I think in terms of action. Whenever I am imagining any scene I am about to write, I see it as a movie playing in my head which I then pen to paper.

So naturally, action scenes (like a fight, chase or escape) are more my wheelhouse. The rush of the moment, the setting, the actions of the characters, their interactions, what is going through their head, it all comes easily to me for such scenes since it is running off like a movie in my head and I rarely have to spend much time writing those.

In contrast, when it comes to non-action ones (like characters travelling somewhere or interacting with each other to convey some plot point), I find myself floundering, to the extent that I start procrastinating just to avoid it. It is not that I do not understand the scene but since the scene is devoid of action, I seem to hit a mental block. I struggle a lot with setting up the scene, showing body language and visual cues, the extensive inner thoughts of the character, conveying the right tone of voice, their interactions.

Thinking about it, I feel that the reasons are -

  1. In the action scenes, since the action takes centre stage, the rest are smaller pieces which fit into the bigger picture and come naturally, but in non-action ones, devoid of action, these interactions become the focus and thus daunting. I find myself struggling with the description the most.

  2. In action scenes, since the action is driving the scene, everything happening is part of the flow (or action and reaction) and thus feels proper but in non-action ones, it becomes about driving the plot in a particular direction which makes it feel contrived and forced.

I find myself getting stuck for weeks (if I am lucky) and do not know how to solve this problem. Can anyone suggest some good tips to improve ?

3 Answers 3


I get that same problem too, although I tend to get past it a bit quicker. Here's a few ideas that might help;

  • write everything else first, then go back and make the less intense parts however you need them to fit into the rest of the story. This way you don't mess yourself up because you said something you shouldn't have at some point and you can just get all the hard stuff out of the way at the end.

  • maybe think of it as a figurative battle. Sometimes you can fight people over the phone and you both get beat up in the end.

  • As for travel scenes, answers to this question might help you out.

  • just push through it. You won't like it, but you can always come back later.

Good luck!

  • Thank you, this is useful
    – user96551
    Nov 10, 2020 at 20:10

Action releases tension, dialogue builds it:

Yes, it's over-simplified. But if you think in terms of action, the dialogue is like a spring for your action, which you press down on and store energy. Use dialogue to build the tension of that you release in those action scenes. Why is Action Dan shooting those folks over there? Is he a homicidal maniac? Are THEY homicidal maniacs? No. Too much action gives you two-dimensional characters and mindless archetypes that have no flavor. The dialogue give context to the action, and is where the real story is told. You can completely reverse the meaning of an action scene with the right dialogue. Make motives ambiguous. Blur the lines of who is right or wrong. Done right, you can feel the tension build with each line.

Or maybe you need a frame-shift. Treat dialogue like action. The action in a dialogue is often emotional. Maybe Action Dan isn't afraid to charge machine guns or zombies, but his legs turn to jello at the sight of his mother. Girls make him all, well, OOKY inside and he says stupid things. Words are like weapons, and he needs to have a flaw. Emotional friendly fire is a beautiful thing (literary-wise). If you have a hard time with dialogue, your main character is likely to as well. Embrace that. If your efforts to use dialogue are awkward, use that to your advantage and make the awkwardness show. Action Dan might pick fights to avoid his feelings. He breathes a sigh of relief when someone shoots at him. It's a fight he knows how to win. I am a firm believer that character is formed in suffering, and Action Dan can bleed literally or figuratively.

If you think of writing like watching a movie, then you may want to (UGH!) watch some movies where dialogue is front-and-center. But don't watch the story, watch the flow of the dialogue. How does each thing the characters say build to the zany scene where they are careening down a mountain? Even action movies have dialogue, and think about what they are saying and how they are saying it.

I'm all with Ceramicmrno0b that you can work the dialogue over in revisions. Just get down what needs to be said, then think of something clever for your character to say afterwards. I do lots of "Oh, that's what he should have said!" and the great thing is that until it's published, you can always go back and make it so.

  • You don't even have to dip out of your action movie genre, just watch anything by Joss Whedon, who directed the first two Avengers Films and is known for his dialoging out of action as well as within.
    – hszmv
    Nov 10, 2020 at 15:26
  • @DWKraus: Thank you that last part is useful. Maybe I should just put place holders and move on and then deal with it at a later time rather than spending so much time on it.
    – user96551
    Nov 10, 2020 at 20:56

I have the same issue where much of my inspiration for writing is visual mediums (film and comic books). Action scenes are quick and fun to write. Non-action scenes (not the term I use but I'm getting ahead) can be slogs to get through. But I've found some techniques to get through it.

First, Action vs. Non-Action scenes are the wrong way to think about it. All scenes are action scenes; some scenes are lacking in gun fights, car chases, and explosions against a blazing setting sun (say what you will about Michael Bay films, but the man can make them quite pretty). Scientifically speaking it's impossible to have dialog in a vacuum. You might have the conversation between your characters in your head, but do you block them while the talk as well (Blocking being a theater term for how the actors are suppose to move through the stage while they talk). These actions can communicate meaning just as much as the words being said... think about how the characters are behaving and consider that talking is a free action: you can do just about anything and still have a running dialog.

As I mentioned in comments in another answer, Joss Whedon is amazing at this as there's plenty of quiet scenes with wonderful dialog as well as action scenes. But I also recomend you watch some of his other work as he likes to highlight his skills with one over the other. In the series Buffy the Vampire, the fourth season episode "Hush" was written in response to a critic saying Whedon over-relies on dialog. The result is an episode with a majority of it's runtime having no dialog between characters what-so-ever, and all the characters have to rely on how they emote and pantomime to communicate with each other and several times there are conflicts in what is intended vs. what the "listener" interprets the actions to mean. A fifth season episode does pretty much the reverse: In "The Body" the action sequence is probably the most forgettable part of the episode (and likely the entire franchise), but that doesn't mean the episode isn't intense and puts you into a roller coaster of emotion and for the most part it's all dialog. In fact, there's no noise added into the scene that doesn't exist in world which helps the listener to pay attention to the dialog and the staging of the scene. It contains one of the best monologs in the entire series to boot.

From a writing standpoint, perhaps re-read the Harry Potter books and take note of what's going on during dialog scenes. They rarely take place just on their own, as there are always some characters in the background doing something unimportant in the scene (Fred and George are setting up some pranks, Proffessor Binns is droning on about a useless point in magical history, the pets are doing pet things (especially obvious with Crookshanks) or Luna is doing something weird.). These not only add a bit of comic relief to the dialog but give the reader a mini story to follow while the characters talk about things later. Some actions might even become important later on (almost all non-Binns class scenes include some element to be used later... like learning Wingardian Leviosa, which not only sets up putting Hermione's damesel in distress moment a few scene's later, but also sets up the resolution to that situation). Try including some funny background events or some mundane actions that characters are focused on to highlight their boredom (if you're traveling in a flat field of tall brown grasses, have them try and make their own fun in the scene... show them being bored by playin "I Spy" only for another character to guess the lame feature... or have the character be amused by a cow off in the distance... to the point they invented an entire story for the cow as they slowly pass it.). And some times, for the sake of spectacle, you have to lovingly paint a mental picture of the marvel in front of your characters as it might set the stage for the battle... give the characters the complete grand look at the battle field because when the action comes into play, you should use short, brief sentances to help show the speed of the battle. This is no time to place all the scenery.

  • Thank you @hszmv. I will definitely try out the recommendations. Any recommendations for a writing book which might help here ?
    – user96551
    Nov 10, 2020 at 20:58
  • @user96551You mean a book about writing fiction? No. Personally, I've found that writing literature is mostly a skill you develop on your own and there is no "rule book" to guid you how to do that. I'd recomend Tvtropes.org with the caveate that its a great way to lose time (it's like wikipedia on steroids, crack cocaine, and meth combined). Still it's a great resource to understand tropes and cliches as well as some writing techniques.
    – hszmv
    Nov 12, 2020 at 12:58
  • @user96551: Best recomendation is to grab some works in your genre. The classics are recomended, but look from some less highly regarded works in genre as well. For me, I write a lot of superhero works, so my best "writing" references are comics and superhero films. The good ones show me what I aspire to write while the lame ones I often still glean some good information from... usually I find the premise interesting but the exection flawed+
    – hszmv
    Nov 12, 2020 at 13:03
  • @user96551+A lot of my stories developed from me trying to identify what I didn't like in the bad films and going from there. In college, I wrote movie reviews from my school newspaper in part because I could get free tickets to see a film in theaters at a time where I would have been more choosey about my film selection due to my budget. I can't say I ever watched a film that failed to net less than 1/4 stars (our paper's ranking system, and we had 1/2 star options) but almost always I would find in my Under Two Star reviews were almost always that I wanted more of something not less.
    – hszmv
    Nov 12, 2020 at 13:08

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