Since I love to hike, I chose this photo for the last prompt of the month. It also made me think of those books written about hiking the Appalachian Trail. People who take time from work and family to spend months hiking have some purpose in mind. Either to find something or get away from something. For me, hiking is a way to get away from the pressures of routine life and feel more connected to the people I hike with and to God.
So what’s the adventure? Is the woman fleeing from her past? Does her past catch up with her? (Pasts have that nasty habit in books and movies). Is she trying to discover something about herself or someone else?
Learning how to write action scenes is a technique that will serve most writers, whether you write adventures stories, scifi, or in other genres. I found this post by Michelle Griep on Inspired Promptextremely helpful. It confirmed some ideas I had already formed about writing action scenes and gave me additional guidelines to make them more effective. Ms. Griep lists seven points. I list three that I’ve found most important.
Use short sentences and paragraphs.
Ms. Griep only advises to use short sentences, but I think short paragraphs are important, too. The brevity of each device speeds readers through the scene, making it more real. Short sentences and paragraphs act like the literary equivalent of rapid-fire editing in movies.
It must have emotional impact.
I’m combining two of Ms. Griep’s points here. An action scene only works if the reader cares about the main character (MC). I’m sure we’ve all sat through a movie in which a long action scenes unfolds with many explosions, breathless escapes, and near-miss catastrophes and yawned all the way through it. Why? Because we didn’t care what happened to the MC.
One way to make readers care is to make clear the consequences of the MC’s success or failure in the scene. In my WIP, A Shadow on the Snow, my MC, nineteen-year-old Rae Riley, is being stalked by someone who hates her late mother. The harassment goes from nasty notes to breaking and entering. While walking home from work in the middle of a snowstorm, Rae is chased by a shadowy figure.
Because I’ve established who Rae is and what her problem is, the reader, hopefully, will care that Rae succeeds in eluding or beating her pursuer.
No time for reflection.
An action scene is no time for the MC to reflect on how he got in this fix or philosophize about the course his life might take. The MC has the mental capacity to act and react and that’s it. I know this from hard-won experience.
Last summer, my husband and youngest went kayaking on the river near our home. It was the highest level of water they had ever tried to kayak. As they attempted to make it back to our bank, my youngest had trouble fighting the current. While assisting our son, my husband was paddling against the current too. I was afraid both of them would tip and be swept downstream.
I had to make an instant decision and waded into the river to help my son because he needed me more. After I secured his kayak on the bank, my oldest yelled that my husband had overturned his kayak, and the river was carrying him away. I ran down the bank, fell into the river up to my neck, climbed out, and kept running with the idea I’d get ahead of my husband and wade out so he could grab me.
It turned out the river wasn’t as deep as I thought, and my husband had no trouble making it to shore. During the hair-raising few minutes this all occurred, my mind was completely occupied with quick decisions and actions. I had no time for questioning my husband’s judgement about kayaking under these conditions. Of course, once everyone was safe, I told my family that as long as I lived and until the day I died none of them would ever again kayak when the river ran that high. EVER.
Writers, what advice can you give on how to write actions scenes? Readers, what are some of the best action scenes you’ve read?
Susan Neal is an author new to JPC Allen Writes. Her books on healthy eating and yoga give a Christian perspective to living a healthy life. Her true story belowrelates how writing, one of the most solitary and sedentary arts, can lead to adventure.Welcome, Susan!
I had been teaching Christian yoga at my church for ten years. Through the years I created dozens of theme-based Bible verses to recite during my yoga classes. One of my favorites was “How to Receive God’s Peace.” I felt called by the Lord to compile those lessons into a book. I had published two Christian yoga DVDs, but I had never written a book. So I attended Christian writer conferences and joined a Word Weaver Writers Group to help prepare. I worked on the manuscript for two years before it was published in 2016.
You become an expert on the topic that you wrote about when you publish a book. Soon after Scripture Yoga was published, I spoke at the Christians Practicing Yoga Retreat in New York. I made many connections through this group during that conference. Three years later, one of the Christians Practicing Yoga Association leaders put together a trip to the French Alps to find the yoga retreat center of the person who wrote the first Christian yoga book. A priest, Father Dechanet, published Christian Yoga in 1956. It sold over 100,000 copies and was translated into seven languages.
What an adventure to jump on a plane and fly to France. I previously met all the individuals on this trip at the Christians Practicing Yoga Retreat. Seven of us met in Lyon, France and traveled by van to the little village of Valjouffrey that was nestled in the Alps. What a glorious countryside with tall green mountains, crystal clear blue skies, and winding rivers. The little village of about fifty people was like going back in time a hundred years.
A mile up the mountain from that village was the abandoned Christian yoga retreat center founded by Father Dechanet. Every morning for a week, the seven of us hiked up that mountain and began our day with a Catholic mass, yoga, and meditation. I could envision the lively retreat center in the 1970s when people from all over Europe learned Dechanet’s teaching on spirituality, health, and yoga. Dechanet understood the close link between the body, mind, and spirit. He died in 1992, but his books leave a legacy for those who follow. That is what books do.
I would’ve never guessed that writing Scripture Yoga would have led to such an international adventure. What traveling adventures have you enjoyed because of your writing?
This book assists Christian yoga instructors and students in creating a Christian atmosphere for their classes. Choose from twenty-one lessons, each is a mini Bible study that will deepen the participants’ walk with God.
Each lesson contains a Scripture theme designed to facilitate meditation on God’s Word. The Scripture verses are arranged progressively to facilitate an understanding of each Bible study topic. The Bible lessons will enhance the spiritual depth of your yoga class, and make it appropriate and desirable for Christian participants.
Check your poses with photographs of over 60 yoga postures taken on the sugar white sands of the Emerald Coast of Florida. A detailed description of each pose is provided with full page photographs so postures are easily seen and replicated.
“Scripture Yoga is a useful tool for teachers and students of Christian Yoga, written by an experienced instructor. Specific Bible verses are suggested, along with clear instructions, and beautiful photographs illustrating each pose. It is quite clear that users will discover their bodies as ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:15) under Susan Neal’s wise tutelage.”
-THE REVERAND NANCY ROTH, author of Invitation to Christian Yoga
Susan is a certified yoga instructor with over 30 years’ experience in practicing and teaching yoga. She published two yoga books, Scripture Yoga and Yoga for Beginners; plus, two sets of Scripture Yoga Card Decks, and two Christian yoga DVDs. You can find her on SusanUNeal.com. Follow her on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
What’s the adventure that could happen in a grocery store? Depends on the writer. But I wanted a prompt that would get us thinking about adventures in very ordinary settings.
Like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. North By Northwestbegins when typical business man Roger Thornhill waves over a waiter who is calling out for Mr. George Kaplan. Enemy agents think Thornhill attracted the water’s attention because he is Kaplan and the movie kicks off. … And Then She Was Gone, a TV-movie my dad enjoyed years ago, stars Robert Urich as another typical business man riding a subway. He notices a preschool girl on the train. After she gets off, he sees a missing child poster and realizes the child pictured is the preschooler he saw.
So what’s the adventure for this photo? Here’s mine.
“Mom, do you want Cheerios?” I held out the cereal box to her.
Mom was staring down the aisle of the grocery store like she’d just seen a snake slither into it. “That’s-that’s ….”
I followed her gaze. A heavily bearded man was putting Raisin Bran in his shopping cart.
“It can’t be.” Mom whispered.
Mom pushed our cart. “That man. He looks exactly like the father of a boy who committed suicide my senior year in high school.”
“That’s weird. Your hometown is a thousand miles from here. But you could run into his brother. It’s weird but not scary.”
Mom picked up the pace. “He was an only child.”
“Maybe it is the father.”
“And he hasn’t aged in thirty years? I’m pretty sure Rob’s father died shortly after Rob did. If Rob did die.”
I grabbed hold of the cart. “You said he committed suicide.”
“They found his car in the river, and he left a note in his bedroom. His body was never found. His girlfriend died under suspicious circumstances, and he was a suspect.” Mom’s stunned eyes locked onto mine.
My youngest, the Fishing Fanatic, seems to be an unusual kid. He doesn’t live for video games and has little interest in an online life. He loves to be outdoors, fishing, exploring our woods, or working on outdoor projects. He’s a high-level reader but gets frustrated finding contemporary books he likes. So many middle grade and young adult books are fantasies. Even ones advertised as mysteries or adventure stories often have a fantasy element. The books that don’t are many times set in the past. But kids need adventure stories, set in 2020, with realistic plots, to inspire them to seek their own adventures.
The Problem with the Fantasy Element
Fantasy or scifi is my second favorite genre. I understand the attraction. But other genres offer equally entertaining reads. The glut of fantasy and scifi books in the middle grade and YA markets is discouraging to someone looking for something different.
I think all these fantasy stories convince kids that adventures can only happen in their imaginations, the time of true adventures is past. Or that they have to be the Chosen One, possess some special power or position, to be eligible for an adventure.
The Problem with Technology
The ubiquitous possession of phones seems to have convinced many authors that kids can’t have adventures in current times. I think that’s why a lot of stories are set in the recent past, so the characters don’t have access to phones. In America, so many people live in cities and suburbs that they don’t realize the country isn’t completely wired.
Smart phones have made creating adventures set in the U.S. more difficult. An author doesn’t want to resort to the idiot plot, forcing the main character and his friends into making stupid decisions in order to get them into challenging situations.
But with some research, contemporary adventures are possible.
I have firsthand proof. I live in rural Ohio. We can’t get broadband internet at our house. It’s not that it’s too expensive. It’s simply unavailable. I’ve hiked in many parts of the state where cell service is nonexistent. My phone would make a good coaster in those places, and that’s about it. Even in remote places where I can call out, it could take hours for first-responders to reach me if I was in trouble.
The truth of all these statement can be seen in the PBS series Expedition with Steve Backshall. Steve Backshall is a British explorer and naturalist. The point of the series is to explore little-known or unmapped areas of the world, like the jungles of Suriname, flooded caves in Mexico, or a mountain in Greenland. The crew and guides took a ton of gear with them, but if one person had a serious accident, getting help, in most cases, would be impossible.
The series ran here in the winter, and my whole family looked forward to sitting down together for each episode, excited to see a part of the world we know nothing about. Any of those episodes could spark a story.
My youngest has found a series he loves, The Three Investigators mysteries. Three fourteen-year-old boys run a detective business in California, and sometimes get work with the help of their friend, Alfred Hitchcock. The series was started by Robert Arthur in the 1960’s.
I want adventures stories to ignite in my kids a desire to seek their own adventures when they are old enough. I hope they see the world as a place of wonder, where mysteries still exist to be solved or explored or simply to marvel at.
Do you think real world adventure stories are important for kids to read? What books do you recommend?