Linda Maye Adams

Writing Action Scenes with Women Characters


One of the hardest things about writing an action scene is when there’s a woman character.  Most women aren’t as strong as a man, and punching out a bad guy just ain’t in the cards.

In fact, it’s so hard that writers use all of the following:

  1. Write the woman like she was a guy.  Pretty fake.
  2. Give the women supernatural powers, then write the action like she is a guy.
  3. Have a male character do the action while the woman stays off to the side.

The first time I wrote an action scene with a woman character, it was both exciting and scary.  I didn’t want to screw it up, and I wanted it to feel like if it was the woman reader, she could imagine that it was something she could.

Minus all those scary parts.

How the heck do you write an action scene with a woman?

It actually took quite a bit of creativity and thinking.  I knew from my time in the Army that there were some things that the guys could do but that women wouldn’t be able to.  Most action films use the man’s upper body strength—dangling from rooftops, punching the bad guy out … well, you get the idea.

Women don’t have that upper body strength.  Heck, I’m struggling to get above six pounds on free weights at the gym!

For that first action scene, the woman character was locked in a room and directed to come up with a formula.  Bad guys outside the door.  Typical guy action scene would have the hero lure the guard in, deck him, and escape.

Since she couldn’t punch him out, then it was time to put her smarts to use.  Since she was in a room with a bunch of chemicals, she builds a small bomb that smokes up the place.  Bad guy comes in to investigate, boom!  And she escapes.

Action Scenes with Men and Women

These are about as challenging.  I always think everyone should be equally in deep do-do.  So the bad guy (or monster or alien) needs to do something to screw the characters up.  So the male character might get whacked, and the female character is trying to keep him from getting whacked worse, and bad guy is not cooperating.

And meanwhile, they’re hopelessly outnumbered.

But it is a lot of work keeping it so that both characters are respected.   One of the most disrespectful books I read had a woman main character with a male sidekick.  During the big action scene early in the book, she falls down the stairs, and out of the scene, so the sidekick could do the fight.  Very lazy writing and made me think a lot less of both the character and the writer.

Action scenes are best served when all the characters get to participate.

1 Comment

  1. I don’t do these scenes very often, but sometimes the woman has a little help–from her gun, horses (run him over), a mule (Jake), and a man (for backup when bracing a group); those scenes were from Detour Trail. Or an alien–but she was holding her own ’cause that was her job (Pretty Pink Planet).

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