Friday, April 2, 2021

Four Tips for Writing Action Scenes by Janice Broyles

We're catching up with an SCBWI member who now lives hundreds of miles away but still keeps in touch via our digital world and on occasional trips back to Michigan. Janice Broyles lived in Gaylord and Cadillac for many years and served on the SCBWI-MI Ad Com (Advisory Committee) from 2006-2012. She planned conferences, coordinated critiques, shadowed speakers, and gave all-around support to our members all over the state. Now she lives in North Carolina, has completed her doctorate in Educational Leadership, teaches English at an HBCU, and has five published books, ranging from historical and contemporary YA novels to an inspirational memoir on overcoming rejection. Her newest venture is the creation of Late November Literary, a boutique publisher of quality fiction and nonfiction. One of our own SCBWI-MI members, Rachel Anderson, recently published her chapter book, THE PUPPY PREDICAMENT, through Late November!

Janice has contributed to our Mitten blog before: From Sting to Success: Using Rejection to Improve our Writing, and we're happy to welcome her back to share more of her experience. Here's Janice:

By Janice Broyles

There is nothing more enjoyable than diving into a riveting novel. I want to feel that hook right away. As soon as I get vested into the character’s world and situation, I’m all in. I’ve stayed up into the wee hours of the morning because I just had to see how the plot played out.

One important tool in the author’s arsenal for creating these riveting situations on the page is the action scene. Action sequences are pivotal to building suspense, and in my experience, they are hard to get right. In my historical novel series, THE SECRET HEIR, I had
to create war scenes, and I found myself going back to the drawing board often to make sure those scenes propelled the action forward while still providing important details to the story. In my newest release, THE ROAD BACK HOME FROM HERE, the action scenes are much more contemporary, but I didn’t necessarily find it any easier to get these scenes right.

Here’s what I discovered:

Make sure it’s pivotal.

Action scenes need a reason to be in the story. Does the action sequence expose a
character flaw of the protagonist? Does the action sequence build the plot? Ask
yourself this simple question: why is this scene needed? There needs to be a specific
answer, and that is that the action scene is pivotal to the plot or to the growth of the

Make sure it’s urgent.

Action scenes must have an urgency to them. This is what keeps the reader turning
the page. Whether this is a time factor, such as the clock is ticking before the bomb
explodes, or a competition factor, such as if the villain wins the protagonist will lose
his powers, urgency leads to great action scenes. Think of urgency as the fuel to the
plot’s fire.

Make sure it’s timely.

As a beta-reader and freelance editor, I find that the middle-muddle often comes
down to a lack of timely action scenes. Every chapter must propel the story forward,
and a great way to accomplish that is through action sequences. Suspense must build
from chapter to chapter, or the reader will put down the book. A well-placed action
scene keeps the reader glued to the page.

Make sure to get it right.

Critique groups and beta readers are a necessity with any type of writing, but action
scenes require multiple sets of eyes to get it as fine-tuned as possible. The war scenes
from THE SECRET HEIR only became better when the right eyes read through them
and critiqued them. I met a gentleman who wrote military drama and was a veteran.
He provided much needed detail and suggestions for revising those scenes. My
critique group was just as beneficial! They pointed out ways to make the wording
flow and what details needed to be eliminated.

These four discoveries helped me with my writing. Action scenes are important and getting them
right can be tricky. However, when done correctly, they will keep the readers riveted and coming
back for more.

Janice Broyles is the author of the award-winning HEIR series. Her new book, a YA suspense
novel, THE ROAD BACK HOME FROM HERE, is available at bookstores and online wherever
books are sold. Find out more about her and her books at


Only a few weeks until our Spring (virtual) Conference! Register for the event and critique opportunities here:

Here's a special note from SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator, Ann Finkelstein:

Hi Illustrators!

SCBWI-MI is offering two illustration mentorships this year. The picture book illustration mentorship is with Dow Phumiruk, and the middle grade/young adult illustration mentorship is with Bea Jackson. The mentorships are open to all SCBWI members who live in Michigan for at least part of the year.

Here are some important dates:
Anytime: Visit Bea’s and Dow’s beautiful websites to admire their art.
Anytime: Stop by the mentorship page on our website and find out what you have to do to apply. 
April 23-25: Attend the spring conference and hear Bea Jackson speak.
April 30: Stop back here at the Mitten Blog and read and interview with Dow. 
May 4 at 7:00 pm: Attend a free Zoom presentation by Deb Pilutti to learn how to format your submission. The link is in the Events Calendar on the SCBWI-MI homepage. The presentation will be recorded. 
May 7: Stop back here at the Mitten Blog and read and interview with Bea. 
May 17 – June 7: Apply for the mentorship. 
Anytime: Ask Ann Finkelstein, SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator, questions. 


  1. Thank you for sharing these tips, Janice. I plan
    to post these by my writing desk. Thanks, Kristin for sharing the earlier blog — great advice on how to approach rejections to improve your writing.

  2. Thank you again, Janice, and keep in touch!