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Words, Camera…and Action!

by Bonnie Calhoun

What comes mind when I say those words? Typically someone would think of a movie set in the oldun’ days. Someone had a tripod camera and a megaphone and a snappy board with numbers on it.

I want you to try this when you’re writing an action scene. The idea is to get you to look at the scene in your mind’s eye. Capture what you see with words. Be visceral. Don’t fill in any embellishments like “it was a dark stormy night.” I don’t even want eye color or clothing. Just the facts ma’am!

There is a scene in my present novel “Cooking The Books” where Sloane Templeton is attacked by her ex-boyfriend. I created that scene with multiple layers.

First I wrote the action:

He roared in.
I jumped back.
He lunged.
I sidestepped.
He grabbed my top.
I pushed off from him,

You get the idea. I wrote the movements so that none of the interludes would be lost. Have you ever read a really great scene and come to a screeching halt because they got from point A to point C and you didn’t see B? Well that’s what I mean about writing it out so you don’t miss B!

Now that you’ve got the bread, go back and start layering meat. You get to choose multiple layers. Start with sensory. Sound….is there anyplace that there will be sounds like slapping? (I had gun shots!) Or conversation? This is a good time to stick in verbals.

Then go for taste. Is there anything to taste? If the protag gets cracked in the mouth there might be blood. Blood has a definite taste…copper.

Then try smell. Are there any smells? I had the smell of sulfur from the gunshots. But you could have a smell like flowers or musty smells…or even fear…yes you could smell fear if it causes excessive sweating. :)

Next would be touch, feeling the cool metal of the gun, or the hatch work on the grip. Or vinyl flooring as she’s being pulled across it and trying to get a grip.

Then you could stick in some visuals like the surroundings or their clothing.

Now here’s where the moderation comes in. Too many layers to the sandwich fills up the white space on the page and slows down the action. Yes there are places that you’d want to slow the action so the reader can take a breather. But I personally want to keep the blood pumping until the scene is done, so I try not to slow them down to much.

Rule of thumb…to speed up action, write short, choppy sentences. To slow down the action write longer or combined sentences. Don’t make them all the same length. This is called “the beats.”

Illustration. Dots are short sentences. Dashes are longer sentences.
(. . — . — . . . — — . —) Can you feel the beat?

Create your own cadence! And turn on the camera in your head. Happy writing!


Bonnie S. Calhoun’s first book is the mystery suspense Cooking The Books: A Sloane Templeton mystery. She is publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Northeast Zone Director for ACFW and their ’2011 Mentor of the Year,’ President of Christian Authors Network, Appointment Coordinator for Colorado Christian Writers Conference and Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference.

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