Your Action, Critiqued

Two weeks ago, we asked for brave souls to submit their 500-word action scene for critique on our blog.  We’d like to thank everyone who submitted an entry.  The chosen submission came from a novice writer who asked to remain anonymous.

Genre: Paranormal Romance (Time-travel)

The set up: The heroine is a modern day cop who time traveled to the mid 1800s.  She just entered her friend’s house moments after slave hunters raped the friend.

“You challengin’ me?”  Hooch laughed and released the hammer.  “Very well, I accept.”  He placed the gun behind him on the sideboard.  “I love a good fight, it makes the takin’ sweeter.  Don’t disappoint me, little girl.”  He took a step toward her.

Beth didn’t move.

“Aint you gonna run?  I like a good chase.”

“This is your last chance to leave.”

He laughed and took another step closer.

She didn’t budge.

Hooch jumped over the kitchen table.

She sidestepped him and he fell into the china cabinet.  Rufus made a move for her but Hooch got up quick and called him off.  “Your purty fast for little thing.”

Beth put up her hands, ready to defend herself.

The man laughed again.  “You want to box me?”  He swung a right hook to her face but she blocked it and punched him in the gut.  He stumbled backward.

“Git her, Hooch!”  Rufus cheered.

He charged, an outstretched arm speeding its way to her throat.

A hard, swift kick to his shin and a simultaneous parry of his arm caused his hand to miss its intended target.  Without missing a beat she stepped in so they were calf to calf intending to take him down with a leg sweep.  But his size and strength made it impossible to move him.  He punched her face and threw her against the wall.

She cried out in pain and used the wall for support.

He smiled.  “That’s more like it.”

She waited for him to come to her.  When he was nearly on top of her, she kneed him in the groin.  He doubled over.  She locked her hands together in a fist and brought them down on the back of his neck.  Falling to the floor, he wheezed and gasped for air.

Beth turned to get the gun but ran directly into the solid chest of Rufus.  She made to run the other way but he grabbed her around the waist pinning her arms to her sides.  “Looky what I got here.”

“Hold her tight, Rufus.  I’m gonna teach her a lesson she’ll never forget.”

She jumped and, using Rufus for support, kicked Hooch in the face.  She never saw him hit the ground though.  Rufus knocked her into a kitchen chair and she tumbled to the floor.

He was atop her the next instant holding both arms above her head and she gagged from his foul body odor.

“Looks like I’ll be gittin’ the first go.”  Straddling her, he wedged a knee between her thighs widening her legs.

Stay calm!  Think!

When he released her wrists to unbuckle his gun belt, she saw the revolver’s handle faced her.  She snatched it from the holster.  He grabbed the barrel the same instant she pulled the trigger.  The bullet tore through his thigh; blood and flesh splattered.

First of all, I like the short sentences, small bits of dialogue, and the brief, rapidly moving flow of the action. That said, a few tweaks could make this scene stronger.

The descriptions could be more specific without making them longer.  For example, in the sentence Beth put up her hands, ready to defend herself, if the visual is clearer, the reader will picture Beth with her fists at her chin, and the second part of the sentence (ready to defend herself) becomes unnecessary.  The reader will know what she’s doing from her actions.  Another phrase that could use a bit more visual oomph, Rufus made a move for her. Here’s a good place for a verb with more punch:  lunged, dove, reached. etc.

Let’s look at another paragraph:

He charged, an outstretched arm speeding its way to her throat. LIKE THIS!

A hard, swift kick to his shin and a simultaneous parry of his arm caused his hand to miss its intended target. (I HATE THE WORD “CAUSED”.  BREAK THIS UP INTO TWO SHORT SNAPPY SENTENCES THAT SHOW ACTION FOLLOWED BY REACTION) Without missing a beat (THIS PHRASE ISN’T NECESSARY) she stepped in so they were calf to calf intending to take him down with a leg sweep.  But his size and strength made it impossible to move him. THIS FEELS DISTANT.  HAVE HER ACTUALLY TRY TO SWEEP HIS LEG AND TELL US WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BETH.  He punched her face and threw her against the wall. THE READER NEEDS TO EXPERIENCE THE BLOW WITH BETH. WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN HE PUNCHES HER IN THE FACE?

I absolutely love the end.  There’s nothing better than a scuzbag villain getting what he deserves. Yeah, Beth!


The scene is good. You keep the pace moving with the short sentences. The movement of the characters is well choreographed. You’ve created a very vivid picture of these two characters facing off.

The one thing that really jumps off the page at me is the lack of emotion from Beth. I assume this scene is supposed to be from Beth’s POV so let me, the reader, into her head. How does she feel about having to face off against this big oaf? How is the surge of adrenalin pumping through her making her feel? Is she scared? Is she a little cocky, confident she can take that guy? As a reader the only person that I’m getting any emotion from is the villain. He’s clearly enjoying himself.

Also I need to be grounded in the scene a little more. I’m not sure where this fight is taking place. A bit more description of that would be great. Perhaps the character can be examining the room for things she can use as a weapon and at the same time giving us the lay of the land.

Rayna Vause

I agree with Melinda and Rayna’s critiques. I’ll add that while the sentence length helps create fast-paced action, the sentence structure is repetitive. Noun verb. Noun verb. For example: He took a step. Beth didn’t move. He laughed. Hooch jumped. Etc. Try varying your sentences.  Also, try to show more and tell less. Let the reader experience what your POV (Point of View) character is experiencing. You do show the heroine’s strength by standing her ground and fighting these men, however, adding a little more emotion will make the reader sympathize with her and root for her victory.

I love that she shot the villain with his own gun. You go, Beth!  Good luck with your writing.

~KM Fawcett

Dear readers, if you found this critique helpful and would like to see more in the future, please let us know in the comments section.  If you have any constructive feedback to offer Anonymous, please be sure to add your polite response below.

5 responses to “Your Action, Critiqued

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Your Action, Critiqued | Attacking the Page --

  2. I loved this critique. The scene is good (I’m not a visual person, but I followed it pretty easily), and the advice will help to make it GREAT.

    I also hate the word CAUSED in fiction. (I blogged about that recently, and had to admit it had a good use. In legal briefs.) And I’m actually blogging about adding emotion to your writing in a series now. Both good points (among others).

  3. Jordan,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the critique. Should we do more of these in the future?

    I stopped by your blog. Good post on emotion.

  4. Pingback: Happy (early) Anniversary | Attacking the Page

  5. Pingback: An Action Packed Two Years | Attacking the Page

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s