The Five Pillars Of Action-Adventure

The 5 Pillars Of Action-Adventure

Are you writing an action-adventure story? In this post, we look at how including the five pillars of action-adventure can improve the story you’re writing.

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In this post, we will be exploring the five pillars of writing an action-adventure story.

Everybody loves this genre. It appeals to the escapist in us.

Who can’t imagine travelling to some far-off place on a special mission? Who doesn’t wish for mystery, magic, or romance?

An early example of an adventure is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. A young orphan journeys through the Scottish Highlands to reclaim his rightful inheritance.

Whether it’s a historical adventure, a trip to outer space or the deep sea – or time-travelling to a dystopian past – these stories thrill us. We love to watch and read them.

They take us outside our own lives and into the heart of adventure. We get to live out the hero’s journey.

What Is An Action-Adventure Story?

In this type of story, the hero seeks out adventure – or lands in it by chance. Thrown into a high-risk situation, they must show courage, endurance, and stamina.

The hero is never a passive participant in the story. They are on a dangerous mission or quest. The story often takes place in many locations or the hero travels to foreign lands.

The threat of physical danger is always present. The villain and various henchmen want to kidnap, kill, torture, or stop the hero. Often the hero is under mental pressure too. They must have nerves of steel.

The plot moves fast and there is action in every scene. It features hair-raising obstacles, nail-biting near-misses, and almost impossible odds to overcome. The hero must have skill or superhuman grit to survive.

There is always rising tension. Often the story races to a countdown-type climax. In standard adventures, the hero stops the bad guys and saves the day.

Why Write An Adventure?

Action-adventure stories can be satisfying and lucrative to write. It can become a multi-media  franchise. It could include books, video games, films, graphic novels, and merchandising. It works best as a series.

The 5 Pillars Of Action-Adventure

But, first you must master the basics. Here are the five pillars you will need when writing an adventure:

1. Holding Out For A Hero

Most action heroes live out their adventures alone. James Bond, despite his romantic affairs, is essentially a solitary figure.

  1. In Anthony Horowitz’s novel Stormbreaker, the main character is an orphan, making his own way in the world. British M16 recruits a teen James Bond, to stop a megalomaniac from destroying the world. Read Anthony Horowitz’s 4 Steps To Creating A Suspenseful Adventure.
  2. However, the ‘duelling duo’ is also a popular method. In Red Notice on Netflix, we meet two ‘heroes’. FBI agent Hartley must work together with notorious jewel thief Nolan Booth to recover stolen treasure. The two opposite characters ‘spark’ off each other.
  3. We find sensual tension in Romancing the Stone. A romance novelist has to team up with a handsome rogue to find her kidnapped sister.
  4. In Clive Cussler’s adventure series featuring Dirk Pitt, the master explorer teams up with his varsity buddy Al Giordino.
  5. You can also have a ‘gang’-type story. The Umbrella Academy, a comic book series by Gerard Way, is a good example. It is about a dysfunctional family of former child heroes. They reunite to protect the world.

2. A Unique Profession

The hero often has a unique job that allows for plenty of adventure. Often their skills are needed for a specific assignment or task.

  1. For example, Robert Langdon in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. He is a professor of symbology at Harvard University.
  2. Jack Ryan is a similar character. We find him in Tom Clancy’s bestselling Ryanverse series. Jack is a civilian history professor at the US Naval Academy. A former Marine, he joins the CIA and eventually becomes President of the United States.
  3. In Hergé’s The Adventures Of Tintin, the hero is a cub reporter. He travels the world with his dog, Snowy. In Around The World In Eighty Days, by Jules Verne, we find Phileas Fogg. He is a rich, eccentric gentleman from London who takes a trip around the globe with his long-suffering servant.
  4. Lara Croft, of Tomb Raider fame, is a clever and fearless young archaeologist. She seeks adventures among the world’s ancient ruins. The character was developed video game designer Tony Gard.

3. A Task To Take On

The hero is often on a dangerous task or quest. High Road To China is a romantic adventure set in the 1920s. A down-on-his-luck American pilot must help a beautiful but spoiled heiress find her missing father.

As in many adventure stories, there is a ‘time lock’. The heiress has only 12 days to locate her father or risk losing her fortune to her father’s business partner.

  1. In Tomb Raider, Lara Croft goes on a quest. She must find the two halves of an ancient artefact before it falls into the wrong hands. And before a rare planetary alignment occurs. It’s a race against time.
  2. In Sahara, Dirk Pitt travels to the deserts of West Africa. The prize is a lost Civil War battleship known as the Ship of Death.
  3. In Ready Player One, author Ernest Cline takes us to a dystopian future. The hero, Wade Watts, is searching for an Easter egg in a global virtual reality game.

4. Super Villains

The hero must always face a worthy adversary. The villain is often larger than life.

  1. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island introduces us to Captain Long John Silver. He is cunning and archetypal pirate.
  2. In Ian Fleming’s Dr No, James Bond must thwart Dr No in his secret lair. This evil genius has pincers for hands. Sebastian Faulks continues the tradition in his 007 adventure. In Devil May Care, the creepy Dr Julius Gorner has a monkey’s paw for a left hand.
  3. Another example of an over-the-top baddie is Silas from The Da Vinci Code. He is an albino monk – and an obedient killer.
  4. They don’t always have to be the clichéd villains. For her Divergent series, Veronica Roth created Jeanine Matthews. Icy and beautiful, she is a smart and manipulative antagonist.
  5. Often the stories feature a system of antagonism. Some examples: the Nazis in the Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, a rogue IRA cell in Patriot Games, and Opus Dei in The Da Vinci Code.
  6. In fact, the ‘baddie’ doesn’t have to be human. For example, a giant squid disrupting a fishing community in Peter Benchley’s Beast.
  7. James Rollins’s popular adventure Altar of Eden  is about US veterinarian who hunts a horrifying beast.

5. Far-Off Locations

The hero often travels to far-off lands and mysterious lands. As a writer, you must create a unique and exotic location.

  1. Tarzan, son of English blue bloods, is abandoned in the African jungle as a baby and raised by apes. The yodelling hero makes his first appearance in Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  2. Terry Gilliam’s fantasy-adventure Time Bandits is a cult classic. A young boy accidentally joins a band of time-travelling dwarves as they journey from era to era.
  3. For his spy adventure The Charm School, Nelson DeMille takes reader to the Soviet Union and secret Russian prisoner of war camps.
  4. Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park has a theme park of cloned dinosaurs for the main setting. The author used a tropical rainforest for a backdrop in Congo.

The Last Word

I hope these five pillars of Action-Adventure help you write your story.

anthony ehlers Anthony Ehlers facilitates courses for Writers Write. He writes awesome blog posts and workbooks too.

More Posts From Anthony:

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  5. 5 Ways To Find Your Way Back To Creativity & Writing
  6. Writers Talk 10 | Creativity & Imagination
  7. 5 Famous Writers On Writing A Villain
  8. 7 Ways To Sustain Emotion When Writing A Romance Novel
  9. What Is Imagination & Why Is It Important For Fiction Writing?
  10. The Power Of Dialogue In Love Stories

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Posted on: 20th January 2022