While a staple of action movies, the chase scene isn’t as easy to pull off when it comes to books. They depend a lot on visuals to create the right amount of suspense and tension, which means word choice is imperative. Too little and you have a chase scene that feels more like a walk around the block. Too much and a reader can lose track of where everyone is in the scene. So, what can you do to make this easier?
- You need to choose one perspective and stick to that. Jumping from even one pursuer to the another can be confusing. You certainly can’t leap from the hunter to the hunted without it being jarring since this is a fast-paced scene. It isn’t even getting their thoughts, but who the ‘camera’ will be following. If you want to show what the other side is doing then it has to be done through the same lens as everything else.
- Describe the terrain and make note of what kinds of obstacles will appear to get the reader ready for them. You want them to imagine that trees are in the way if there’s a forest or traffic will play a part in an urban setting. It can reduce the impact if the reader doesn’t know the setting and figures it out halfway through with a jolt of realization. This can result in them having to restart the building of tension in their minds.
- Remember that both parties are moving at high speed and focused on the pursuit instead of their surroundings. This means they will be distracted and won’t always react perfectly to unexpected obstacles. Now, you can sidestep this issue by having the drivers focus on running away while the passengers focus on defense, but that doesn’t always work. Not having vehicles or those that only allow one person means that they are trying to pay attention to the road and their enemies. So, the chase can and should take sudden turns when the unexpected happens.
- Get a feel for how the vehicles you choose will work under the conditions you have set up. If you’re using cars and it’s snowing then remember that the tires might not have the best grip of the road. If you have horses then you need to factor in fatigue and a lower time limit than if machines are used. Every vehicle has its own pros and cons, so it helps to do a little research.
- Yes, we know everybody loves to see explosions and vehicles flying through the air. All you have to do is make sure it fits the setting. Also, land vehicles do get damaged if they soar through the air and slam down onto the pavement. Not to mention people inside are going to get jolted around.
- The key to a chase scene is suspense and tension. This is established by describing the scene in details that touch on every sense. Note how characters are acting as they move along. Describe the state of the vehicles and how the scenery goes by. Sounds are incredibly important here such as screeching tires and metal hitting metal. You need to paint a fast-moving, kinetic picture with your words from beginning to end. If you find yourself breathing heavy and sweating then you’re on the right track.
Great post! I enjoy watching the behind the scenes interviews of directors and actors when they talk about filming chase scenes (like in the Bourne movies or a number of the Marvel movies). So much work to set up! The Bourne movie chase scenes are among my favorite chase scenes.
I’ve always wondered if chase scenes are the ones that have the least margin of error. You can’t keep crashing cars all day because you’re bound to run out rather fast.
These are great tips. I remember your chase scenes in the Bedlem series. They were very well done.
Thanks. I had a lot of fun with those. Think Fizzle got a few good chase scenes too.
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THere is also the hybrid chase scene, with pursuers having one vehicle and the pursued having another. In Rush’s song, Red Barchetta, the lead character is driving a sportscar and he is chased down by flying technocraft from the future. It is that dichotomy that drives the song’s engine, plus the revving sound made by the guitar. It’s some good shit.
Those are always fun. Vehicle vs runner is another good variation.
I love these tips. It’s hard to pull off on the page, but possible. Did you happen to see the slow chase in Book of Boba Fett? It’s kind of a letdown after the franchise took us through asteroids and the pod races.
Thanks. I haven’t seen any of the Disney+ stuff. Keep forgetting I have access. Though I might not any more.
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Really thoughtful advice for writing compelling action scenes. Thanks for sharing!
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