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.

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait to read some of those actions scenes, Peg! It's true, so much of writing is an illusion, created by us so that the reader gets one effect we can never experience. Do you sometimes wish you could read your book as a reader would?