Chase sences are iconic storytelling devices and nearly impossible to avoid when writing anything dramatic.
Here’s how to write chase scenes:
Write chase scenes by emphasizing stakes, pacing, and character depth. Opt for different types like foot or car chases, and add humor or romance. Use setting actively, surprise with twists, and resolve impactfully. Be creative: Explore unique chase ideas like time loops or parallel universes.
In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write chase scenes.
The Anatomy of a Great Chase Scene
A well-crafted chase scene is not just about the chase itself but also the elements that surround it.
Think about pacing, tension, and stakes.
A chase scene is like a mini-story within your main storyline—it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The beginning sets up the stakes and the reason for the chase, the middle escalates the tension and obstacles, and the end resolves the chase, often leading to a new development in your story.
However, the very essence of a chase scene lies in its unpredictability.
You can’t let your audience foresee the next turn or anticipate the outcome.
This element of surprise serves as the fuel that propels the sequence, making it a rollercoaster of unexpected twists and turns.
Whether it’s a last-minute escape, a sudden change in direction, or an unforeseen obstacle, it’s your job to keep your readers guessing.
Types of Chase Scenes
If you’ve ever seen a movie or read a book, you know there is a surprising variety of chase scenes.
Some common types and some very creative types.
Car chases are perhaps the most iconic form of chase scenes, often depicted in blockbuster movies.
The roar of engines, the screech of tires, and the high-speed maneuvers make for an electrifying experience.
In writing, you can replicate this adrenaline rush through descriptive language, pacing, and by delving deep into the technical aspects like gear shifting, acceleration, and the landscape.
While car chases offer a high-octane thrill, they also provide opportunities for character development.
Maybe your protagonist is a stickler for rules but decides to run a red light for the greater good, or perhaps the villain reveals an unexpected skill behind the wheel.
Use the chase to bring out facets of a character that add depth to your story.
Foot chases are up-close and personal.
They often involve a lot of physical exertion, from sprinting and jumping to climbing and dodging.
These chases give you the chance to delve into your characters’ physical and emotional states, laying bare their vulnerabilities and strengths.
The confined space in foot chases—whether it’s a crowded marketplace or narrow alleys—can ratchet up the tension.
Also, the immediacy of a foot chase often makes for an intense, pulse-pounding experience
When writing such scenes, focus on sensory details: the pounding heartbeat of the characters, the sound of footsteps echoing, or the sweat trickling down their brows.
While car and foot chases cover a majority of chase scenes, you’re not limited to them.
Chases can occur in any form—by boat, on horseback, or even in the air.
The key to writing these scenes effectively is research.
If it’s a boat chase, understand the dynamics of sailing; for an aerial chase, get the terminology and physics right.
No matter what mode of transportation your characters use, ensure that you maintain the elements of tension, unpredictability, and pace.
The chase type serves as a setting.
The dramatic tension and stakes are what truly make the scene memorable.
13 Tips for Writing an Awesome Chase Scene
I’ve written dozens of chase scenes over my writing career.
Here are my best tips for how to write a chase scene.
Tip 1: Set the Stakes High — “The Clock is Ticking”
Before you dive into the mechanics of the chase, set the stakes.
Your readers need to know why the chase is happening and what’s at risk.
Are lives hanging in the balance, or is it a chase for justice, revenge, or love? The higher the stakes, the more invested your reader will be.
Stakes aren’t just about life and death scenarios.
They can be emotional or psychological.
Maybe your protagonist is running after a criminal who has something invaluable to them, or perhaps they’re running away from a mistake that could ruin their life.
Make the stakes clear, and your audience will be hooked.
Tip 2: Create a Sense of Urgency — “No Time to Waste”
A chase scene should feel urgent. Use short sentences and paragraphs to speed up the narrative.
Cut to the chase—literally—and get rid of any unnecessary details.
Readers don’t need to know the color of the curtains if a character is about to jump through the window.
Time is of the essence in a chase scene.
Consider adding a ticking clock element to increase urgency.
For instance, a character has only minutes to catch a train carrying a bomb or reach a loved one in peril.
This pressure amplifies the tension, making every second count.
Tip 3: Use Dynamic Language — “Fuel for the Fire”
When crafting a chase scene, your word choices are crucial.
Opt for verbs that convey motion and urgency—dart, race, soar, weave—over passive or slow terms.
Active voice is your best friend here, as it naturally contributes to a quicker pacing and higher engagement.
But it’s not just about action verbs. Adjectives and adverbs also play a role in enhancing the scene.
Words like “frenzied,” “reckless,” and “swiftly” can serve as the seasoning that brings your chase scene to life.
However, be cautious not to overuse them, as they can become distracting.
Strike a balance between dynamic language and readability.
Tip 4: Be Detailed But Focused — “Precision is Key”
Detailing is essential, but it’s easy to get carried away.
You want to paint a vivid picture for your readers without bogging them down with unnecessary information.
Instead of describing every object in the scene, focus on a few that enhance the ambiance or escalate the tension.
For example, if your characters are running through a forest, you don’t need to describe every tree and bush.
A brief mention of the slippery ground, the looming shadows, and the characters’ heavy breath can suffice.
These focused details not only add texture to your scene but also maintain its pacing.
Tip 5: Vary the Obstacles — “Keep ’em Guessing”
Predictability is the enemy of excitement.
Introduce various obstacles that keep your characters—and your readers—on their toes.
From a sudden traffic jam in a car chase to a dead-end alley in a foot chase, these hurdles serve as mini-climaxes that sustain interest.
Obstacles shouldn’t just be physical barriers.
They can be psychological or emotional, too.
Maybe your protagonist struggles with a moral dilemma during the chase, or perhaps their past fears resurface.
Whatever the obstacle, it should contribute to character development or plot progression.
Tip 6: Use Multiple Perspectives — “Eyes Everywhere”
Switching between different points of view can add layers of complexity and tension.
It lets your readers into the minds of both the pursuer and the pursued, offering a 360-degree experience of the chase.
However, be careful not to make the transitions too abrupt or confusing.
Multiple perspectives can also serve as a tool for pacing.
Slower, more introspective moments can alternate with high-action sequences, giving the readers time to catch their breath before plunging back into the chase.
Tip 7: Choreograph Your Scene — “Every Move Counts”
Think of your chase scene like a carefully choreographed dance.
Each move should be deliberate, leading naturally to the next.
To achieve this, you might want to map out the chase beforehand. Sketch the setting, jot down the key events, and visualize the sequence from start to finish.
By planning out the choreography, you can identify any gaps or inconsistencies in your scene.
Is the transition from a crowded marketplace to a secluded alley believable?
Does the timing make sense?
This meticulous planning ensures that your chase scene is both exciting and plausible.
Tip 8: Engage the Senses — “More Than Meets the Eye”
A chase scene is about more than what the characters see.
It’s a multisensory experience.
Include sounds—the screech of tires, the pounding of feet, the panting of breath.
Describe smells—car exhaust, fresh rain, or perhaps the scent of fear.
Tapping into multiple senses makes for a richer, more immersive experience.
Sensory details can also serve as narrative tools.
The smell of gasoline could foreshadow a car explosion, or the distant sound of sirens could indicate approaching help.
Use sensory information not just as descriptive filler, but as a functional part of your chase scene.
Tip 9: Control the Pacing — “The Speedometer Effect”
Controlling the pace of your chase scene is like using a speedometer: sometimes you need to accelerate, and sometimes you need to hit the brakes.
Longer sentences can slow down the pace, allowing for moments of introspection or added tension.
Shorter sentences speed things up, making the action feel immediate and urgent.
Be aware of the rhythm you’re creating with your words.
Too much speed, and you risk exhausting your readers. Too slow, and you’ll lose their interest.
Like a skilled driver, know when to change gears to deliver an emotionally impactful scene that also maintains a balanced pace.
Tip 10: Use Environment to Your Advantage — “Setting as a Character”
The setting can be both a backdrop and a character in your chase scene.
From a slippery mountain path to a bustling city street, the environment can add challenges and opportunities to your chase.
It can help or hinder the characters, add layers of complexity, or even offer an unexpected twist.
For instance, a rain-soaked street could make driving conditions perilous, revving up the tension (Car pun intended).
Similarly, a crowded festival could offer the pursued a chance to disappear into the throng of people.
Make your environment work for the story, not just as scenery but as an active element of the chase.
Tip 11: Surprise with Innovation — “Out of the Box, Into the Chase”
One way to keep your readers invested is to bring something new to the table.
This could be an innovative mode of chase—maybe something fantastical like a broomstick in a wizarding world—or an unconventional twist that defies reader expectations.
Innovation can also mean challenging the classic chase scene tropes.
Maybe the pursuer becomes the pursued, or perhaps the chase ends in an unexpected alliance.
These surprises don’t just serve as gimmicks.
They should add depth or an exciting new angle to your story.
Tip 12: Know Your Characters — “Runners and Chasers”
Understanding your characters deeply can add layers of emotional complexity to a chase scene.
Are they experienced or novice, fearful or fearless, desperate or determined?
Knowing their capabilities and limitations can make the scene more believable and engaging.
If your character is an expert driver, a car chase can become an exhilarating show of skill.
On the other hand, if they’re inexperienced, the tension rises exponentially with every swerve and close call.
Use the chase as a lens to focus on the essence of your characters, revealing traits that contribute to story development.
Tip 13: Resolve with Impact — “The Final Lap”
Every chase scene should end with a resolution that leaves an impact.
Whether it’s a dramatic capture, a narrow escape, or an unexpected twist, the conclusion should be satisfying yet open the door for further development.
It’s the climax of your mini-story within a story, so make it count.
Resolution doesn’t always mean closure.
Sometimes a chase scene can end ambiguously, setting the stage for future conflicts or making existing ones worse.
Whatever the outcome, ensure it has ramifications, either immediately or as a setup for upcoming scenes.
Check out this video about how to write chase scenes:
How to Write a Foot Chase Scene — “The Sprinter’s Guide”
Writing a foot chase scene can feel like a tightrope walk.
You have to balance urgency with detail, action with emotion.
One of the advantages of a foot chase is its immediacy. The characters are literally on their feet, bringing them closer to both danger and the reader’s empathy.
Begin by setting the stage: where does the chase occur?
Is it a labyrinth of narrow alleys or a crowded marketplace? Describe the scene in brief but vivid details.
Then, let your characters loose.
Use short sentences for breathless pacing and sensory words to heighten tension.
If your characters run through a marketplace, let readers hear the clatter of overturned stalls, feel the jostle of the crowd, and smell the mixture of spices and sweat in the air.
How to Write a Funny Chase Scene — “The Comedy Relay”
Humor in a chase scene can be a delightful surprise for your readers.
However, you’ve got to balance the comedic elements without sacrificing tension or stakes.
Start with an unexpected twist: maybe the pursued steals a circus bike or the pursuer slips on a banana peel.
Use comedic timing to your advantage.
Let humor serve as beats that give readers a momentary respite from the tension.
It’s also effective to employ situational irony or clever dialogue to lighten the mood.
For example, a character could misinterpret signs or directions, leading to absurd situations.
Or throw in snappy back-and-forths between characters involved in the chase.
Just remember, the humor should enhance, not undermine, the stakes and the outcome of the scene.
How to Write a Romantic Chase Scene — “The Pursuit of Love”
A romantic chase scene provides an opportunity to fuse two compelling aspects—tension and emotional connection.
In these scenes, the stakes often go beyond physical danger.
They’re emotional and deeply personal.
This could be a scene where one character chases another to a train station to confess their love before it’s too late.
Or perhaps it’s a metaphorical chase where two characters are running toward or away from emotional commitment.
Feel free to slow down the pacing just a bit, letting emotional stakes and character internalization come to the forefront.
Employ descriptive language to convey heightened senses and emotions.
But remember, the essence of a chase is still speed and urgency.
Keep the narrative taut, snapping back to action when things risk becoming too contemplative.
How to Write a Creepy Chase Scene — “Chills and Thrills”
A creepy or horror-based chase scene must evoke fear and suspense.
The setting is crucial—choose locations that naturally incite fear like abandoned buildings, dark forests, or secluded alleys.
Atmosphere is everything.
Use descriptive language to establish a dark and foreboding environment.
Employ sensory details that contribute to a feeling of dread: the howl of the wind, the rustling of unseen creatures, or the distant echo of footsteps.
Subvert expectations to keep readers on their toes.
Maybe what’s chasing the protagonist isn’t revealed until the very end, adding a layer of suspense.
Another effective technique is to limit the information available to both the characters and the readers, making the unknown a terrifying adversary in itself.
20 Chase Scene Ideas That Are Unique and Creative
Don’t settle for hum-drum chases when you can make your chase scenes creative and story specific.
Let these 20 chase scene ideas inspire you:
- Time-Loop Chase: Characters are stuck in a time loop, reliving the chase until they find a way to break it.
- Drone Pursuit: One party uses drones to chase another.
- Parallel Universes: Characters hop between parallel universes during the chase.
- Spirit Chase: Characters are spirits, traversing through walls and defying physics.
- Zoo Fiasco: A chase through a zoo, involving various animals as obstacles or aids.
- Chase in Reverse: The scene starts at the end and rewinds to the beginning.
- Musical Chase: Characters communicate and interact through song, think of it as a “musical” chase scene.
- Silent Movie Style: Write it as if it’s a silent film—visual cues and actions only.
- Historical Mash-up: A chase that travels through different periods in history.
- Virtual Reality: Characters chase each other in a virtual world.
- Chase in Miniature: Characters are shrunk and navigate a chase in a suddenly giant world.
- Underwater Escape: A chase that takes place entirely underwater.
- Skywriting Duel: Characters are in planes and communicate or mislead through skywriting.
- Maze Runner: A chase through a constantly changing labyrinth.
- Train of Events: A chase that progresses through different cars on a train, each with its own unique challenges.
- Elevator Mayhem: A vertical chase using a series of elevators in a high-rise building.
- Mirror World: A chase through a hall of mirrors or a world where everything is reversed.
- Blind Pursuit: Either the chaser or the chased is blind, relying on other senses.
- Switcheroo: The pursuer and the pursued unknowingly switch roles midway.
- Artful Escape: A chase through an art gallery where paintings and sculptures play a role in the escape.
Final Thoughts: How to Write Chase Scenes
Writing great chase sences requires a blend of action, emotion, research, and creative wordplay.
Writers, start your engines!
- How to Write Bullying Scenes (Ultimate Guide + 17 Examples)
- How to Write Awkward Scenes (Ultimate Guide + Examples)
- How to Write Battle Scenes: The Ultimate Guide for 2023
- How to Write a Dance Scene: 21 Best Tips + Examples