When I write action scenes, I like to play with toys. Not always, because some scenes are easy enough to visualize, but when I have multiple characters (such as a large battle scene) it is much easier to lay out the scene with visual aids. I prefer to use things that are fun to play with, although I sometimes get sidetracked actually playing with them…
So it might be a better idea to use toys with a minimal fun factor.
But any objects will work. I’ve been on the train and blocked action scenes with coins scrounged from my purse. Chess pieces work nicely, as do dice and any small objects such as wrapped candies. I don’t like to use items that are too similar because it can be easy to forget who is who.
As an example, let us suggest we have three characters battling three other characters and a dog. I set the scene as it would be in the beginning and identify each person (or animal). I move each of them into place for the first bit of action and write it out.
This way, you won’t lose track of a character and your readers won’t wonder if one is off picking his nails with a dagger while his friends are being slaughtered. It’s also easier to visualize what each character will do instantly without trying to conjure up the scene in your head. If Badass Girl kills her enemy, she can hurry over and attack the dog that is mauling the leg of her companion.
This also allows you to account for time—how long will it take her to get to her friend? Will she need to run? Will she have to hurtle a dead body to get there? It will also allow you to focus on details you might miss while trying to juggle the whole scene in your head. (Did her sword get caught on a bit of armor—or bone?) What if one character trips? He’ll be down for a minute while the others are still moving.
This works with any action scene that has multiple players, even non-battle scenes. Picture a large ballroom with two characters dancing while a third tries to get to them. Blocking it out this way and using tangible objects can make the scene much quicker to write, and more realistic in the long run. It is also a lot of fun.
You heard the man.