I wrote this guest blog last year for Babes in Bookland (hey, all!). Since it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, having just turned in the second book in my Latter-Day Olympians series, I thought I’d reprise it here. Hope you enjoy!
I don’t know about you all, but I dread action scenes. I approach the writing of them with all the excitement of facing a root canal without pain meds. Why? Abject terror. Yes, that’s right—the big bad literary agent and novelist is inclined to run screaming into the night at the first sign of an approaching fight scene.
As you can probably tell, such scenes don’t come easily to me. The first mistake I always used to make was using waffle words and observations rather than just rolling out the action. See how I used “just” right there? It’s a waffle word. I’m a huge overuser of the word “just” and find that I have to take out a good number of them in revisions. As far as observations, the reader doesn’t need the cues “she thought,” “he heard,” “she saw,” etc. Whether you’re writing in first or third person, a scene will be told from a particular character’s point of view, thus if the reader is reading something, it’s understood that the hero, heroine, villain or whoever is thinking, hearing, seeing or smelling the subject of the sentence.
My second problem is that I always have difficulty balancing the need for description so that the reader can visualize the scene with the momentum of the action. I don’t want to slow things down by describing something while my heroine is in mid-swing. On the other hand, even in the split second it takes a blow to fall, a person is processing a ton of information, some of which can reasonably be put down in print. Generally, my first draft of a scene is a whirl of this action and that reaction with the reader left in the dust as to who is actually doing what to whom and where. That’s something I go back and forth over several times—adding, subtracting, making sure my antecedents are clear (for example, which bad guy has the glass jaw). My action scenes probably receive twice the tinkering of any others.
Third, you have to write the action scenes in voice! Wow, that’s a lot to expect of one little scene. That’s yet another revision or six. I find that in my effort to show the action and make it all clear, the voice will fade in and out, and I have to really focus on keeping it in and consistent in my later passes over the manuscript. So, generally I get it down, then get it right. In fact, if you can take any lesson away from this post, it’s that: “get it down, then get it right.” You have to give yourself permission to be imperfect, permission to fail, in order sometimes to get the words onto the page. Your critique partners, agent, editor, copyeditor, etc. are there to keep you from falling on your face.
Now you all know my dirty little secret. The funny thing is that I write novels with lots of action. I think I must be a masochist.