Choreography last week, tempo this week? What is this, salsa lessons? I promise, this has everything to do with writing action!
First, we need to revisit the two essential questions from Week Four’s lesson. The answer to these questions will determine your treatment of the scene.
Is it an event that the character simply needs to pass through, to get to what lays beyond? Say they need to recover a sword but the bad guy is blocking his path to his car which he needs to escape.
It’s pretty straight forward and it’s all about getting from A to B, or providing an element necessary for the plot to progress.
Is this scene essential to character development? Is defeating the bad guy and retrieving the sword going to reveal something about the character, or help them develop a necessary attribute?
If your scene is plot driven, you’ll want to …
- include very few details
- focus on the action
- write it similarly to your action plan, like a blow-by-blow of action.
- Need very few details
- Generally fast-paced, “blow-by-blow”
Here’s an example of a plot driven scene from Magic Without Mercy by Devon Monk. Note the short, even one-word sentences. The down-to-business feel of the writing.
Men and women with black holes where their eyes should be, mouths filled with too many teeth, shifted forward, lining the street behind us. Not just one person or two. A lot. Way too many.
They were closing in on us. Fast. Too fast.
The car was just a few yards away. The demons gaining on us.
We’d never make it to the car before they swarmed over us.
Shit, shit, shit. My gun wouldn’t stop them. My knife wouldn’t cut them. The only thing that worked on demons was magic. And I didn’t have any.
About fifty yards from the car, Mike stopped. He growled, head down, fangs bared. He wasn’t running. Wasn’t flying. He just stood in the middle of the street, growling at the demons.
“Mike!” I called. “Run. Get in the damn car!”
But Mike did not move.
The demons shot past me. I smelled the rotted-meat stink of them. Their fingers scraped and slapped as they crashed in a wave and streamed past me.
Aiming straight for Mike.
But what if your scene is character driven? In that case, you’ll want to …
- keep the details personal
- focus on the character
- some action may be missed, or purposely dismissed, in favor of internal thought.
Check out this example from Hell Bent by Devon Monk:
It blasted through the room like a sonic wave. Threw me off my feet. An entire ocean of magic pounded and roared through the room.
I couldn’t breathe. Tasted blood.
Tumbled, hit my back, shoulder, head, into something metal, felt my spine crack. Felt Terric’s pain too: arm, shoulder, neck. Could not tell where he was, or hell, where I was.
Ran out of air.
Drowning. Drowning in magic.
Then Terric was there, standing above me. A goddamn angel with alien eyes. He did something with Life magic that made my ears ring with an ungodly chorus of sound. My head spiked with pain.
And then I could breathe, I could think. I stood. A little woozy, but kept my feet. It felt like they’d aimed the entire ocean of magic at me.
Get a grip, Flynn.
I stuck my hand on Terric’s chest, drew off the Life magic burning through him until he stopped glowing and some sanity came back into his eyes.
Situation: the room was filled with a snarling maelstrom of magic that burned across the ceiling, walls, floor, picking up metal, debris and glass and spinning it through the room like a caged tornado.
I love that scene. Notice how we don’t actually see the absolute violence of the scene until the very end when Shame finally takes notice of it? Up until then, he’s worried about the people he loves, the magic inside him. It’s very personal, very character driven!
General Notes on Tempo, Regardless of Plot or Character Driven
- Vary the speed; take the time to describe one move in detail, while another is described with one word
- Vary long sentences with short.
- Use one-word paragraphs.
- Consider your reader–even readers who love action will get bored if the fighting goes on and on
Next up: POW #6: Write Wisely!