Story Concepts & Development for Novels, Comics, Games, Film and TV

Musings from an Action-Adventure Writer

I was befuddled as to what to write this week, so I thought I would share some of my foundational rules for writing action adventure stories.

It’s imperative that a writer understands the genre they’re writing in.

Some writers forget that action-adventures are not all about high-octane action sequences. Of course, it begs the question of how to define “adventure”., defines adventure as “an exciting or very unusual experience”.

Because I tend to write for visual media (comics, games, film), it’s important for me to find ways to make adventure into something more tangible or visual. So I tend to focus more on how adventure becomes a verb. Here are some more useful definitions:

Adventure (verb): to risk or hazard.
Merriam-Webster: to expose to danger or loss: try

Risk, danger… yeah, now we’re talking! Just reading about those definitions conjures up mental images from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, National Treasure, Goonies…

I would even expand on those descriptions – at least as they relate to writing – which is to add at least one element of discovery. For an adventure writer, action is meaningless if it’s not wrapped around the discovery of some forgotten “treasure”, new scientific notion, or as yet unknown piece of history. [I sometimes even take that to an extreme and include riddles or puzzles in my work.]

I love fantastic stories that just MIGHT be true. That is why I am a big fan of books like Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) or The Last Templar (Raymond Khoury), and others. So I like to “ground” my fantastic (or supernatural) elements in a bit of actual history or science, in the hopes that the reader to say “Maybe. Just maybe…”

Exposition (dialogue that is meant to define, describe, or explain) is generally considered “bad” in comics and film, because it can only be told through dialogue and is believed to slow the story down. But you really couldn’t write an action-adventure story without exposition. How else would a writer handle the elements of “discovery”?

A great way to hide exposition is to tell it while “on the run” or in the middle of an action sequence. This way, you soften the telegraphing of information and still keep the reader engaged.

Every hero or heroine should be haunted by something from their past. It makes the character imperfect, and gives them something to learn by the end of the story.

For me, action-adventure stories are about the birth of heroes, in whatever form they might take. What I try to remember is that the hero has always had what it takes to defeat the threat (or villain). But it’s only through the successes and struggles of the story that they learn to cast off their ghost, accept the “hero within”, and allow (or reawaken) those skills to save the day.

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