Oddly, there is very little out on the internet under “writing chase scenes” and “mental” or “emotional”. So I had to figure all this out the hard way… studying lots and lots of chase scenes. Hopefully this series of posts will make things a little easier for future learners.
The mental world is where most of the tension an suspense is found – because even a chase scene is about the character more than it is about the action. The chase takes on importance to the reader only through the character because it is experienced through the character’s point of view. The chase scene needs to be a very emotional experience for both the character and the writer. This means letting the reader into the view point character’s inner world.
World: The mental world is full of the character’s reactions, evaluations, frustrations, and goals. These can be explicitly stated through thought, shown through action, or implied. If you choose to imply something (especially if you are new to this technique or the scene has failed a beta read), run the sequence by a test reader to make sure they intuit what you mean to imply.
Limits: The character should have inner limits. This can be set patterns of thought that make it difficult for her to execute a successful pursuit or escape. Or maybe she assumes something about the opponent(s) that is not true. Or she has never learned to travel by rooftop or hide her tracks. All of this limits what she considers as possibilities – until you force her into a situation where she must do one of those things she has never considered (in which case her ignorance, etc. becomes an obstacle.)
Obstacles: Inner obstacles must be overcome. Inner limits become inner obstacles only when the character must overcome them. Not all limits are obstacles but it is a sure way to raise the stakes! Suppose she not only does not know how to travel by roof-top (and it would never occur to her as a way to travel) but she is afraid of heights. Then make it the only way she can escape (or the person she must catch goes for the roofs). Limits + situation = inner obstacles.
Action: The mental element should be in constant flux. Certainty gives way to bafflement. Complacency gives way to fear. Over, over, and over. Faster and faster. And as the scene progresses, her perceptions turn darker, more fearful, more disoriented. And more reactive as the pressures build from the inside and the outside. How your character reacts show very clearly where she is in her character arc (if you have one).