May 19, 2011

Writing Action Without Getting Dizzy

I've been posting about some of the valuable classes I took at Storymakers Writers Conference in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago. Has it already been a few weeks? And as I've said before, I was able to choose classes that applied to my needs and where I am on the road to publishing.

One of my projects is a very long historical/speculative/romance thingy called REMNANT. Half way through the book there is an important battle scene, experienced through five (or six?) different POV. As I wrote it, it jumped from character to character, and, unfortunately, back and forth in time. As a POV switched, I'd often back up time, and the events we'd just read about through someone else's eyes repeated through a new character. As much as this worked in my head as I was writing it, it did NOT translate well for my readers. In my revision of the book, I have stopped at this point because it was such a large undertaking, and, well, I had an idea for a new book. And then another new book.

BUT . . . it was still on my mind, as REMNANT will probably be my next submission to my publisher. And just a note: For the first time since late 2008, I DO NOT have a book on submission. It feels REALLY WEIRD. Something is nagging at me to take care of that soon.

This is why I took Traci Hunter Abramson's class on WRITING ACTION. Traci is ex-CIA and writes action/suspense novels based around the CIA, Navy Seals, the Pentagon, international intrigue, espionage, romance, and all that good stuff. I'm a fan. And, Traci and I have a few things in common: we share the same editor, Samantha VanWalraven at Covenant, and we both write LDS fiction and live outside of Utah. When it comes time for book signings or tours, I'll be asking her advice. She's one of those people you can just pick up where you left off, even when it's been months between meetings. She rocks.

One of the most important things I took away from Traci's class, is that when writing an action scene, focus the action where you want your reader's attention to be. Everything and everyone is in motion, but where do you want your reader's eye?

Here is a quick breakdown of how we make that happen.
  • Use visual words (whirl, flash, strike, crept, sprinted)
  • Use short sentences, create short paragraphs. Move the reader's eye down the page.
  • Consider which character has the most to lose. DON'T USE TOO MANY CHARACTERS. Oops.
  • Use at least three senses.
  • Weave emotion.
  • Minimal description. BALANCE.
  • What does the reader or the character care most about? (HINT: it's not the eye color of the person they're dodging bullets with)
Two things Traci said that I absolutely loved and agree with:
  1. Visualize your novel like a movie. YES. How many times have I said this? Huh? MANY TIMES.
  2. Don't write about the character. BE the character.
These are two of my favorite loves in the writing process. These are what I look forward to when I sit down and open my doc. I really think I can tackle that battle scene now. I DO NOT enjoy making my readers dizzy.

Any thoughts on writing action? I'd love to hear your ideas.


Anonymous said...

This is fantastic advice! Thank you so much for sharing this. *dashes to computer, rips open the file, and slams new words down for the whole world to see. Someday...* :)

Good luck in rewriting your scene! Can't wait. LOVE the title!

Stephanie Black said...

I wish I'd taken Traci's class! Thanks so much for reposting some of the highlights. I met Traci for the first time at Storymakers, and she is AWESOME!

Shanda said...

I took both of Traci's classes and loved them. Thanks for the recap. Traci is a talented author. So are you. Thanks again for your help finishing up our Whitney presentation.

One of the highlights of Storymakers11 was hanging out with Traci in my hotel room until well after midnight, talking about writing and cool CIA stuff. Well, the stuff she COULD talk about, anyway. :)


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