Writing Action

Published January 20, 2014 by Elsa Pla

I finished and self-published my third ebook, Holding Hands, which consists of two YA short stories. The first story, “Phone Call,” has a couple of violent scenes that I found difficult to write. So I did a bit of internet research and found the following three sites on writing action:

1- http://www.elfwood.com/farp/thewriting/dra2action/dra2action.html (I like the way this fantasy writer demonstrates the revision process.)

2- http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/12-tips-for-writing-action-scenes/(Great site and great tips! I’m going to add her to my blogroll.)

Here are Kathy’s 12 tips. Visit her blog for an explanation of each tip.

1.  Make sure the stakes justify the action.

2.  Plan for the action scenes well in advance.

3.  Speed up the pace. 

4.  Keep dialogue to a minimum. 

5.  In action scenes verbs are the most important words. Make sure they are full of energy and focus. 

6.  No long scene descriptions when the action starts.

7.  Set up the action in an environment where the place can add to the excitement of the scene.

8.   Make sure your action scene furthers the story. 

9.  If you are not prepared to show blood, then don’t cut off an arm or a leg. 

10.  Use the “ticking time bomb” technique (create a deadline that will devastate the hero).

11.  Write suspense sequences that require an action scene to be resolved. 

12.  Read books with action scenes. 

3- http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2012/11/writing-tense-action-scenes.html#.Ut1KHa6hw-V (Another great site with helpful tips.)

Here are Jodie’s 12 tips. Visit the blog for an explanation of each tip and for awesome examples.

1- Show, don’t tell.

2- Use deep point of view.

3- Avoid info dumps.

4- Evoke the senses.

5- Amp up the imagery.

6- Show inner reactions.

7- Use tight, staccato thinking.

8- Describe physical actions succinctly, for fast pacing and high tension.

9- Show other characters’ threats and reactions.

10- Use rapid-fire dialogue.

11- Write tight.

12- Use short sentences and paragraphs.

My process: First I write the scene as if I were watching one of those slow-motion martial arts movie scenes: with as much sensory detail and figurative language as possible. That way I can really visualize and experience the scene in my mind. Then I tighten and revise the writing by deleting unnecessary descriptions and making better language and sentence-construction choices. Finally, I read the scene aloud to myself and to my reader (every writer should have a trusty reader they can depend on to give them no-nonsense feedback) and tighten it/revise it even further.

So here’s my scene:

After ten impossibly long minutes, they arrived at the Rogers’ home. The house was dark and silent.

“Stay in the truck while I investigate,” the sheriff said. “That’s an order. Back-up will be here shortly.”

“Be careful, Dad.” Josh’s heart beat furiously.

Josh’s father climbed out of the truck. He took out his gun and carefully approached the front door.

Suddenly a huge figure stepped out from behind a hedge of bushes. Before the sheriff had a chance to turn around, the figure hit him on the side of the head with a baseball bat. The gun dropped from the sheriff’s hand as he fell forward. The assailant dropped the bat, lunged for the gun, and almost toppled over. He was clearly intoxicated.

Josh had no choice but to disobey his father. He jumped from the truck and ran toward the drunk man. He moved fast, but not fast enough. They both grabbed the gun at the same time and stood face to face, each holding one end of the weapon. Fortunately, Josh had his hand on the handle of the pistol. With his other hand he quickly covered the trigger.

“Give me the gun, Mr. Rogers,” Josh said. He tried to sound calm and in control, but his nervous breathing betrayed him. He was worried about his unconscious father.

“You know me, boy?” Mr. Rogers asked. His speech was slurred and he wobbled from side to side. He was tall and wide.

“I know your family.” That was the wrong thing to say.

“Shut your stupid mouth!” Mr. Rogers yelled. “I don’t have a family!” The effort from the yelling coupled with the effect of the alcohol made him lose his balance, and he toppled forward. Josh couldn’t hold the gun and support the man at the same time. The man’s weight made him fall backward. Mr. Rogers, still clutching the barrel of the gun, fell on top of him.

Josh could hardly breathe from the impact and the weight of the big man. Still, he recognized the smell that enveloped him. Alcohol and sweat. As he struggled to breathe and free himself from the massive body that crushed him, Josh realized he no longer held the gun.

Mr. Rogers rose on his hands and knees and sat on Josh before Josh had a chance to slide away. Josh kept struggling to get out from under the drunk man, but to no avail. He froze when he saw that Mr. Rogers was now holding the gun and was pointing it at his face.

“Stupid, stupid boy!”

Josh braced himself for the worst.

After studying the action tips and reading my scene again, I realize it could use another revision. I will continue to work on this skill (writing action). In writing–as in every craft–perfect practice makes perfect. However, there are no rules, only goals. The main goal is for the end product to do what the author set out to accomplish. Each writer has his/her own artistic vision and writing style. 🙂

Holding Hands by Elsa Pla



Self-Publishing with Amazon KDP

Published September 28, 2013 by Elsa Pla

ghost girl

Hello, fellow writers!

I’ve been busy revising, editing, and formatting my short story “Ghost Girl: The Story of Jamie Jones” and self-publishing it as an ebook through Amazon KDP. I thought it would be a good idea to share my process and the resources that helped me along the way. Please note that I’m not a techie person, so I had to search for the easiest–not necessarily the fastest–way to do this. Yes, it was a trial-and-error, time-consuming endeavor, but it wasn’t impossible, and if I could to do it, then so can anyone else.

So here’s how I did it:

1- I revised and revised my story and–with the help of my editor (you really should have one)–created the best possible final copy.

2- I copyrighted my work ($35 online). (This was a personal choice.)

3- I downloaded and studied the following two guides:

a) Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing


b) Building Your Book for Kindle


4- I used the following two internet sources to help me create a cover:

a) http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/02/4-incredible-free-sources-for-photos-to-use-in-your-book-or-blog/ (I found a great public domain photo for my story in Wikimedia Commons.)

b) http://www.williamking.me/2012/02/22/create-your-own-ebook-cover-step-by-step-with-pictures/ (The dimensions suggested by Mr. King [6 x 8] no longer work [KDP image requirements have changed], but, other than that, the instructions for creating a cover using powerpoint and then saving the image as a jpeg are clear, simple, and very helpful. KDP’s new image requirements are: a height/width ratio of 1.6 [divide the longest side by the shortest side], minimum dimensions of 625 by 1000 pixels, and preferred dimensions of 1563 by 2500 pixels. What I did was play around with the dimensions in powerpoint [page setup] until I found the ratio in inches that most closely transferred to 1563 by 2500 pixels in jpeg.)

4- I used the following source to write my copyright notice and legal disclaimers:


5- I followed the instructions in Building Your Book for Kindle (see step 3) to format my ebook and get it ready for publishing. (This step took a long time!)

6- I joined Amazon KDP and followed their step-by-step self-publishing instructions.


7- Success! (With many trial-and-error stressful moments along the way.)

I plan to dedicate more time to my poems and stories, which means I’ll be blogging less. My goal is to add a post to each of my blogs (I’ve got four!) at least once a month.

“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.” (she, in my case) –Roald Dahl

Blogs and More

Published August 4, 2013 by Elsa Pla


Check out this photo: A Passion for Words

A few writing blogs you may find useful or inspiring:






And this jewel:


“As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says ‘you are nothing,’ I will be a writer.” Hunter S. Thompson

“To Write is to Take Some Words for a Walk”

Published July 20, 2013 by Elsa Pla

Neighborhood Walk

I just finished reading My Name Is Mina, the prequel to Skellig, by David Almond, one of my favorite children’s writers. The book is an intimate portrait of Mina, a creative and philosophical girl who loves to observe nature, reflect, and write. The story reads like a journal and is sprinkled with interesting exercises made up by Mina, which she calls “Extraordinary Activities.” Here are the ones that have to do with writing:

1- Write a story about yourself as if you’re writing about somebody else.

2- Write a story about somebody else as if you’re writing about yourself.

3- Write a poem that repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word until it almost loses its meaning. (It can be useful to choose a word you don’t like, or that scares or disturbs you.)

4- Joyous version: Write a page of words for joy. Sad version: Write a page of words for sadness.

5- Write a page of utter nonsense. This will produce some very fine new words. It could also lead to some very sensible results.

6- Write a sentence that fills a whole page. Write a single word at the center of a page.

7- Take some words for a walk. Find out what you’re writing when you’ve written it.

And here are two excerpts — extraordinary as well — from the book:

First excerpt:

I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?

Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.

Sometimes there should be no words at all.

Just silence.

Just clean white space.

Some pages will be like a sky with a single bird in it. Some will be like a sky with a swirling swarm of starlings in it. My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic. They will be a circus, a menagerie, a tree, a nest. Because my mind is not in order. My mind is not straight lines. My mind is a clutter and a mess. It is my mind, but it is also very like other minds. And like all minds, like every mind that there has ever been and every mind that there will be, it is a place of wonder.

Second excerpt:

“So let’s walk,” she [Mina’s mother] says, “and think about a theory about walks by Paul Klee.”

“Who’s he?”

“One of the great artists of the twentieth century. He said that drawing was taking a line for a walk.”

I thought about that, about the way a pencil point moves as you draw.

“So if drawing is like walking,” I say, “then walking is like drawing.”

“Yes, and if you think of it like that, it allows you to wander and to roam and to explore.”


“Maybe writing’s like walking as well,” I say. “You set off writing like you set off walking and you don’t really need to know where you’re going till you get there, and you don’t know what you’ll pass along the way.”

She smiles.

“So writing’s like taking some words for a walk,” she says.

“It is.”

Wonderful reflections, right? My Name Is Mina is a great little novel for creative minds of all ages, and especially for writers. Reading it will bring you joy and spark your creativity. I found it delightfully inspiring.


A Push

Published July 9, 2013 by Elsa Pla

The Salty Sea

I took a leap of faith and self-published my second collection of poems in eBook format. It’s available through the Amazon Kindle store.

Today I’m posting 20 quotes.  (Because we all need a push sometimes.)

1- “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” — Neil Gaiman

2- “You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you. Go work with it.” –from workisnotajob.com

3- “Guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.” –J.K. Rowling

4- “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” –Roald Dahl.

5- “When asked ‘how do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time.'” –Stephen King

6- “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, so long as you don’t stop.” –Confucius

7- “Why worry? If you’ve done the very best you can, worrying won’t make it any better.” –Walt Disney

8- “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking down your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” –Mark Twain

9- “We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the art of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul.” –Julia Cameron

10- “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” –Kurt Vonnegut

11- “Dance above the surface of the world. Let your thoughts lift you into creativity that is not hampered by opinion.” –Red Haircrow

12- “Why do I write for children? There is one good reason. I would hope to encourage some part of one generation at least to use their minds as minds are supposed to be used.” –Diana Wynne Jones

13- “I became a children’s book writer because it was the most subversive thing I could think to do.” –Bruce Coville

14- “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” –Stephen King

15- “Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” — C.S. Lewis

16- “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” –Ray Bradbury

17- “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –C.S. Lewis

18- “Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.” –H. Jackson Brown Jr.

19- “Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” –Margaret Shepard

20- “You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone.” –Louisa May Alcott

Now let’s go write.

It’s All Good.

Published June 25, 2013 by Elsa Pla
Lovely Old Church in UCD - Auraria Campus

Lovely Old Church in UCD – Auraria Campus

I recently attended a workshop offered by the Denver Writing Project on submitting your work to literary journals. I enjoyed the discussion and appreciated the helpful handouts. One interesting thing we did was make a list of good and bad reasons for wanting to get published. Here it is — I added three more good reasons:

Good Reasons:

To help others

For validation

For credibility

To be revolutionary or subversive

To be part of the “larger conversation”

To know that you are not alone and let others know they’re not alone

To give something of yourself — something of value — to the world

For the joy of seeing your work become the thing you love: a book

Bad Reasons:

To get rich

For fame and universal love

To please someone else

Food for thought, yes?

The one gold nugget I took from the workshop:

It’s quite pointless to submit to the slush pile — the goal should be to bypass it. How? By seizing opportunities to meet editors and publishers (attending conferences, etc.), by participating in writing contests, and by submitting your work to journals and publishing houses that are just starting out.

I plan to continue to try to bypass the slush pile, but I also plan to continue to self-publish online. Life is too short to do otherwise. I wish to create art and share it with the world; to be part of the “larger conversation;” to connect with like-minded/like-hearted human beings. I’ll just keep doing it any way I can. It’s about doing what I love, so it’s all good.

“Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing… the rest will follow.”  Jane Yolen

Simple, beautiful, and profound

Published June 18, 2013 by Elsa Pla


I’ve been doing close readings of Herman Hesse’s poems and Sonya Hartnett’s The Ghost’s Child.

I love Herman Hesse’s work and admire him as an artist and human being. I identify with his search for knowledge and transcendence, his personal struggles, his independent spirit, and his aesthetic philosophy:

“For Hesse, art — the ultimate self-fulfillment — meant connecting with a profound, essential feeling associated with “home.” But this home was not the home of his parents. Home was something intangible that was linked to aesthetic intuition and nurturing maternalism but was unique to each individual. It was both a return and a moving forward at the same time, and it could be attained only through art, through the artful formation of the self.” –Jack Zipes from “Herman Hesse’s Fairy Tales and the Pursuit of Home”

The collection of poems I’ve been studying deal with the theme of homesickness (the longing for that personal, intangible, beautiful place [often associated with childhood] where we can feel we are truly ourselves). I love the simplicity of Hesse’s poems — they match the way I’d like my work to be: simple,  beautiful, and profound.

Here’s one of his poems:


My farthest valley, you are,

Bewitched and vanished.

Many times, in my grief and agony,

You have beckoned upward to me from your country of shadows

And opened your legendary eyes

Till I, lost in a quick illusion,

Lost myself to you wholly.

O dark gate,

O dark hour of death,

Come forth,

So I can recover from this life’s emptiness

And go home to my own dreams.

Sonya Hartnett’s writing is often dark and heartbreaking, but also exultantly poetic. The premise of The Ghost’s Child is simple: An old woman entertains an unexpected young visitor, narrates her life story, and dies. The narrative, however, is lush and poignant, at times fantastical and surreal, and hauntingly symbolic and profound. And Hartnett’s use of literary devices (especially imagery and figurative language) is mesmerizing.

Notice the use of imagery and the characterization (what the characters think, do, and say) in the following excerpt:

It happened on a day like most others. She hadn’t known Feather for very long, although it seemed a long time, and she wished it was. Maddy had stepped onto the beach unseen, as she had done many times before. Feather was sitting on the sand and considering the clouds, as she’d seen him do so often. Apart from his hair jinking on the breeze, he sat as still as stone. The ocean itself, with its succession of waves, seemed more likely to stand up and walk than did he. Maddy paused in the shadows, not wanting to disturb him — longing, at  the same time, to run to him, fall against him, hold his wrists very tightly, bite her fingernails into him. A fleck appeared in the blue distance, catching her eye; as it drew near, the fleck became a petrel. Maddy watched the bird come closer and closer until finally it swooped steeply to the ground and skipped across the sand to Feather. In its beak it held a wan sardine. Feather thanked the bird, took the fish between his fingers, and swallowed the sardine in a gulp.

Maddy gasped. She knew then that she would certainly die without him. Hearing her, Feather looked around. He was not always a gentleman, so he didn’t stand. His gray eyes squinted, he shaded them with a hand, and when he saw her he smiled. “Hello,” he said. “I was hoping you would come.”

She crossed the sand and knelt beside him. “Have you missed me?”

“Yes,” he admitted, “but not much.”

And here are a few examples of her creative use of figurative language:

“She was like a piece of glass that has been tossed in water for a long time: mysterious but simple, without sharp edges, and not as fragile as it looks.”

“Maddy saw that people were pleased to receive Papa’s attention — pleased, and also alarmed, like children noticed by a nun.”

“Mama seemed to teeter forever on the crumbly threshold of fury.”

But what I like most about Hartnett’s writing are the same things I like most about Hesse’s and my other mentors’ work: its simplicity, beauty, and profoundness. I’m making those my three guiding lights.

I end today’s post with the ending of The Ghost’s Child:

Matilda turned to the boy, who stood by the door. “Is it peaceful, where we are going?”

She held her breath waiting for his answer.

The boy said, “Only if you want it to be.”

Beyond the door, very oddly, was an emerald ocean and a blue sky. A wooden boat bobbed on the water, and Matilda and the boy stepped into it. Matilda looked back to  the little dog who lingered behind, uncertain if he had been invited. “Come on, Peake,” she said, and he ran to her, springing into the boat. The boy hauled up the anchor and Matilda hoisted the sails; the slim boat caught the billowing breeze, jumped the ripples of frothy green waves, and was away.