lost traction and slipped. (Edit note: this paragraph could use a little tightening, imo.)

Her hands met the ground first. The rest of her body crumpled to the floor. Her palms pulsed from the pain.

Mar tried to get back on her feet but when she flipped herself over it was too late. She made a feeble attempt to scoot away, but the man loomed over her, the ax brandished raised above his head.

The fear in her chest leaped into her throat. She couldn’t swallow. She raised her hands above her face and squeezed her eyes shut as if could somehow lessen the blow[–] (Edit note: Em-dash here creates more tension because it’s seen as an interruption.)

But that blow never came. Only a gasp from the judges table.


Don’t have to use everything since this is just how I’d do it. I’ve mostly broken things up where the focus of the action shifts from Mar to the attendent or where a line break would add more tension. I hope that’s helpful :slight_smile:

Thank you so much! This was very insightful

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It is a decent action scene. Good, but not outstanding.

Overall it is easy to understand what is going on and you do well at making it fast paced. The characters’ actions are pretty basic - nothing particularly sophisticates or clever, but at some instances they do things that make sense - like rotating the wrist to pull free or to feint running in the opposite direction - and that not every amateur author might think of. Neither of them seems very experienced, but they’re probably not supposed to be.
There are a few moments where I almost get the impression that the man with the ax is standing idle when he probably shouldn’t. Maybe you could tweak the wording a bit in some places to dispel that impression.
The first instance is when the man grabs her arm and she at first pulls back. I don’t get the impression that he is doing anything but holding her arm for a moment. If she doesn’t immediately manage to free herself, he has at least time to raise his ax to strike her, or to try to throw her to the ground, unless he’s supposed to deliberately give her a chance to free herself.
I don’t think she has time to push over a heavy water bucket if the man has almost reached her before she even starts. He again seems to stand idle and wait for her to finish pushing the bucket. If the water bucket is almost 5 feet high and wide enough that it is difficult to jump over it, I’d estimate that it’s at least 300 kg heavy, more likely 400 kg, if it’s full. I do not think that she can push that over if she’s built like a normal woman, unless she has magically enhanced strength or something. Though it is of course possible that the bucket is mostly empty, as you don’t say it’s full buckets.

There are also a few typos or sentences I don’t find particularly useful:

than she thought

I don’t think that’s likely. Fear does not hinder your breathing while you’re running. Maybe if your reaction is to freeze and do nothing, but not if ‘flee’ or ‘fight’ is the option your body chooses out of the ‘fight, flee, freeze response’.

‘now that’ ?

‘stood there and faced’, but you don’t need ‘stood there’ at all. ‘faced each other for a split second, not sure what move would be made’, implied that they’re standing.

It took me a while to realize why the sentence ‘But the left side of the barrel was the side with the opening’ is relevant at all. You don’t need it to convince the reader that she could possibly slip on the water.

It’s a minor thing, but ‘So’ is an useless word in that sentence and just slows it down a bit.

I’m not quite sure about what Mar is expected to do in the ‘combative assessment’. What does she have two minutes for? Survive? Win?

I don’t know the context of this scene, but if Mar is in real danger and not accustomed to life-threatening situations, the scene is almost a bit emotionally weak. In that case you could emphasize her initial shock more.

I really like the last three sentences of the scene, though. It’s a great way to end it.

Thanks for the feedback! I have a bad habit of using filler words so I will take your suggestion on those one’s to remove. I also fixed that bit about the barrel after the last comments. Sometimes I right something and my brain just jumbles on the words together when typing.

In terms of context, my protag is 14 and she lives in this totalitarian society where 95% percent of the population is able to generate or manipulate water. Mar has the ability to manipulate ice, but it’s a bit of an issue because in the past the ice gifted have caused a LOT of damage and causalities, and now when these people are found to have these powers they are either arrested or shot on sight. So she has posed as someone without these powers her whole life. At 14 students have to take an aptitude exam with a written portion and a physical, and this is to place them in a field which they will excel. But just like with our standardized test, there are a lot of rules in place to make sure students don’t know exactly what is on the test (and depending on the fields they are considered for, certain parts may be added or omitted). That’s why she is caught off guard by a combative portion. But it makes sense, because in a previous scene she is told that die to the escalating war going on, almost everyone was going to be tested for military service.

The reason the blow never comes is because she accidentally creates a wall of ice between her and the man, only to find out a moment later that the ax is fake. (It there so that kids have options, like using improvised weapons to try and fight him, or creating a plan to disarm him, or just to run for as long as they can.) The scene is necessary because it is the catalyst for her secret being revealed and her being given the opportunity she has after this.

Apart from the comments that @Half_A_Monster made (all great and to the point) I have some suggestions, some tips and some compliments to add.

  • Look at the “unnecessary negatives”: didn’t have long… the room wasn’t very big… It’s stronger to write directly: in less than a second… the room was cramped/tight…

  • Avoid “tried”, “start”, “began to” and “-ing”. Short sentences are often stronger, also when you use direct verbs: “she tried to pull away, but his grasp was firm.” => “She pulled away. His firm grasp…” / “While she had been staring… into the room” => She stared at the judging panel. Behind her, the second attendant entered the room. Raised his axe. Lunged at her."

  • The lines “Mar could barely process… hell was that?” are great; it shows the emotions of Mar (doubt) and that makes the scene alive and gripping. You do something similar with “hindered her breathing. Her legs ached and burned.”, showing (not telling) how she feels during the scene. This is why the scene is so good: it’s not film where two savages beat each other for hours, no, it’s writing where emotions are important.

  • Another good thing is how you change the speed of the scene, with longer and shorter sentences: after a quick blow, there’s a moment to get your breath back. Timing is important, especially in action scenes.

  • Using the environment (the barrel), describing action and realistic movements, and not forgetting the judges in the end, it all adds to the quality of the scene. You might improve on word choice here and there, but in general it’s well done.