Author PSA – Either/Or Neither/Nor
Ways not to start a sentence!
“I heard myself say…”
“I watched as…”
“Basically what happened was…”
Have you ever read an action scene that makes you want to take a nap? Ever read one that blows your socks off?
Compared to the written word, action in movies is easy—tight and long shots, frenetic shaky-cam and long close-ups on agonized (or ecstatic) faces, manipulation of time through slow-mo or fast-mo…an action scene flashes from detail to detail in order to maximize the emotional impact of every….
Oh, wait, that’s not so different. In movies and in written stories you want to “show not tell” the action, and it doesn’t much matter whether the scene is on a screen or projected directly into the brain via the written word.
If you study the action sequences of thriller writers such as Larry Correia, Jonathan Maberry, Dean Koontz, and Lee Child, you’ll find the same elements used in film. I had the great fortune of working with Joe McKinney on a graphic novella for Dark Discoveries Magazine, and he did me the unintentional but enormous favor of asking the same question over and over again: what’s the emotional impact? You don’t have to describe the impact, and during action it’s usually better if you don’t—but if it happens on the page, it has to matter to the characters in one way or another.
Action scenes have to matter. They have to flow, from one vignette to another, from long sentences to short, from jagged, repeated rhythms to drawn-out, languorous blood-spatter. Cut. Slice. Vary your sentence length. Make grammar and punctuation serve the effect you’re trying to achieve, and break the rules with enthusiasm if you need to.
Use short paragraphs.
Draw out important details with rolling sentences almost out of place in the visceral action. But don’t obsess so much on one little detail at the expense of moving things along; the slo-mo shots in The Matrix worked, but those utterly forgettable action movies that show the same kung-fu move from five different angles and three different speeds are, well, they’re downright forgettable.
Watch your pacing, especially when it comes to dialogue in the middle of an action sequence.
“Bob, what are you doing?”
“Oh, you know. Just smothering the action in its sleep by sidetracking into this monologue, which I really shouldn’t have time for what with all the shooting going on. But you know, sometimes you just have to get a message out to the reader, or show some characterization, and if the opportunity presents itself, then—” BLAM. Flop.
Sorry, Bob. We’ve got good stuff to read.
By day, Patrick Freivald is an author, high school teacher (physics, robotics, American Sign Language), and beekeeper. He lives in Western New York with his beautiful wife, two birds, three dogs, too many cats, and several million stinging insects. A member of the HWA and ITW, he’s always had a soft spot for slavering monsters of all kinds.
He is the three-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominated author of Twice Shy, Special Dead, Blood List (with his twin brother Phil), Jade Sky, and Black Tide, as well as the novella Love Bites, a growing legion of short stories, and the Jade Sky graphic novella (with Joe McKinney) for Dark Discoveries magazine. There will be more.
Hello there 🙂
First up, I feel I should introduce myself.
My name is Kai (among other names at least), and I’m a 34 year old self-published writer. I’ve got a couple of shorts up on Amazon, have worked in publishing and website design for writers for close to ten years and maybe, most importantly of all, I’m a bit of a horror lover.
I graduated from ‘The Magic Cottage’ by the lamentably now lost James Herbert to ‘It’, ‘The Stand’, and then the Necroscope books before I was 15. From there, I’ve kinda spent a lot of time reading horror – zombies, scary stuff, spatterpunk, gorefest….about the only one I’ve not read broadly, beyond the classics, are vampire novels. I especially love transgressive fiction, the darker the better.
I finished my degree in 2011 with a 2:1, having completed a year of transgressive fiction and I’ll be honest, I loved it! The University of Gloucester is a great place to go to study, and I’m blessed with having been allowed to do the degree.
Movies too – I love scary movies. My favourite of recent years has had to be Cabin in the Woods – I loved the twist on the genre that it presented and I’m always up for a good, scary movie. But, just the same, I’ve seen some *really bad ones* too.
So, I thought – now that I’d introduced myself – that I’d talk about writing.
I’ve been doing it – with varying degrees of success – and freelancing as an editor, service provider, copywriter and most recently, using some of my degree as a publicist and social media strategist (I did some psychology too – creative writing and psychology lend themselves to sales, I feel). And the one thing I’ve learned is that it’s not easy to be a freelancer, but perhaps the worst (and most disheartening) is how hard it is to be a freelance writer. I mean, I’m not talking impossible, but it can be quite hard to find an income when you’re working with writing books, and subbing to presses, and doing everything else. And I’m not saying I know *the* solution, but I do have one of them, that worked for me.
I’m one of them. I got a degree, and before that had been signed off (long term) because I’m bipolar. So I decided that I’d had enough in 2010, before I graduated, and thought I’d freelance as a copywriter. The net result was three months of really HAPPY writing – I was on top of my reading, writing, anthology submissions. I was a writing machine. And then, as the workload for uni got heavier, and copywriting just got to be *the same stuff*, which I began to enjoy less, and I found it difficult to keep things going. So…my first tip. When it stops being fun, find a way to make it FUN again. Or at the very least, make sure you’re still doing a tiny bit of the fun writing. Tiny bit.
The second thing I learned is that when you freelance, there’s always a good time for certain work. I found I write best first thing in the morning, creatively, in the afternoon I was best at Uni work and copywriting (including research), and in the evenings, I’m best at editing. Night time, in bed, winding down or watching TV is a great time to do the social media stuff I missed between breaks. And most social media is so tiny, you can do it in bits when you’re not doing other stuff.
The third thing I learned?
Just because writing makes me happy, doesn’t mean ALL forms will. It’s ok to follow your heart, especially if your heart is telling you that what you’re doing is good, but it’s not great.
I’m now a full time fiction writer and do social media and pr consulting on the site, so I’ll be talking about both, if people are interested.
And it’s nice to ‘meet’ you.
See you in two weeks! Wanna know anything? Got a question I might be able to answer – just ask!