How to Write an Effective Chase Scene
Copied from ryanlanz.com
by Doug Lewars
Either a villain is fleeing from the forces of law-and-order or your hero is fleeing from overwhelming danger, but in either case you need a chase scene. Any form of transportation can be used and the overall structure of the narrative will be reasonably uniform although the specifics will change in each case.
Basically the scene starts with one individual threatening another. The individual so threatened departs in haste while the first person pursues. Both need to avoid obstacles and eventually either the pursued will escape or be captured. The trick, then, is to make the scene exciting.
First, rely heavily on action verbs. The following is a list that is by no means complete but might provide a starting point: accelerate, beat, blast, charge, chase, collide, crash, cut, dart, dash, dive, dodge, duck, erupt, escape, evade, explode, fall, flash, flatten, flee, flinch, flick, flip, fly, force, gallop, hover, hurl, hurtle, invade, jolt, jump, kick, lead, leap, lunge, lurch, move, nail, nick, nip, panic, parry, pass, peel, penetrate, pile, pin, pinch, plow, pounce, plunge, propel, pull, pump, pursue, push, race, raid, raise, rally, ram, reel, regain, repel, retreat, rip, rise, risk, roar, roll, rush, run, scamper, scoot, scrape, scream, scuttle, seize, set, shake, shear, shock, shout, sidestep, skim, skip, skirt, slam, slide, spin, splatter, split, spread, sprint, stumble, sway, swerve, swim, swing, take, tear, thrash, transfer, trap, tread, trip, topple, try, tumble, turn, twist, vacate, vanish, vault, whip, wiggle, yank, yell, yelp, zap, zip.
You can use adjectives and adverbs but not too many. During the scene you want your sentences to be shorter than normal and fairly terse. So consider, for example, “Eric sped quickly past the grocery shop and ducked around a corner hoping to elude Tony.” You don’t need “grocery shop” unless it’s important and not obvious.
Likewise you don’t need “sped quickly.” First “quickly” is redundant since it’s pretty much a challenge to “speed slowly.” More importantly, by forcing your reader to scan the extra word, you slow him or her down at a time when you’re trying to build excitement.
So, better might be “Eric sped past the shop and ducked around a corner.” Assuming you’ve already established that Tony is in pursuit, you don’t need to repeat it. If you do need to emphasize the latter it would be better to use an extra sentence: “Eric sped past the shop and ducked around a corner. He hoped to elude Tony. He wasn’t optimistic.”
Choose appropriate verbs for the type of chase being described. A vehicle might roar down the street and screech around a corner on two wheels. A jet plane might also roar or scream. A person running from danger is not likely to do either–unless, of course, you’re describing a chase scene involving superheroes and villains in which case pretty much anything goes.
Sentence fragments are acceptable despite what your Grade 4 teacher told you, but too many will make you sound juvenile. They increase the pace of the scene but make it sound choppy. Balance is critical.
One technique that I like to use involves choreographing the chase. First I decide on the physical layout. I might even draw a map. Google maps is another good means for generating an area in which the scene is to occur. Obviously a pursuit involving jet aircraft will require quite a bit more real estate than a foot chase.
Next, I make a list of every possible obstacle I can think of, that might be encountered. This is where you can get creative depending on the type of story. Since most of my chase scenes occur in books intended to be humorous, I try to imagine impediments that are somewhat bizarre. It is possible to introduce a few spurious details without significantly reducing the pace.
For example, “I saw the vendor’s eyes widen as I vaulted the counter. Behind me came the crash as the knife-wielder slammed into the table sending oranges flying in all directions.” Technically it would be possible to ignore both the shop keeper and the oranges and focus strictly on the chase, but a few touches such as these help create an image in the mind of the reader of the general chaos surrounding the pursuit.
Before starting, I like to know how long it is going to last. If it’s a major part of the story then it can go on for several thousand words. On the other hand, if it’s not so important it can be over in a paragraph or two. Longer scenes require much more detail which is why I want to understand the terrain and have a longer list of impediments.
One good way of creating that list is head over to YouTube and search for “car chase” or “foot chase” and watch a few. Don’t copy. You want this to be your own chase but you can derive ideas from watching videos.
Finally, when I sit down to actually write the scene, I like to have fast, instrumental music playing to inspire me. I find it much easier to create an exciting scene if I’m motivated by thrilling music.
Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published eleven books on Smashwords.com.