Action! by Ian Thomas Healy

I’ve read several of Ian Thomas Healy’s novels, and the action scenes were my favorite parts. He writes such exciting scenes that I’m always left a little breathless, as if I’ve been fighting or driving or running along with the heroes. Yet, I’m never confused, no matter how much is happening on the page. I was eager to read ACTION, to find out how Healy does it. After studying the book, I feel closer to understanding how action scenes work, although I’m not sure Healy has given me all the tools to apply that knowledge to my own stories. Still, I have not found a better resource specifically focusing on action scenes. So, if you’d like to write stronger, clearer, more exciting trouble for your heroes (and who wouldn’t?) this is the book for you.

ACTION shows how to build a scene one stunt at a time. Several stunts plus setting equal an engagement. Several engagements leading to a resolution equal a scene. Healy uses outlines and examples from his own work, and also includes a few cautions. Avoid quick cuts, head hopping, and purple prose. Also avoid action without reaction, consequence, or resolution. A few examples would have been useful here, since knowing a problem exists is not the same as knowing how to fix it.

The weakest part of the book is when Healy discusses the four types of action scenes in detail. After defining each type (fight, shootout, chase, battle), he gives examples of movies to watch that further define each type. His main advice for writing such scenes is to maintain first person or close third person focus throughout. Filtering the chaos through one viewpoint keeps it manageable. However, I could have used less definition and more how-to. A little bit of “do this, not that” helps me understand something more than pages of description will.

ACTION ends with a complete template for an action scene along with a generous offer. Healy will critique any action scene, up to 500 words, provided you are fine with having your scene posted on his blog. The idea is that his critique of the scene will help others with the same problem. More information can be found at Healy’s website. I plan to take him up on his offer. Now that I know what to do, perhaps Healy can help me do it better.


rating: 4 stars


this book is best for: beginning to intermediate writers


I recommend this book

2 thoughts on “Action! by Ian Thomas Healy

  1. I have to say, the critiques are VERY helpful. I think reading so much of Ian’s work has helped me a lot with writing my own action scenes. This book is a good extension of that, and I’m glad he decided to do this.

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