Saturday, February 27, 2010

Writing Action Scenes

The way I read an action scene is not the way I should write an action scene.

I tend to hurdle through the scene, hitting the top notes and every other chord. The intensity and speed of the thing compels me to read wildly fast—as if I have to keep up.

I miss the subtleties. The lower notes. The smells.

If you read action scenes like I do, I encourage you to go back later and read them s-l-o-w. Taste what the author has folded into the words to make each one count. To make you feel and hear and smell the action.

Don't forget the anticipation that is often just before an action scene. Dean Koontz is one of the best at this. If you haven't read him, pick up one of his books and experience a master.

For the build-up, I could write:

"Abby walked down to the end of the dark street."

I mean, that's what happened. Right? And we know it's whatever happens at the end of the street that matters most in this scene.

But what if I add an empty sack from a fast food restaurant skittering on the pavement? Clouds obscuring the moon and a distant roll of thunder. Palm fronds flapping. She smelled the rain on its way, layering over the cooking smells slipping out from the closely stacked frame and shingle houses that lined the street. The slap, slap of her shoes as they hit the ground. Goosebumps appearing on her exposed arms. Details heighten the mood. The anxiety. The terror.

And details will help to slow the action down—make the scene memorable—when she gets to the end of the street and meets who, or what, is waiting for her.

CR: The Siege by Stephen White.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Connecting Markers

I had an aha! moment while beginning the read-through of my manuscript the other day. It began with me basically hating the thing and not being able to pinpoint why. If I was a reader, it would be a DNF (did not finish) and I wouldn't waste my time. A year ago, I would've stuck the entire thing in the drawer with the others and started a new one from scratch.

But I'm supposed to be someone approaching professional writer status. I needed to try and figure out the immediate problem (I'm sure there are others) and see if I could fix it.

Here's what I learned:

I tend to write in short scenes. To me, that moves the action and the story along.

As I began my read-through, none of the scenes had any connecting markers (my term—I'm sure there's something smarter) so they just looked like chunks of this and that piled on top of one another. A reader would give up before they could figure out what the scenes meant to each other—more importantly, what the characters meant to each other.

So, along with my fixing the stupid sentences, and deleting the inane ones, I'm adding bits that will connect the first scene to the second and vise-versa and hopefully on and on. Just a little. But my total word count has gone from 74,600 to 74,782. And I'm just beginning chapter two.

What do I mean by connecting marker?

Not to be confused with a segue between scenes, a connecting marker is a bit of information that relates the scenes in some manner.

My first scene opens with my male protagonist, Chase Waters, doing some extreme climbing on the side of a cliff in Colorado. The next scene is Chase's daughter being stalked, then in the next scene the female protag, Bond Waters, is called out on an EMT run, then . . . well, you get the idea. Pop, pop, pop. But when you read them there is next to no connecting tissue. No marker that helps a reader draw any kind of line.

So, what I did was have Chase think about his bookstore briefly during his climb. In the next scene, his daughter realizes her dad's bookstore is too far away to provide safe haven. Suddenly I have a connecting marker for the reader. Get the idea?

Writing these scenes separately, over and over, didn't provide the continuity (or lack thereof) the read-through is providing.

What have you discovered doing read-throughs?

CR: The Seige by Stephen White.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Unfit Writer

I began the read-through of my manuscript this morning.

After I did umpteen-zillion other little things to avoid beginning the read-through of my manuscript this morning.

Get my angst?

I'm marking it up from the very first page and I can't decide if that's bad or good.

It seems like a read-through ought to be the last little thing you do on your list. That final checkmark that says you've reviewed all systems and everything's a go. The almost unnecessary step to appease the insurance company and the lawyers, and assure the passengers that there's very little chance the plane will crash.

OMG. My plane is gonna crash.

CR: The Seige by Stephen White.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Importance of Research

Along with being in the throes of a terrible cold, I'm in the throes of researching my next story. I began with resource material I had in my bookcase: I found bits of information in Forensics for Dummies and Forensics and Fiction both by D.P.Lyle, but not nearly enough of what I needed.

Then I went to Google and online groups, looking for sources and people who might be able to help. After printing out a few articles, I ended up at Amazon, ordering No Stone Unturned—The True Story of NecroSearch International, the World's Premier Forensic Investigators by Steve Jackson, FBI Handbook of Crime Scene Forensics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Buzzards and Butterflies—Human Remains Detection Dogs by J.C. Judah. They arrived yesterday, and already they're getting hit with my highlighter and stuck with sticky notes (and probably a few germs).

These will be a great start, will probably keep me out of trouble, but I'll want to sit down and talk with people who are really involved in those worlds if I can.

Why is research important? It's fiction, right?

I'm a fiction reader who enjoys learning factual things through stories. I get downright cranky if I find out the author led me astray.

I have friends who have been known to refuse to read a really good book because the writer got something wrong in the first few pages.

My first complete manuscript (currently stewing and waiting for a read-through) has medical elements in it that needed to be right. I not only did some research on my own, I found a personal resource. Why? I assume people in the medical field also read from time to time. Assuming they might be a part of my audience, I owe it to them to take the time to get things right.

Writers owe it to their readers to tell a good story. A good story has elements of truth. Truth isn't usually something I can make up. Bits of researched facts bring volume to my writing, not in words, but in depth. My reader is more likely to experience a different world, if they recognize that it was created with some level of expert knowledge. If they trust me.

And there's one more very important thing that Robert Liparulo brought to my attention. In Bob's opinion (and I agree with him) the major cause of writer's block is one of two things: either you don't know your characters as you should, or you didn't do your research.

So, I'll be going back to my character development and cadaver research. And crack open more cough medicine.

CR: Heat Lightning by John Sandford.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kelly Irvin's Television Interview

My good friend and and critique partner, Kelly Irvin, was recently interviewed on Fox 29 in San Antonio. You will see how amazing and together she is in this segment.

Here's how it came about:

Kelly's husband had worked at the station for more than ten years. Although he's been working somewhere else for the last two years, those connections were obviously not lost. He pitched the idea to the morning producer, and provided a press packet along with an ARC.

The intrigue (and you'll see it in the video) was how could a "Christian" novel possibly deal with murder?

It wasn't their normal choice for a segment because it wasn't visual. Even Kelly's striking good looks didn't sway them. (I think Kelly should've offered the trailer for a visual, don't you?)

Between the connections, the intriguing hook, the fact that Ms. Kelly is articulate in addition to being good looking, and a free book giveaway, the deal was struck. And who knows . . . the strong evangelical demographic in South Texas may have played a part.

If you can't have Kelly's husband (and you can't, I've already asked), you can figure out what sort of intriguing hook your novel might have to catch a producer's eye. What might surprise people?

Kelly's novel, A Deadly Wilderness, is now available. I'm bummed because I still don't have my copy. Must call the Indy I ordered it through and follow up.

CR: Heat Lightning by John Sandford. So far, it's not my favorite.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why Aren't There More?

Last night I attended a presentation by Robert Liparulo. The venue was about an hour from my home, and I rode up with a friend.

Bob's presentation (since I've actually met him, I call him Bob now *grin*), was entertaining and dealt with writing suspense and thrillers. Duh. Now you know why I made the trek.

But it was a question Leslie asked on our way home that got me thinking.

How many big-name—household-name—female suspense/thriller writers can you name? And why aren't there more?

Leslie postured that perhaps men were genetically engineered to write a better thriller.

Now, before you jump all over Leslie, she's one smart cookie, and was only trying to ferret out something that made sense. And since Leslie's background is in the medical field, well . . . her initial suggestion came from an honest place.

And during our drive home, I wasn't able to come up with anything brilliant to offer as an alternative.

But I've thought about it since and have concluded that while the reason isn't gender-based, perhaps it's gender-biased.

I admit, I have room to grow myself. For example, I had to remind myself that Memoirs of a Geisha was written by a man.

There's a reason why groups like Sisters-in-Crime came into being.

It's a question of opportunity. It's a question of awareness. It's also a question of commerce.

What do you think? Are we genetically hard-wired to be better at writing certain types of novels, or is it something else?

CR: Heat Lightning by John Sandford.

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Goal Revision

I used to smoke. Back in the day, it was cool and almost everyone smoked. My parents, my friends, co-workers . . . everyone.

Then, one day, people no longer smoked. Except me.

The first time I tried to quit, I didn't make it. Should I have given up?

Giving up on goals that are important is not smart. Continuing to try—and find a way to make them happen—is.

Here's the thing with those New Year's resolutions:

they need revision.

I had three items on my 2010 Goals page that involved a January 31st completion date. I have yet to complete those three things.

So, what can I do?

  • I can ban the written list to someplace sight unseen and pretend they really didn't matter and I'll get to them sooner or later anyway. I've done this in the past.

  • I can erase all evidence they ever existed (except some secret place on my hard drive). I've also done this in the past.

  • Or, I can get real and revise them.

Revised goals do not equate to diminished goals. I repeat: Revised goals do not equate to diminished goals.

So today, I'm reviewing my 2010 Goals and evaluating my progress. A little over one month in? Yep. I need to keep trying.

By the way, I quit smoking on Christmas Eve. 1985.

CR: Heat Lightning by John Sandford.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

OT: Haiti's Fifteen Minutes of Fame

I run the risk of having people say they've had enough of bad news. And believe me, I understand.

We aren't built to be buried with negativity. Economy, politics, wars, hidden and overt hate . . . at some point we say, "Enough!" We can handle horrific things in small doses. Beyond that, we lose our bearings. With an increased understanding of the immensity of a situation comes an increased desire to put it out of our thoughts. We can handle moments. Longer and deeper and more difficult? Not so much.

We want to help because it's our nature. But so is self-preservation.

If we can't fix it now, the responsibility weighs us down and we fear losing not only that battle, but every other battle we're facing in our own lives.

Believe me, I understand.

But Haiti's Fifteen Minutes of Fame is clearly coming to an end.

Unfortunately, its Fifteen Minutes of Pain isn't.

If you are inclined to find the strength within yourself to re-engage, check out this video. If, after watching it, you decide that it's somehow within your means to give a little more, please . . . give. If it isn't, please share the message. Someone else, because of you, might find a few extra dollars.

Fall to your knees once more and pray for the people, all of the people, of Haiti. Please don't let the fact that we aren't being bombarded with images somehow mean those images aren't bombarding someone else's eyes in a very personal way. Whether they look like you, think like you, or live like you, doesn't matter.

My husband and I have donated to Mercy and Sharing for many years. Every penny you donate to them goes directly to the people you are trying to help. They're one of many organizations who will use your money well.

If you can find a couple of extra dollars, put them to good use. If you can't, I understand. Just make an effort to keep the pain and hope of Haiti in your prayers.

Thanks for indulging me.

CR: I, Alex Cross by James Patterson

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Are You Making a List? Checking it Twice?

It takes a village to create a good book. Well, at least 87 people other than the writer (assuming I counted correctly).

That's how many people Joseph Finder specifically names in his acknowledgements section of his new book, Vanished. (Which, by the way, is a terrific read. I recommend it and look forward to more great stories featuring Nick Heller.) (And which, by the way, you may or may not be able to/want to purchase from Amazon. Yep. Joseph Finder's books were part of the collateral damage with the recent ugly battle over pricing. But I digress. Back to acknowleding people.)

He didn't just say, "The good people at _____." He named them. He took the time and trouble to show his appreciation in a much more personal way.

He also does a heck of a lot of research—which explains the compelling nature of his books. And he's a gentleman—he thanks everyone.

(And yes, I read acknowledgements. I read prologues too. I even—well, sometimes—read the whatchamacallit page that has the ISBN on it. Because I'm a writer. It's all interesting.)

Are you keeping a list? Not something in your head. I mean a real-real list.

Because I wasn't. Until now.

CR: I, Alex Cross by James Patterson. (I keep thinking I should put "Inc." after his name.)

It's all better with friends.