Writing Tip — How to Write an Action Scene

the-vikings-2637102_1280Although I have some action in my book, those scenes tend to be short, so I am no expert on writing a sustained action sequence. This article has seven great points on how to write an action scene.

One thing I am going to check in my action scenes is to to make sure I don’t have my character thinking “lofty thoughts” in the middle of the action, as Ms. Griep points out in her fourth piece of advice “Instinct Over Intellect”.

I have always thought writers should use short sentences when writing an action scene, but I also think the paragraphs should be short. One to two lines per paragraph convey speed to me, the literary equivalent of rapid-cut editing in movies.

When I am reading and realize the action is ratcheting up but the next few pages consist of chunky paragraphs, I think the form works against the action.

So what do you think? Should a writer use short paragraphs as well as short sentences when writing an action scene?

Writing Tip — Locations Must Be Put to Work

isolation-2420514_1280For  an interesting opinion on world-building, check out this post “Why World Building Comes First” on Gabrielle Massman’s site “Write for the King”.

Her post emphasizes how world-building in speculative fiction affects character development. As I stated in my comment, I believe all authors engage in some kind of world-building to draw readers into a setting they are not familiar with.

This reminded me of a rule, attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, which I found in Halliwell’s Harvest“the location must be put to work”.

Hitchcock is remembered for his wonderful use of locations to enhance his plots. A man is dropped off by a lonely cornfield and is attacked by someone flying a crop-dusting plane in North By Northwest. Not a truck or car or motorcycle. Since the hero is in a cornfield, Hitchcock uses a plane. Because Foreign Correspondent has a scene in Holland, Hitchcock has to work in a windmill in which the hero gets his sleeve, almost his arm, crushed in the grinding gears of the mill.

I am reading A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard. The main character is an FBI agent who specializes in art theft and works out of St. Louis. The author uses a lot of place names to ground her story in St. Louis. I don’t know the city, but I have a cousin who lives there, and I’m sure if I check, those names will be true.

Whatever you location, make it work for your story. If you pick a city that’s been used a lot, like New York or London, try to find some quality that other writers might not have taken advantage of. Jeff Rice wrote the book for the TV movie The Night Stalker about a vampire prowling through Las Vegas. Mr. Rice had lived in Las Vegas and said a significant part of the population lived and worked at night. A vampire would go unnoticed.

If your story is not coming together as you like, maybe it’s the location. Try several different ones and see if  a change gets the story back on track.

How do you make your location work for you?


West Virginia Wednesdays — Cathedral State Park

IMG_8718An hour north and west of Blackwater Falls State Park is Cathedral State Park. It is small by state park standards, only 133 acres, but it offers unique sights in West Virginia. It contains, as the official website reports, “the only stand of virgin hemlock” in the state. Some of those trees are around 500 years old.

IMG_8740My family spent about an hour walking the trails. I say “walking” because the park is relatively flat for West Virginia, so we didn’t feel we were hiking at all. The park has six miles of walking trails, and I think we could have covered them all in two to three hours, including stops for taking photos. There are picnic tables, so you could bring a meal and stay the afternoon.

The park was muddy, so keep that in mind when selecting footwear. My kids were very excited to find trees so wide that, even holding hands, they couldn’t reach around the entire trunk.

Because of the name, we expected to find soaring trees. We were surprised to find a wide variety of mushrooms. I have never seen so many different kinds in one area. I don’t know if it was the wet conditions or the time of year, August, which produced them, but my kids had fun looking for them. My favorite is this lavender one. I had never seen a lavender mushroom before.

IMG_8694Cathedral State Park is a great park for anyone who loves the nature of the Appalachia mountains, but it is especially suitable for anyone who can’t do strenuous hiking. The paths are dirt and can be uneven, but there are no difficult slopes.

If you are in the area of Aurora, West Virginia, on Rt. 50, stop at Cathedral State Park and explore. Maybe you will find a hot pink mushroom.

Writing Tip — Favorite Author — Lessons from Melville Davisson Post

new-river-gorge-1286064What I learned from reading the Uncle Abner mysteries by Melville Davisson Post is how the setting establishes the mood of the story. Mr. Post’s description of the weather and Appalachian mountains in West Virginia pulls me into the story so completely that I experience the setting with the narrator Martin, Abner’s nephew.

From “The House of the Dead Man“: “It was a morning out of Paradise. crisp and bright. The spiderwebs glistened on the fence rails. The timber cracked. The ragweed was dusted with silver. The sun was moving upward from behind the world. I could have whistled out of sheer joy in being alive on this October morning and the horse under me danced.”

From “A Twilight Adventure”: “There is a long twilight in these hills. The sun departs, but the day remains. A sort of weird, dim, elfin day, that dawns at sunset and envelops and possesses the world.”

From “The Riddle“: “That deadly stillness of the day remained, but the snow was now beginning to appear. It fell like no other snow that I have ever seen — not a gust of speck or a shower of tiny flakes, but now and then, out of the dirty putty-colored sky, a flake as big as a man’s thumb-nail winged dow and lighted on the earth like some living creature.”

In each case, describing the weather sets the mood. Martin’s exaltation of the October morning reveals his mood, just as his description of the snow shows his unease. I really like the words chosen to describe the snow because in current times, when people see snow, they get excited or grumble, but they usually don’t dread it.

post_abner_des_cov_cmykTwilight is the perfect setting for “A Twilight Adventure” and not just because of the title. Abner and Martin come across a lynching party. The men responsible think they have the culprits, but just like the twilight can make objects appear different from what they look like in full daylight, Abner shows that the evidence the men believe is conclusive actually has several interpretations.

In my novel, when I wanted a peaceful scene, I chose a summer evening bathed in golden light. Mellow light for a mellow mood. For a tense scene, I can write about the stillness before a storm.

Or I can use the weather to contradict the action or the characters. In “The House of the Dead Man”, the glorious fall morning is the back drop for a confrontation in a cemetery. I can write about a storm, but instead of describing it in terms of fear, I write about kids playing in it.

Is weather important to your style of writing? How do you use it to set the mood of your story?



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