Writing Action

action.jpgWriting action has always been my favourite part of working on a manuscript. It’s those scenes in between (before and after the climax, gasp!) that I abhor – and probably would still have to work on.

So let me admit my guilt here: I use my action scenes as a way to tempt me into completing the ‘boring parts’. Ironic, then, that the boring parts are more important – characters come to life there, and if any emotional connection is to be made it’ll have to be made over the course of the first few chapters.

But action is easy. It is direct, fast, fun and hard hitting. I enjoy watching my friends reading action I’d written: their pupils dilate, and their body posture changes perceptively.

Let’s start with a snippet from the climax of Silence Of The Lambs:

Catherine Martin was keening again.

Wait here? Wait forever? Maybe he’s gone. He can’t be sure no backup’s coming. Yes he can. But soon I’ll be missed. Tonight. The stairs are in the direction of the screams. Solve it now.

She moved, quietly, her shoulder barely brushing the wall, brushing it too lightly for sound, one hand extended ahead, the gun at waist level, close to her in the confined hallway. Out into the workroom now. Feel the space opening up. Open room. In the crouch in the open room, arms out, both hands on the gun. You know exactly where the gun is, it’s just below eye level. Stop, listen. Head and body and arms turning together like a turret. Stop, listen.

So what can we take from this?

Thomas Harris makes good use of the short sentence – it captures the heat and confusion of the situation Clarice Starling is in, and it conveys strong panic. It hooks you, keeps you reading; the type of writing that brings you to the edge of your seat.

What else does Harris use? Look at the way he repeats stop, listen. It’s done tastefully, in a way that resembles gasping or panting – very human responses to a high tension environment. He also incorporates Starling’s thoughts into the narrative – the 2nd paragraph is basically a monologue that segues into action, and is far less intrusive then a “Is he still here?” she thought, breathing heavily kind of description.

Blooks cannot afford much dreamy prose – something has to happen to slice the monotony of the narrative. Anything to get the reader’s attention – and action is one of them.

Want emotional connection or character development in your blook? How about wrapping your action around that? So the boring parts won’t be so boring, and the exciting parts are almost everywhere.

And by segueing the two together – gosh, what a ride that’ll be!

Possibly Related Posts:

Category: Learning To Write
  • http://www.ohouse.ca Gloria Hildebrandt

    When I was writing Stonyfields, I found that I had to draft each scene about three times: once for the action, once for Katherine’s inner emotional world and once for description of the physical world, which either mirrored or contrasted what was happening or not happening in the scene. No wonder writing a novel is such long, hard work!

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Wow. You did all that? And here I was thinking I had issues with my addiction to writing action.

    ;-)

  • http://mortalghost.blogspot.com Lee

    I disagree entirely about ‘dreamy prose’ – if it’s well written. There are too many different types of reader.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    We can agree to disagree, then. I still stand by it, though – email can be a very tough opponent to beat.