Saturday, September 19, 2015

Writing Action Scenes

Grizzlies play fight, San Francisco Zoo
n an action scene, one in which the emotions are high and the reader is on the edge of the seat, the mood is tense, the writing tight. Use all the senses, the coppery taste of blood, the cold sting of the rain, the smell of old fish. Limit the number of adjectives (descriptive words). Cut any that aren’t absolutely necessary. Find strong verbs and let them do the work. Avoid adverbs ( –ly words).

The pacing in an action scene is fast. There’s no room for background or description, which will slow the action. Save these things for slower scenes and when you want to give the reader a little time to catch her breath.

In action, every word must count. Vary the length of your sentences, using short, terse statements and fragments mixed with longer sentences. Keep paragraphs short. Eliminate “and” as much as possible. Don’t use words that dilute the meaning, such as “almost,” “seemed,” and “nearly.” Make it hard and fast; give it some punch.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Oh, those flying body parts!

Have you ever heard the term “flying body parts”? Flying body parts occur when the parts act independently of the person.

Most of us are guilty of occasionally writing them into our work. They do slip in, especially with eyes. Her eyes swept the room. We all know what that means, but such statements conjure up bizarre pictures and can take the reader right out of the story. Do you see the eyes floating around, controlling the broom? Magic of an unintended kind!

If the person (as opposed to the body part) performs the action, the logic doesn’t jar the reader so much. If body parts, usually hands, feet, or eyes, perform the action, they can create a weird image of the part acting independently of the person. They’re often called flying body parts. 

Her eyes flew upward to the crows. Better: She glanced upward at the crows.

His foot kicked the ball. Better: He kicked the ball.

Her hand reached for his. Better: She reached for his hand.

Even though readers know what the sentence means, these images can yank them out of the story. Read those body part lines carefully to see if they convey the correct image.

Sometimes, even when the person performs the action, the verb doesn’t work. She shot her eyes at him. It makes the reader wonder how, with a sling shot? She tossed her hand in the air, dismissing him. She can toss her hair but not her hand, or she could wave her hand.

Have you ever been guilty? Have any good examples to share?