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Guest post by Peter Bartram

author of the Colin Crampton series


Authors have to keep four factors in mind when they plan an exciting action scene for their book.

When I’m writing a Crampton of the Chronicle adventure, I like to build towards a big action scene in the book’s closing stages.


The action scenes take quite a lot of planning, often because elements of what’s going to happen in them have to be signalled in earlier chapters. Readers are rightly annoyed when something happens that seems to be random or illogical. There has to be a reason for it – which means seeding that reason into the text earlier.


But back to the action scenes. In my view, there are four elements which make a great action scene. The first is location. An action scene is invariably a confrontation between the book’s protagonist – Colin Crampton – and the villain. Over the course of 13 books, Colin has faced up to several.


I look for locations which add extra dangers to the confrontation. Colin has faced up to a killer on the deck of a storm-tossed ferry, hidden from assassins in a Coney Island ghost train, and outwitted a pair of armed fascists in a barn full of feral pigs.


The second factor is what’s at stake. In a tense action scene, pretty much everything the protagonist wants must depend on him (or her) beating their opponent. There is no room for a no-score draw in an exciting action scene. After all, our hero’s life is on the line.


Of course, part of what is at stake, is unmasking the killer. But often, the killer has a bigger agenda which our hero has to thwart. In Crampton books, villains have tried to steal a million dollars, find a stash of hidden gold, or make off with top-secret papers.


The third element which I believe brings an action scene to life is the way in which the power shifts back and forth between the hero and villain.


In my full-length novels, I try to develop a book’s closing action sequence over two or three chapters. At first, there may be a verbal tussle between Colin and the villain. That may lead to our hero being imprisoned. Then he has to find a way to escape. And, finally, he catches up with the villain in a violent confrontation.


Which brings me to the final element of the action scene – the resolution. It’s clear that the hero must triumph. But there are three options for the villain. He - and it’s usually a he, but may be a she in some future books – can die in the tussle. Or live to face justice and long imprisonment. Or be defeated, but escape, to fight another day.


I’ve said there are four key elements in an action scene. And, from the point of the author, plotting the scene, that’s right. But there is another factor which authors need to keep in mind if they want to engage their readers. When the action scene ends, the reader ought to feel a sense of justice having been served in what has happened.


As a writer, I’ve had great fun working on the action scenes in the Crampton books. And none more so than in The Beach Party Mystery, the most recent. The closing action takes place on a pirate radio ship and later during a huge rave on Brighton beach. Why not join the party?


The Beach Party Mystery, by Peter Bartram (Deadline Murder Series Book 5) is available as e-book or in paperback:




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