writing tips

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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