Action & Combat
Welcome to our September issue!
Here, we talk about those parts in the written word that get your blood pumping and heart pounding: action and combat. How can you strengthen these scenes and make them more impactful? Take a look below for some great ideas and advice.
As always, feel free to let us know how we did on Twitter or by contacting us directly through the info in our individual articles!
The Amuse Bouche Review Team
Feature: An Example of a Combat Scene (Norm Boyington) Writing Advice
The Trouble With Guns (Guest: Brady Longmore) Writing Advice
The Maniac (A.P. Miller) Fiction
To Fight, or not to Fight (Louise Sorensen) Writing Advice
The Villains Lair (Aedyn Brooks) Writing Advice
Pace Yourself (Crystal L. Kirkham) Writing Advice
Gory Details (E.G. Deaile) Writing Advice
Writing Action Scenes (Guest: K.M. Butler) Writing Advice
The Captain and the Traitor (Renée Gendron) Fiction
Team Showcase from AMBR Contributors (September 2020)
Flash Fiction Contest from AMBR Contributors (Contest Announcement)
by Norm Boyington (@NormBoyington)
Combat can be daunting. Take your time to read the scene below where a story is playing out. One of the two main characters has made a decision while in the middle of a psychosis. The other MC is forced into a protectorate role as things progress. Notice that I don’t mention the colour of the other two wolves, the size of the dagger, etc… I let you, as the reader, fill the small things in.
Taken from a short story based on The Number of Man.
Once more, he howled.
He knelt on the frozen ground and rummaged through his discarded clothing; maybe he had lost something… It was then that he pulled out the knife and squatted before the fire, he held the blade out into the flames, making it glow with the heat. He got to his feet and cried out something that I didn’t understand, the words pierced the cold night air and then there was silence.
I watched as he slowly carved two small cuts into his chest with the red hot knife. My muscles stiffed when I smelled the flesh and burning blood in the air. I made to go to him but stopped myself as he quickly made two more incisions into his knees, one deep cut for each leg. I stood frozen in shock while he mutilated his already frail body. My heart ached for my manling. I wanted so badly to go to him, but he clearly wasn’t finished the awful ceremony, and as I was the witness to this dark happening, I let him continue.
He bent down over the crown, grasped it and, placed it onto the top of his head. Looking towards where the wolves had been calling, he howled once more, stiffened and poised, hoping for an answer that didn’t readily come. He turned and repeated the process over and over. I hoped in his disappointment that he might stop all this foolishness but still grasping the now cooled blade he drove into the softness of the other hand. It only took a moment for the blood to begin to run fast and free onto the unprotected ground. It was a horror to behold.
One wolf howled.
He cupped his hands together, pooling the steaming blood in a cup of his own making. He reached above himself and let the blood run out from his hands and onto his uplifted head, the gore streaming through his hair and eyes.
Two wolves howled.
In his growing excitement, he answered the call and plucked the bloody crown from its perch, flinging it into the flames of his great fire.
This is where things all went to hell.
From one side of the pond, a fat red squirrel ran out onto the ice, followed by a grey and black she-wolf, her eyes growing wide with blood lust as she took in the scene unfolding before her. A second and third wolf entered the pond’s frozen surface from behind me and stopped when they too took in the act playing out on the island. They didn’t notice me at first, and making the most of their confusion, I bolted for my manling, reaching the island at the same time as the fat squirrel reached the base of a nearby pine tree, we both set ourselves to take action against the foe.
The squirrel did the only thing it knew how and unleashed a barrage of unseemly curses upon the enemy’s heads while I hurried to my manling, knocking him down in the process. I reached out for the large stick he had been carving earlier in the day, and as the wolves coiled in quickly to make for the downed human, I took the staff and swung it hard at the closed of the hungry offenders. In unison, they jumped back from the sudden attack and began pacing back and forth, keeping just out of harm’s way momentarily drawing my attention from the biggest of the three. They watched from their place of threatening defiance as the razor-toothed female walked boldly up to my injured manling and licked his face, tasting the fresh blood from his brow. Furious at such a personal intrusion, I threw my weapon at the two distracters and took three big strides towards the female and before she could react, I hurled her back in the direction from which she came. She twisted in the air just before she landed, hitting the ground hard but at the same time running and calling out to her packmates, who tucked their tails between their legs and fell in after her.
Listening to their escape through the brush, I gazed down at my beautiful manling, he was dirty, a blood-covered mess, but he was alive. The squirrel above continued to curse into the night’s blackness, and I settled in to observe and protect the manling until he awakened.
It didn’t take all that long until he shifted and rolled onto his side. He put his weight onto his injured hand and drew it back in painful confusion. He struggled onto his feet, picked up his clothing while dragging himself into his shelter, all without saying a word. I peered up into the trees, searching for my offending squirrel, but it was all quiet now. The island a place of a great battle, and the thoughts of a thousand wolf prints layered the snow.
I could have added more descriptives, but why? Imagination is the best tool a writer can use to their advantage, so why micromanage the reader with every step, roll, parry and attack?
I laid out the battle in order, taking steps to achieve a conclusion without taking page after page to get there. It’s easy to overwrite a combat scene. Before adding unnecessary verbiage, ask yourself, will it make the story better, or longer? If the answer is longer, then I’d say its time to trim the fat. Your readers will thank you in the end.
by Guest: Brady Longmore (@Vvajk)
We’ve all been there. Whether we’ve dubiously counted an endless volley of shots from The Lone Ranger’s six-shooter without a reload, or wondered why Storm Troopers can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn, even the most firearm illiterate among us has, at one time or another, rolled our eyes in disbelief at the TV, movie screen, or book page.
Being involved in law enforcement for almost eighteen years now, I’ve done my share of eye rolling and sighs of frustration during movies, shows, and books over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a nitpicking zealot, but here’s the problem: these errors do serve to distract me from the story and make me remember that what I’m reading isn’t real. Writers, this is not desirable, so allow me to go over some of the worst mistakes and oversights I’ve noticed.
Firearms and the use of them in combat and action sequences can be quite a technical topic, and some writers take great pains to get every minor detail correct. This is fine and I applaud these authors for their accuracy and research, but for most of us this level of detail isn’t necessary…unless you’re writing military thrillers like Tom Clancy or Brad Thor. In that case, you better do your homework, because your readers will be expecting no less.
For the rest of us, it will suffice to avoid some of the bigger mistakes. So, without further ado, I present my top three personal pet peeves that I find to be the most egregious errors made by writers, producers, actors, etc.
Chambering a Round.
By chambering a round I mean pumping the shotgun or racking back the slide on a handgun to load a bullet from the magazine and into the chamber. This one kills me. Especially when the offending person is supposed to be a trained soldier, cop, FBI agent, assassin, etc. Usually, it’s used for dramatic effect, but when the cop / agent / Navy SEAL racks a round into their gun when they are moments away from imminent battle, or in the middle of the action, someone like me is apt to throw their can of Diet Mountain Dew at the TV, or chuck the book across the room.
The reality is, a trained individual will have already chambered their firearm way before things got to this point. Most of these individuals are already carrying their gun with a round in the chamber. They’re prepared to draw and fire at a moment’s notice.
Pistol Over Rifle
I don’t know why Hollywood has decided the hero looks cooler using only a handgun to take out a dozen trained bad guys armed with automatic rifles, but can we just make it stop already? The firepower of an assault rifle—even semi-automatic—is on such a level above a handgun as to make this scenario just ridiculous. I get it though; sometimes your hero doesn’t have anything but his handgun. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with the hero being in a tight spot, but if they’re stepping over dead bodies and ignoring perfectly good rifles laying at his or her feet—ahem, Jack Bauer, ahem—it just might drive some of us to write entire essays about the stupidity of it and put it on the internet for all to see.
There’s a saying in the gunfighter world: The purpose of your handgun is to get you to your rifle. Do you want to look like you know what you’re doing as an author writing an action scene? Have that hero take out one guard with his/her handgun and relieve the guard of his more powerful, more accurate, much deadlier rifle.
Another thing about rifles: at close range, say 25 yards or so, you almost can’t miss a human-sized target. Anyone with five minutes worth of training would be a deadeye shot at 25 yards with an AR-15 or AK-47. Sorry, Rambo, no offense.
Hero Leads The Charge
Okay, I sort of understand why Hollywood feels the need to commit this sin, but I just can’t let this one slide. I see it all the time and it’s so ridiculous. This is the one where the homicide detective, CSI investigator, or FBI agent has the bad guy cornered in a building and they decide to bring in the SWAT team. So, the SWAT team, this highly trained, specialized unit, lines up outside the door preparing to make a dynamic entry, and—I’m actually gritting my teeth as I type this—our big hero pulls out their FREAKING 1911, 100-year-old-technology handgun with seven rounds in it, and takes the point position at the front of the stack. They breach the door and our hero is first into the structure, handgun stabbed straight out, finger on the trigger and yelling, “CLEAR! CLEAR!”
I know I got a little ranty there, but that’s because this scene has been done so many times and it’s just so bad. Anyway, please don’t write this scenario into your stories, for the love of all that’s holy. Let the SWAT guys do their dang job.
And just like that I’m already at my word limit. To finish, here are a few other little things to keep in mind. Oh, and before I close: I’m happy to help anyone that has questions or would like me to read over a scene. Just DM me or whatever. Happy writing!
- Silencers are not that silent.
- Professionals keep their fingers off the trigger.
- Professionals don’t point their gun all over the place.
- If you’re using a laser sight, I can see where you’re hiding.
- 1911s are cool guns and I’m sorry.
- Car doors don’t block bullets.
- Cops don’t fire warning shots.
- Getting shot doesn’t make people fly through the air.
- Shooting one-handed is not practical, not fast, and not accurate.
- Watch the TV show The Unit. Some of the better depictions of firearms out there.
Brady Longmore is a native and lifelong resident of East Idaho. Growing up in a rural community with the Idaho Rockies dominating the horizon in every direction, Brady was continually exposed to colorful characters, natural beauty, and interesting stories, which all served to fuel his overactive imagination. He discovered the joys of writing at an early age and has pursued the craft for most of his life. He published his first novel in 2016 and is currently in the process of releasing a trilogy. Brady has worked several jobs, including: Photographer, graphic designer, carpenter, and law enforcement officer.
by A.P. Miller (@Millerverse)
The house lights of the War Memorial danced around Braden Capp’s vision like a ballet of suns he couldn’t focus on completely. The left hook sandwich ending the round really did a number on Braden and may have ended the fight if the top rope hadn’t been there to fall onto.
The arrival of the icepack on the back of the neck shocked Braden into the sobriety of the moment.
“Sit.” Coach Nick Valentino said. Braden complied.
Nick held a water bottle at the ready; Braden opened his mouth and the flood of cold mercy flowed in. The first gush was to clear the blood out of Braden’s mouth, the second was to replenish some of the fluid exhausted through sweat glands.
Braden could feel the right side of his face had been the recipient of the blunt force trauma Davey “Freight Train” Cole was legendary for in the boxing ring.
“You’re losing this fight.” Coach Valentino said.
“How many rounds have I won?” Braden asked.
“Not enough. This fight is Cole’s if you don’t knock him out.”
“He’s a southpaw, he’s baiting me with the right jab, then pasting me with that left hook. I almost ate canvas” Braden said.
“Stop making excuses, Bray. You need to throw hands better than Cole. That’s loser talk, and we don’t talk like that.” Coach said.
Braden looked through the ropes to the fifth row where Jesse and Jamie were sitting. His twin boys loved watching him work out at the boxing gym. The boys always asked to come see him at a fight, but their mother wouldn’t allow it.
The separation had been difficult, and Hillary had been vindictive. When the hearing for primary custody was held, Hillary used videos from Braden’s fights as evidence of how violent and volatile he was and a danger to the kids. When Hillary’s boyfriend raised a hand to Jesse for breaking a window, Braden didn’t think twice about kicking in the front door and raising a few hands himself. That incident was all Hillary needed to keep Braden from having a substantial relationship with his sons.
Thank God for text messaging; Braden would spend late hours texting his boys, hours that were precious for sleep for his heavy construction job, but happily spent messaging his sons.
About a month before the fight, Jamie texted Braden: Mom says we can’t txt u. She says u r a loser & she doesn’t want us ending up like u.
Braden’s father taught him to be proud and to not beg for anything. Father’s words stung in the back of Braden’s brain as he called and pleaded with Hillary to let the boys be in contact with him. Hillary refused.
Coach Valentino called in a favor with his cousin Ricardo, a vicious family law lawyer. During the next hearing, Ricardo tore Hillary’s case to shreds, pointing out that keeping Jesse and Jamie from texting Braden was a gross violation of the custody agreement, and her lawyer should be disbarred for knowing and not advising her against it. Ricardo wielded the law and used language like Braden used his hands in the ring.
The cherry on the justice sundae was Ricardo getting the judge to agree Jesse and Jamie shouldn’t be kept from seeing their father compete, as boxing was a sport and it would be a good parental example of how aggression should be channeled.
As Hillary loaded the boys into Ricardo’s car, she reminded her boys how much of a loser Braden was and to not keep their hopes of him winning.
Braden could see the defeat in his sons’ eyes, all the way in the fifth row. They were beginning to think their father was a loser who couldn’t keep his family together, making excuses and using loser talk. A loser they would become if they didn’t distance themselves from their father.
“Bray! Focus!” Coach Valentino shouted.
Braden snapped his head back to coach.
“You can’t eat another one of those left hooks. When he starts setting you up, I want you to weave into the path of that hook and duck deep. When he throws the hook and I want you to throw a right shovel hook from all the way downtown. You hear me?”
“I hear you.”
“It’s a gamble. If you don’t time it perfectly, he’s going to knock you out.”
The ring announcer called for the seconds to leave and Coach Valentino nodded.
The bell for the twelfth round rang and Davey Cole marched from his corner. Braden didn’t see a noble competitor, he saw an amalgamation of everyone who thought of him as a loser. With each staccato step with Cole’s right foot leading was a whisper of “loser.”
Cole’s right jab stung. Braden could feel the intent to finish the fight early in it. Pop, pop, two more jabs. In rounds previous, the pattern was one jab, two jabs, one jab, three, and then the left hook. The next jab stung worse than the first. As predicted, the staccato taps of the triplicate jab arrived.
On the recoil from the third jab, Braden changed his level, ducking deep and dropping his right hand. The cannon of Davey Cole’s left hand fired and everything became slow-motion. Tension flowed from Braden’s shoulder, to his fist — his body worked in unison, from the balls of his feet, sending thunder to his knuckles. The jab-uppercut hybrid fired like a rubber band being snapped and the red boxing glove collided with Cole’s jaw, the connection sounded like a gunshot. Cole’s mouthpiece was ejected from his face and the six-foot middleweight dropped.
The ref held the wrist of both combatants, waiting for the official announcement from the ring announcer.
“Your winner, in forty-eight seconds by knockout: Braden ‘the Maniac’ Capp!”
The small crowd applauded out of decorum. Two voices were heard over everyone else. Jamie and Jessie telling anyone who’d listen: “That’s our dad!”
“That’s how winning is done, Bray.” Coach Valentino said.
by Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
There are many good articles on Combat and Action in Writing, in books and on the internet, and you should read them to get a well-rounded understanding of the definitions, uses, and best practices.
But the best way to learn how to use them in your writing is to read stories by authors who have done these well. If you want to write well, you must read. A lot. Seriously. Writing can’t be taught from definitions and rules. In fact, writing can’t be taught at all. You learn how to write through trial and error. And you have to read like you’re addicted in order to learn how.
Reading lets you absorb these lessons gradually over time, so that you don’t need to use definitions and check off boxes to get it right. Reading will give you an innate understanding of how stories work and help you learn to write from your gut.
Intuition will give you a feel for what works.
Beta readers, critique groups, and editors, will let you know what doesn’t.
Another good way to get a feel for combat, action, or any other aspect of writing, is to write up a scene from a movie. Whether the story is from your imagination, or on the screen, it must be transcribed onto the page for you to learn how to write.
Action in writing, is fast moving, with a lot happening and few breaks to let readers catch their breath. The story speeds along, without long descriptions of setting or character. Everything pertains to the action. A point of view limited to one character works well, allowing us to see what is happening through the character. James Bonds, Superheroes stories, and thrillers are written in this rollercoaster style. They open with action, use short choppy sentences, limited dialogue, and strong verbs.
Combat in writing, is fight scenes. Think Lord of the Rings. Full of fight scenes and battles.
I haven’t been in a fist fight since I was eleven years old. And even though, or perhaps because, I took both Judo and Karate when I was young, I haven’t been in a physical altercation since then either. Sometimes knowing how to defend yourself can keep you out of trouble. Or perhaps it’s just luck. My physical training taught me that for a woman, there are better ways to deal with an antagonist than to duke it out.
So I tend to avoid fight scenes. If I were faced with a belligerent opponent in real life, my instinct would be to retreat. If a character of mine faces a belligerent opponent, her instinct is to get out of there, or, like Indiana Jones facing a sword-wielding expert, draw her gun and shoot. My witch character Raine would concentrate with intent, and zap him. Darla of Deodanth would roll, flip, leap, land on the monster’s head, and skewer its brain with her sharpened staff.
My fight scenes are brief.
But I’ve read pieces like this.
Forto ducked a punch and kicked Kalox in the gut. The ogre responded with a roundhouse kick that glanced off Forto’s armor. Forto ran up the ogre’s thick leg and smashed his jaw. Kalox pounded his opponent’s chest and sent him flying. Forto picked himself up, charged, and head-butted the ogre in the groin. They bounced off the surrounding boulders, shattering them to pebbles. (They’re still fighting a page or two later.)
Detailed blow by blow of a fight becomes boring.
Dialogue. One of my stories opens with, “M’aidez, m’aidez,” and goes right into action.
Whether you’ve lost control of your fighter plane and see the treetops looming closer as you try to pull out of your dive, you’re lunging for the arm of someone hanging by their fingernails off a cliff, or you’re charging out of a building, guns blazing, facing overwhelming forces, you’re not chatty.
Manipulating action can temper the story. By slowing the action with description, you can increase suspense. Who doesn’t like a nice, brief description of character and setting? I say brief, because I read an eight hundred page, traditionally published story once, where the first third of the story described the architecture of Buckhorn, Atlanta, Georgia. In mind-numbing detail.
I kept waiting for something to happen in this well written but overblown and never-ending description, but nothing ever did. Theatre directors will tell you that if you push a cannon onto the stage, you’d better fire it.
It was a hypnotizing travelogue, the musings of the protagonist tacked onto the front of the book, followed by a mildly paranormal, dream-like story. It must have hypnotized the publisher too, as it got published.
If I wanted a travelogue, I’d read a travelogue.
Don’t do this. Or do, if it works for you and your readers. But really, don’t.
I read a fantasy book a few years ago that started with a huge battle scene. Gods and warriors and monsters slugging it out, hard to pronounce names flung left and right, blood and guts and brains all over the battlefield, crows feasting.
After that very dark chapter, the story opened a thousand years later, with (what seemed to me) a happy little scene of a warrior girl starting her quest. Turns out the first chapter was a prologue that had little to do with the rest of the book. Like the travelogue, it was as if the author had this humungous battle scene in his head, and it (his head) would explode if he didn’t include it in the story.
Don’t do that either.
I have nothing against prologues or epilogues, but they should relate to the rest of the story. Writing is like cooking. Not enough or too much of any ingredient spoils the result. Combat and Action both play vital roles in writing. Choose them both. Choose one or the other.
But choose wisely.
by Aedyn Brooks (@aedynbrooks)
Location, location, location isn’t only a real estate tag line, it’s the most critical element of your climatic scene. You’ve layered the stakes, each one throwing your characters closer to the pit of despair, and now you’re ready to write the payoff: The climax.
Great stories put characters at their worst possible advantage to win, and it’s usually on the villain’s home turf. Mentally, the villain is smug and confident. They know where every booby trap is set. If they cut the lights, they know where the furniture is in the room. They know exactly how to wound the main character and sneak through the hidden panel in the wall for escape. Your character does not. It’s that mystery and unknown element that keeps readers turning the page.
We know a story has a beginning, middle, and end. Your climatic scene must echo that same story rhythm. First, you ramp up. Your character preps themselves for the fight ahead, whether it’s in a courtroom or an empty warehouse. They may even play their favorite fight song on Sirius as they’re rolling across the bridge to the villain’s location. Game face on. Attitude: You’re going down sucker!
There are plenty of stories where the villain is your next-door neighbor, your trusted babysitter, or even your main character’s spouse. Either way, there comes this moment when your character goes from sounding insane to their friends, to saying enough is enough. I’m not going to be a victim anymore. Your main character must psyche themselves up for this moment. The external and internal goals are merging into their new self.
If it’s not a close encounter of the villain kind, then taking the fight to the villain means the character is committed, regardless of the outcome…and let’s face it, we don’t typically kill off our main character. We do not cheat the reader that way. Remember, they’re emotionally invested in your character maybe getting their ass kicked, but in the end, we want them to win.
Also, if things are going to explode, get covered in blood, or any other equally disgusting fluid, then it’s best to mess with the villain’s space and keep their own home clean. Or is that just me? Perhaps I’ve scrubbed too many muddy paw prints from my freshly mopped kitchen floor, or said things like, “I just cleaned that.”
The location should be worthy of the showdown. Freddie Kruger doesn’t have a three-story Victorian with a white picket fence. When Harry Potter and Ron Weasley run into the forest (with that horrific spider scene that I fast forward through), it’s dark, foggy, and mysterious. They’re not sure where they’re going. It’s not a bright sunny, summer day because then Harry and Ron could see where they were going, and it wouldn’t be scary. The setting sets the mood. It amps up the fear. When Clarice Starling follows notorious Buffalo Bill/Jame Gumb into his cavernous basement, he pursues her with night-vision goggles. You can hear each breath. Every echo. Even the villain’s fatal mistake of cocking his gun. The setting is what sells that scene.
Description of your villain’s lair can be done through your main character’s senses. Eyesight adjusting to low light. The flashlight beam capturing a myopic stream that settles on antique dolls. Dripping faucets. Pungent smell of mold and mildew. Creaking stairs. Doors shutting in the distance. A chainsaw firing up. A whisper slicing through silence. Bumping into things they can’t see. Tripping over a dead body. Blood soaking through their jeans. The taste of rust on their tongue. Your character’s reaction and mood will also paint a clear picture to the reader. If it’s hot out, sweat drips and stings their eyes. If it’s cold, frost cakes their lashes. When adrenaline kicks in, your peripheral vision narrows. Make sure your character’s breaths match the action. If the surroundings make the fight scene that more challenging, like lava, fire, flood waters, etc., then make sure you keep that in check as you engage in battle.
How your character approaches the lair is important. Do they shuffle their feet, gingerly taking each step? Do they stop and listen before engaging further, or do they go in, guns a-blazin’ and damn the consequences? Your character’s motivation will drive their approach.
The villain appears center stage. The hero/heroine squares off. Cue showdown music. Tumbleweeds skitter across arid dirt. This is where you’re going to leverage everything your character has learned about the villain. They have gumption, determination, and pure dumb luck on their side…and maybe the police are on their way. Until the cavalry arrives, your character is set on not letting the villain slip through their fingers. Your character is the last line of defense.
Short, concise sentences keep the pacing tight and flowing. Just remember for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If John throws a punch, does it connect against Bart’s jaw, or swing and miss? If several people are fighting, your character only focuses on their immediate opponent. They may worry about someone else in the room, but it’s hard to keep your eye on your adversary and everyone else, too. Narrowing the focus and only hearing the melee is a way of getting around trying to write a scene that can go on for pages. Though, there isn’t any set number of words or pages for an effective fight scene. Bottom line is not to cheat the reader.
Once the battle is written, you can sit back and have a nice glass of your favorite beverage. From here on out, it’s smooth sailing. Tie up subplots, loose ends, and complete your character’s internal and external goals. They may limp off into the sunset, but they did it–they accomplished what they set out to do—or can live with the outcome. Then you’re ready to write my two favorite words: The End.
by Crystal L. Kirkham (@canuckclick)
As an editor, one of the biggest mistakes I see in fight scenes is pacing. These are scenes that aren’t built for an excessive amount of exposition or description. They should be vital, active and intense. Each word should have a reader charging towards the next with a need to know—how will this end?
It doesn’t have to be a short scene when you write it—though most fights usually aren’t very long in real life—it has to feel as though it passed quickly when you read it. In fact, any critical fight in a story probably shouldn’t be too short even if it shouldn’t go on for pages. Do keep in mind, though, that battles are a different beast. They should last longer, but the pacing rules for much it is the same—keep it moving.
A fight should never slow down your reader.
So, how do you accomplish that?
1. Sentence Length
Most of your sentences should be short and to the point. This is something that Aedyn also mentions in her piece ‘The Villains Lair’—short, concise sentences. While you don’t want all your sentences to be short since variety is a necessity to keep a reader engaged, you do want to avoid long descriptive sentences in the heat of the action.
2. White Space
Just as keeping sentences short helps keep the pace of a scene moving, so does the effective use of white space through the creation of shorter paragraphs. Sometimes two or three lines in a paragraph is all that is needed. It visually looks faster paced when the paragraphs are shorter and this keeps the reader in the mind-space of a faster-moving scene.
3. Stronger Verbs
You really want to keep your phrasing active with a fight scene so that the reader doesn’t have a chance to feel the least bit disengaged. Instead of using adverbs or adjectives which can slow a scene down, search for a stronger verb to use instead. Pick your words with care to keep the sentence active and vital.
Fight scenes are the place where the rule ‘show, don’t tell’ is more important than ever.
4. Leave it to the Reader
Don’t feel as if you need to describe every move, every step, and every breath. An over-choreographed scene can bog a reader down, sometimes it’s best to stick to the broader strokes and leave the less important details to the reader’s imagination. Scatter enough details so they can see what you are describing without having to describe each little detail.
All of these tips will help keep the fight scene moving–or stop the long battles from dragging the story to a crawl. However, these are only a jumping-off point for getting those scenes to really move. There’s more to a good fight scene than simply pacing, though it was one of the things that I see so many struggle with.
For those of you who want to go past the basics of pacing, here are a few more things to think about when writing those scenes that can bring more depth to your story.
5. Don’t Be So Cold
Emotions are a part of everything. Don’t be afraid to show (not tell) those emotions that are driving the scene–the crushing pain of defeat, the triumph of success, the blinding anger, and hesitation of indecisions. Emotions drive actions. Don’t leave them out in the cold.
6. Use Your Senses
It is possible to include the senses when writing a scene while still keeping it active. Your character can taste (or spit out) the coppery blood in their mouth, hear the pounding of blood in their ears, see the flash of light as a punch connects, or smell the body odor of the opponent as they are grappled to the ground—or the stench of onions and garlic from their opponent’s breath that was more powerful than their punch.
7. Mix it Up
Chances are your characters are not fighting in total silence. Screams, growls, taunts. These can help with the aforementioned white space as well. Once again, this isn’t a place for long speeches. It’s also a good spot for dropping the dialogue tags between the action (so long as it is clear who is speaking) since those tags can actually slow a reader at times.
8. Know When to Slow It
For those that are masters at all of the above, you may also know that there are those small moments in fight scenes where you can slow it down just a fraction. A place where you can delve a little more into the descriptive and enrich the experience. This is generally not going to be in the midst of the action, or when tensions are high but usually in the lead-up and denouement of the scene.
On the rare occasion, there may be a small point during the scene where you can slow things down, but be careful as you don’t want to break the necessary pace of a scene to do this. Use mid-scene slowdowns sparingly even when the opportunity presents itself. Like everything else in a story, the slow down must serve the plot and not be done just because you can.
Good luck, and happy writing.
by E.G. Deaile (@egdeaile_writer)
Are either of these styles familiar?
– Write your action scenes. In the voice of Captain Kirk. To drive home the action. Is fast and furious.
– Alternatively, write your action in long flowing sentences that mimic the amazing moves pulled off by your kung-fu wielding characters, who cannot be beat under any circumstances because they were raised in a Shaolin temple, and in spite of the cliches, their moves are like a river against which there can be no opposition.
I’ve heard it all when it comes to action scenes. When I started my writing journey, I had a friend talk about structuring sentences in the rapid fire staccato fashion. It made sense. I did it. Over time, I found I was selling my action scenes short. I lengthened my combat scene sentences to include more information.
The game changing realization came when I found out good action had nothing to do with sentence structure. Or at least a lot less than I thought. My style was to give the blow-by-blow. Every action, reaction, contact, and motion, as if watching a movie.
But my readers are not watching a movie, they’re reading.
While you will have to write your own journey, here are some quick and dirty tips that I learned the hard way.
1. DO get friends to help you act out the scenes. Get prop or practice weapons if you have them in your stories. Video them if it will help.
2. DON’T try to get every exact motion down. Fight scenes, like the rest of your story, are about the emotions your characters are feeling.
3. DO watch your POV. Don’t slip or change POV just for a fight scene unless you have a specific mechanism for that. We want to know how your character feels as they are being pummeled, not which rib on the left side is making contact and with which hand.
4. DON’T use gratuitous action. Unless your story is about that. First Blood (David Morrell) is a great action novel, but even it focuses on how the characters feel and why they’re so determined to pursue their destructive paths.
5. DO use a variety of sentence lengths with strong verbs. Use adverbs ironically to add meaning. Don’t say “runs quickly, but do use something like “smiles sadly”.
6. DON’T recount the action later exactly. Our memories are terrible at recording life and death situations. Let your characters mis-remember, though you might want to explain it to your audience a little.
7. DON’T get suddenly gory if your story doesn’t require it. If this is a horror, or over the top story, go all in. If this is a cozy mystery, maybe zoom out a little and talk about the feelings the injuries leave.
8. DO learn the jargon. There is a language to fighting, you should know it if you write action. If you’re in deep POV, though, your character should use colloquialisms that make sense to them.
9. DON’T just blow through it. Draft carefully and then act it out and revise. Know where your people are, what kind of room there is, the exits, etc.
10. DO learn about the weapons you’re giving your characters. Know your character’s skill level. Are they an expert like Doug Marcaida with a karambit? Or have they never used a knife outside of the dinner plate? (Small warning: screw up gun knowledge at your own risk. Readers are often sport shooters or hunters, and will call you out quickly and publicly)
11. DON’T let the truth get in the way of a good story. If you need to bend a rule, leave something vague, or make something impossible happen, do so. Just make it fit your story.
Your fight scenes matter. People will try to play them in their heads. Overall, the less data the better, but fill that space with emotion and pain. Connect your reader to your character, make them feel the blows, the tip of the knife, the spray of drywall when the bullet misses their head by an inch. Exactness can reduce adrenaline fueled desperation for survival into dry pedantry that leaves your story at the bottom of the bookshelf.
I hope you found this article useful! If so, please follow me on Twitter (@egdeaile_writer) or Instagram: egdeaile and let me know what you thought!
For murder writing tips and my work-up towards building my YouTube Channel, follow Instagram: craftingkillers
by Guest: K.M. Butler (@kmbutlerauthor)
Action scenes are the nexus through which writers narrow infinite possibilities into clear paths. When poorly executed, action scenes result in beta-reader and editor feedback that scenes “lack emotional weight”, “drag”, or “result in “unclear motivations”. They might make your story “lack energy” or result in your reader “not connecting with your characters”.
But when executed correctly, action scenes enhance your narrative and provide emotional satisfaction. They put your reader in the middle of the crisis, causing their heart to thump and their eyes to fly across the page. In short, action scenes provide payoff to the tension you’ve spent thousands of words building.
Components of action scenes
At the bare minimum, an action scene requires good characters, consequences, and believable tension. This is true whether you’re writing an alley fight scene against the undead, an anguished progress through a crowded ball filled with aristocrats whose eyes resemble daggers, or panicked flight through a darkened forest from the guards who killed your character’s father.
Good characters come from consistently showing what makes your character tick, what “red lines” they won’t cross, and – critically – what lies beyond those red lines. Good action scenes need to build on the characterization and idiosyncrasies that came before. If you’ve established that your character is prone to panic, is clumsy, or is a coward, incorporate that into your scene. Every action scene in history puts characters in danger. Many involve violence or the threat of it. Only by grounding your action scenes in the nuance of your specific characters and their specific situation will you craft a memorable one.
The most effective action scenes fundamentally change the situation your characters face. After, your characters can’t go back to life before the scene. It might hinge upon a single decision (for instance, whether to place a hand on a suitor’s arm) or blend multiple threads. And the interplay between consequence and character creates tension. Your job is to accent and highlight that tension as much as possible.
A common piece of advice is that writers should “keep sentences short” in action scenes to ratchet up the pace. This advice is an oversimplification that treats the symptom rather than the cause. You’re not aiming for simplification, but a “ramming speed” rhythm.
Typical scenes follow a “Take Five” rhythm, like Dave Brubeck’s song. They proceed with a cadence of rhythmic beats, each one giving space for an individual concept or thought to breathe. When executed well, each “beat” has the chance to live on its own, then give way to the next in a way that feels natural.
But action scenes proceed much faster. Action scenes aren’t the time for rich description. They’re the time for sharp motion, decisive reactions, and clear threats. I call this “Observe-Emote-Act”. Your character should observe key stimuli, feel emotion about those observations, react to both, then repeat that cycle. Rich description and too much thought get in the way of pace. Consider this first example:
Jim dashed forward, forcing his shoulder into the door hard enough to squeeze a grunt from his lips. The slithering behind him grew louder, reverberating with a hollow echo. Memory of those rotting teeth, caught in the flash of moonlight as the creature chased him through the hallway, sent a shiver down his spine. It was almost upon him. He retreated a few more steps and charged again, colliding with the door. His shoulder began to throb, but he felt only delight as the door gave way. But the sunlight, peeking through in a bright sliver, illuminated the form of the creature, rearing up over his shoulder, preparing to strike. (110 words)
This passage has far too much description, and as a result, it feels belabored. Each element tries to show Jim’s fear, but including all of it robs the scene of impact. The pace is too slow to excite the reader. You may have written the most beautiful text in history, but if it gets in the way, it must go. Less is more:
Jim slammed his shoulder into the door hard enough to make him whimper. The slithering grew louder. He shivered at the memory of those rotting teeth. Desperation rising, he charged once more. The door finally gave way, only to cast a sliver of sunlight on the creature rearing up over his shoulder. (52 words)
Sometimes, you need dependent clauses or phrases. This option, half the length of the first, still includes them to convey Jim’s fear, sensory information, or a sense of simultaneity. Despite this sentence complexity, it flows faster and with more excitement.
And yet, you can take this effort at simplification too far. Consider:
Jim slammed his shoulder into the door twice. The slithering grew louder. He shivered at the memory of those teeth. Shoulder throbbing, he charged again. The door split open. Sunlight spilled onto the creature rearing up over his shoulder. (39 words)
This version is a third as short again, but here we’ve cut too much. Not enough time passes between Jim’s first second and third attempts to justify his growing panic. The concepts haven’t had a chance to breathe. The passage feels choppy, incomplete, and – worst of all – unsatisfying. Readers need time to digest concepts. It’s a pace, not a race.
The art of making choices
Writing is the art of making choices, and action scenes require you to sharpen your decision-making. Focus on the Observe-Emote-Act cycle and discard the rest. If you’re doing it right, your readers will feel more invested in your story and more satisfied by the action.
And in the end, that’s the essence of good writing.
Kevin is a historical fiction writer whose novels focus on moments of transition and civilizational conflict and always end happily. He lives in Philadelphia, PA.
by Renée Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
Two battleships. Three corvettes. One carrier armed with a complement of one hundred fighters. All Royal Navy. On one of those ships a long-time asset of the United Outer Planets Force risked his life to spy.
Captain Dulcie Havern of the Undaunted looked out the holo-map at the approaching Royal Navy convoy. “Distance?” The force in her voice hid a tremor.
“One million kilometres.”
The asset trusted only Dulcie with information. And Dulcie trusted only herself to lead this mission.
Dulcie felt her trouser pocket, feeling her lover’s silver pendant. She rubbed her thumb along its smooth surface, drawing strength. She watched the images of the ships move across the holo-map in the centre of the bridge.
A burst of her engines and her fleet would be on the royal convoy within minutes.
“Have they seen us yet?” she asked Yimin, the lidar technician.
One pulse of lidar would show even the scrapes on their hulls, but she would reveal their position. “Stay with the rotation of the asteroid. Thrusters only. Notify the fleet.”
“Aye, ma’am,” Navigator Olyn said.
The floor plate trembled under Dulcie’s magnetic boots. Moments later, the ship crept into the shadow of the giant nickel-hematite rock.
Details of the first corvette appeared on the viewscreen. Powerful. Sleek. Every bolt and polished on her. Four dozen gun ports, long-range torpedoes, double-plated hull.
“Guns?” Dulcie asked.
“In their closed ports,” Yimin said.
“The fleet’s asking for orders,” Comm officer Kern said.
“When we can count each bolt without lidar.” The words coated her tongue with a thick paste.
Silence stretched on the bridge, as vast of space. The comms panel flashed a flurry of messages, followed by Kern’s hurried speech.
The second battleship passed—bolts polished, royal markings flawless. Twenty rail gun turrets, sixty-gun ports, and towers of antenna above its hull.
An alpha wolf leading a prowling pack across a territory of stars.
The carrier passed heavy with fighters, ammunition, and supplies, then the last of the corvettes, heading in the direction of the Almans System—the historical refuge of the royal family.
Her love was on one of those ships. She felt him. She could taste pear strudel on his lips. Feel his hot breath against her nape. Sense the danger he was in, the risks he took for her, for them, for the outer planets.
She gripped the silver pendant tighter.
“Signal Delta and Omega Wings to attack the carrier, draw their fighters into the asteroids.” Dulcie paced three steps behind her bridge crew, casting a glance at their workstations and saw nothing usual on their screens. “Signal Gamma Wing to attack the lead corvette. Have them break away from the fleet. No casualties. A snatch and grab, not a dog fight.”
“Aye-aye,” Kern said and flipped his mic on.
One breath. A second. Dulcie focused on the fleet movements onscreen. Blue circles for each royal ship. Yellow squares for her ships.
The last of the royal ships passed.
“Prince Soren must arrive alive.” The breath kicked out of her lungs. She shoved the thought of his death from her mind. “Begin.”
Her fleet manoeuvred from behind the asteroids, then splintered, heading towards their targets.
“Enemy gun ports open.” Yimin’s voice turned colder than the ice-moon L’noke. “They’ve spotted Delta and Omega wings. Contact in four, three, two, contact.”
Enemy fire pulsed across the holo-map. Dulcie’s ships returned fire, orange flak across the dark of space. Her fleet banked, scattering like a school of fish in an ocean of stars.
Dozens of enemy fighters spewed from the bellies of the Royal Navy’s Antigone and the Carrier Reckless—a swarm of hornets darting towards their targets. More enemy fire sparked across the holo-map. Orange straight lines for rail guns. Streams of purple and blue for energy weapons, slicing across space. Puffs of bright blue for torpedoes shattering asteroids.
Boulders bounced off the hull of the Undaunted. Clouds of dust veiled the battle, dulling the colours on the holo-map, then it went black.
“What happened?” Dulcie’s chest tightened.
“It’s the dust.” Yimin squinted, looking past her hooked nose. “It’s blocking our scanners.”
Dulcie’s heart raced.
Blind. In space. In a fight. “Return fire.” Dulcie’s throat thickened. “Swing us around to the last ship’s known position.” Galdorian steel reinforced her voice.
If that didn’t crash the Undaunted against the Royal Navy’s Saltash. Not enough speed for ramming, but not enough to grate against the steel hulls.
Enemy fighters strafed the hull. Hollow rings echoed in the ship, bringing a sound that caused Dulcie’s stomach to quake.
Olyn glanced over her shoulder, the light-blue feathers on her brow arched high. “Aye-aye, Captain.” Olyn’s shoulders straightened as if a keel had been looped through her uniform, and her jacket suspended from it.
The Undaunted dropped behind the battle, and Olyn manoeuvred her to the rear of the royal fleet.
The viewport showed torpedoes and flack streak outside of the ship.
Dulcie’s heart sank. Her love was on that ship, fighting his way to an escape pod. Her people were out there fighting for her. Each shot, each torpedo, was a dance with death. “Course 2 by 104 by 156.”
“Aye, aye.” Olyn corrected the heading.
The Undaunted pitched to the right, then came around to the rear thrusters of the last royal ship.
The floor plates trembled. Somewhere in the ship’s bowels, steel twisted.
“Maximum shields on the bow. Bring us to that last corvette’s underbelly.”
“Aye, aye.” Olyn typed the commands.
“Delta and Omega wings—all cannons firing, all fighters deployed. Retreating to the asteroid belt. The Cutlass and the Katana report engine damage. Four fighters disabled. Rescue underway.”
Dulcie hauled in a breath. Soren was too important an asset to lose. “Any communication from the Royal Navy?”
“Negative on all channels,” Kern said.
Dulcie clenched her fists and rolled her shoulders, but tension impaired her focus.
“Civilian, merchant, and diplomatic channels all silent,” Kern said.
The Undaunted approached the rear of the last Royal Navy corvette—the Indefatigable. Enemy fighters deployed and vectored on their position.
“Fire forward cannons. Chase off those fighters.” She eyed the holo-map. The Cutlass was surrounded by enemy fighters. “Tell the Saber to reinforce the Cutlass.”
“Aye, Captain,” Kern said.
The Cutlass. Captain Tragent. A crew of two hundred souls she was responsible for. The paste on her tongue thickened to glue.
Soren. This mission. To steal battle plans, ship schematics. Critical intelligence to stop the bloodshed on the outer systems. Stop the advance of death.
Moments later, the holo-map lit up like a galaxy of pulsars with a barrage of pulse cannons, torpedoes, and rail cannons. The view screen lit up like a galaxy of pulsars. Torpedoes struck ships, fireballs and streams of atmosphere vented into space.
“Stay behind the Indefatigable,” Dulcie said. “That’s Soren ship.”
“Understood,” Olyn said.
“Anything on civilian or merchant frequencies yet?”
“Negative,” Kern said.
A breath caught in Duclie’s throat.
The Undaunted zigged across space, avoiding the brunt of the assault, her fighters drawing the attack from the last corvette’s fighters. She brought her forward guns to bear and released a devastating salvo against the Indefatigable.
The Saber put herself between the battle and the Cutlass, returning fire with all guns.
The Undaunted banked to the right, then under a stream of flack, ducked under the Indefatigable’s guns. Her forward rail guns sliced through an enemy fighter but missed the second.
An energy weapon charge hit the Undaunted’s hull, sending a surge through the ship. Lights flickered. Systems went off-line, then rebooted.
“Repair crews are underway,” Kern said.
Six more enemy fighters converged on their position. “Get us under the Indefatigable’s belly, so close I can smell the coffee in their mess.
The Undaunted released a volley of fire, followed by a burst of lidar-blinding flak.
Dulcie shielded her eyes as light as bright as bright as supernovas lit the sky. “Release four mines by the engines.”
“Fleet reports heavy engagement by the asteroid belt,” Kern said. “They’re disengaging and asking if we need assistance.”
“Negative. Have them meet us at Ninu Prime.”
A heavy silence engulfed the bridge crew. The Undaunted against six newly minted royal ships.
An explosion off starboard rang throughout the ship.
“Stick to the mission.” Dulcie said. “The prince. We’re here for the information. We have to slow Indefatigable.” She ignored the inner voice that screamed her love was in danger.
The viewscreen showed the mines release magnetic clamps onto the Indefatigable’s rear left engine section. “Ease away from the engines towards the escape pods.”
“The pods?” Kern asked.
“The escape hatches.” Dulcie shifted her gaze from the holo-map to the viewscreen showing the forward cameras.
With a burst of the Undaunted’s thrusters, the Undaunted glided under the Indefatigable’s belly.
“Incoming,” Kern said.
Twenty, then forty, then one hundred lights flared on the holo-map. Enemy fighters converging on them.
“Detonate the mines.” Dulcie peered over Yimin’s shoulder, watching enemy fighters reform and approach.
A blinding flash of orange. Her crew winced and shielded their eyes. Dulcie stood tall and straight, ignoring the dancing stars in her vision.
Debris flew from the explosions sights as atmosphere vented into the nothingness of space.
The Indefatigable dropped in speed.
“Stay hidden under them.” Dulcie walked over to Olyn’s station. The dark-blue and red-tipped plumage on her head stood straight in fear.
Dulcie placed a hand on Olyn’s shoulder. “You can do this. Focus on your monitor.”
Boom. Enemy fire pounded their ship’s hull. Boom. Boom. A second barrage.
Olyn grabbed a breath, then focused on the screen. Seconds later, the Undaunted slowed and was again under the belly of the Indefatigable.
“Any escape pods?” Dulcie asked.
A long silence.
More debris from the corvette. Chunks of metal thudded against the Undaunted’s hull. The reverberations shook Dulcie’s molars.
“Captain.” Yimin’s voice hitched. “Enemy upon us.”
“Return fire. All batteries. All torpedoes.”
The stench of fear filled the bridge—the air hot enough to temper steel. Girders moaned under the assault.
“Captain,” Kern said, the stress in his voice enough to temper steel. “engineering reports heavy damage.”
“Escape pod?” Dulcie’s world closed around the words. The mission hinged on those words. Her next heartbeat depended on those two simple words.
A silence so heavy, it could crush stone.
“There’s one,” Yimin said. “Just released.”
“Deploy the grappling hook and tow into the bay.” Dulcie held her breath.
“It’s secured,” Yimin said.
A series of blasts rocked the ship. Panels flickered. Wires burned.
“Ninu Prime. Best speed.”
“Aye-aye, captain,” Olyn said.
“Send security to the cargo hold, but don’t open the pod until I’m there.”
Soren wouldn’t trust anyone not accompanied by Dulcie. He’d shoot his way out thinking it was a set-up by the Royal Navy to catch him in treason. There was no time for her to go to the cargo hold and take the information from him to relay to command.
“Understood,” Kern said.
The Undaunted pulled away from the disabled Indefatigable, navigating through the debris field, straight into enemy fire. A zig, followed by a hard bank to open space, and Olyn fired the jump drive, propelling them light speed.
A field of debris littered the holo-map.
“Have the damaged fighters been recovered?”
A long pause. A stillness that reached out to the dead and asked their permission to be disturbed.
“All recoverable transponders recovered,” Kern slid his gaze away from the holo-map, away from the flecks that were once ships.
Torpedoes exploded, rocking the ship. Bullets pierced the hull, and the hiss of air leaking into space sounded through the intercoms.
“Dispatching repair crews,” Kern said.
The holo-map blinked on and off, giving only glimpses of the royal fleet.
“Return fire,” Dulcie said. “Can we jump?”
“Hull integrity won’t allow it yet,” Kern said.
“Bring us into the asteroid field.” Dulcie pulled up the asteroid numbers on the holo-chart. “The dark side of Asteroid 2-Beta-5.”
Bits of asteroid pelted the hull like head-sized hail.
The stench of perspiration hung in the air.
“Where are the Royal Navy ships?” Dulcie asked, but her answer came from the flickering holo-map.
Hundreds of enemy fighters wove through the debris. Behind them, the Royal Navy corvettes blasted asteroids.
“The repair crews?” Dulcie asked.
“Not yet done.”
“There’s no time.” Dulcie’s gaze slid to the Undaunted’s engineering panel.
Five compartments that should flicker ice-blue, flicked red. Blood red.
Red. Danger. Collapse.
Another round of torpedoes rocked the ship.
“Evacuate sections five through ten. Seal the bulkheads.”
Kern relayed the orders. Moments later, the angry red flickering turned black.
Dead. Soon to be as cold as the giant vacuum.
“Standby,” Kern said. He relayed some messages on his panel. “Secured.”
The bridge lights flicked from white to blue. Dulcie sat in her captain’s chair and strapped herself in.
Click, click, click. Hurried steps from other crew members against the steel floor, running to their jump seats. Moments later, sections reported the all-clear.
The Undaunted lurched forward, what remained of her groaned as the unequal pressures shattered sections of hull.
“We’re losing pressure in section twelve,” Kern said, his voice tight enough to string a tightrope.
“Evacuate the section.”
“Pursuit?” She glanced at the holo-map, still flickering.
“Fire rear torpedoes.”
Her stomach clenched. “Rail guns.”
The temperature on the bridge increased. The stench of fear grew.
She ran her tongue along her lower lip, but it offered no moisture. Only a bitter taste of impending defeat and a vivid memory of his pear-strudel kisses. “How many ships are pursuing?”
It could not end like this. Not with Soren’s valuable information not sent to the fleet. Not with the tide of war on the verge of turning. Not with words left unspoken to the only man who had ever held her heart.
The holo-map flickered. More ships approached. Dulcie drew in a long breath—while there was still enough air for her to breathe. She watched as the transponders of the ships were recognised.
They had turned around.
A volley of torpedoes, followed by an energy pulse, rushed by the Undaunted towards the Royal Navy ships. The Incorrigible pulled in between the Undaunted and the Royal Navy, offering protection.
“Anything left to throw at them?” Dulcie asked.
Two beats of stillness. One to check inventory. A second followed by a frown.
“Torpedoes spent. Rail guns empty. Laser batteries depleted. Mine supply exhausted. Flak has been spent.” Another beat. “A can of tomato soup,” Kern said, frown still present, but steely determination in his eyes.
She reached for the silver pendant in her pocket, one small comfort in an otherwise awful day and gave a soft laugh. “Be sure to serve it cold.” She checked the damage reports. “Engines to full. Signal the fleet to follow.”
The floor trembled under the stress, but the Undaunted pressed further into space. The fleet followed, forming a wedge behind the Undaunted, protecting her.
“Any of the fleet still have mines?” Dulcie asked.
A pause. Fast exchanges with Kern, before he nodded. “Three.”
“Mine the corridor. Ten second intervals.”
She studied the holo-map. Puffs of orange and red expanded as the mines struck the first of the royal corvettes. Then a second, and a third royal ship dropped back in distress.
Five hundred thousand kilometres. Seven hundred and fifty thousand kilometres. One million kilometres. The pursuit had broken off.
Cheers erupted on the bridges. Tense faces cracked in smiles, but the stench of sweat lingered.
“Kern has the bridge.” She strode away, expression placid, pulse galloping.
She nodded at repair crews working on the damage, and then at the pair of security guards posted outside the double cargo doors. “Any movement? Do we know it’s him?”
“No, ma’am,” Trevi said. “No markings on the pod, and the occupant hasn’t been to the window.”
Trevi turned, typed in the security code, and stepped inside.
“Stand back,” Dulcie said.
“Stand back.” She strode forward at an even gait, though her feet wanted to skip across the hold. She pressed the release hatch, and the door hissed. “Soren?”
Trevi circled to her left, and his partner to her right.
A hand reached up from inside the pod and pushed the door fully open. Soren emerged, squinting, his brow dripping, his cheeks flushed the same hue as the iron-rich sands of Monus Prime, black hair tumbled on his shoulders. His gaze landed on Dulcie, and his lips cracked a smile that spanned the galaxy. “Where have you been?” Soren jumped down the three steps to land in front of her and swept her into an embrace.
Their lips met, and he stole her breath, moulding his mouth to hers. Her belly to his hips. His masculine scent of stars, leather, and sage enveloped her. For a delectable moment she was taken back to the time they spent under soft sheets, their skin pressed against one another, his laughter rumbling against her shoulder, the taste of him on her tongue.
She broke away from his kiss and rested her forehead against his chin. “What took you so long?”
“I left the oven on.”
“You didn’t get my present?” He peeled away from her kiss.
“I sent the signal once the attack began. Magnetic plating codes. Launch codes. Ship designs.”
“Communications were jammed.”
“Casualties?” Sadness filled his voice.
She frowned, unable to contain her joy at being reunited with him the cost in deaths. She steeled herself with the knowledge that his information would turn the tide of war and free hundreds of thousands.
“We’ll win the war for them.” He reached into the inside pocket of his royal purple jacket and produced a data crystal. “Battle plans. Mine fields. Torpedo signatures. And cook’s pear strudel recipe.” He pulled her closer and rest his forehead against hers.
“I’ll be sure to send the strudel recipe straight to chef.”
His laughter echoed in the hold.
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