Fiction Fundamentals – Clichés in Action Scenes

By Linda Adams

A cliché, in its strictest definition, is a timeworn phrase like “a stitch in time saves nine.” For fiction, it is something done too many times by too many writers. This includes action scenes, such as fights.

More than likely, these action clichés started in the movie theaters. With the advent of the serial in 1940′s and 1950′s America, movie audiences were treated to exciting scenes of heroines being tied to railroad tracks and heroes driving off cliffs. Each segment of the serial had to end with the hero in mortal danger so the kids would come back the next week. With the tremendous number of serials produced, they started repeating things. Thus, the action cliché was born.

So how do you avoid action clichés in your own writing?

Start by passing on anything you’ve seen on TV, film, or in popular books. Many writers use elements from other works simply because they are popular, concluding it will help sell the manuscript. But, because these scenes have been done before, these elements don’t offer the surprise of the unexpected or the thrill of danger. The reader already knows how it’s going to turn out.

Instead, try incorporating your characterizations into the action scenes. Remember, your protagonist has skills, strengths, and weaknesses you can exploit. Foreshadow those elements repeatedly throughout the story so when the reader comes to the action scene, he is expecting complications. Then war-game the scene out, trying as many different scenarios as possible. What if the protagonist did this? What would happen? What could that lead to? What about the antagonist? What kinds of things affect how he reacts? The questions may lead you in interesting–and unexpected–directions.

Take the time to ask the questions and work out the action. You’ll have a scene that keeps the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next. After, wouldn’t you like to be the writer everyone else is imitating?

Copyright Linda Adams 2002


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