Help me! > BookMarc by Peter Abresch

Writing/Rewriting -- Part 5

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Bob Mueller:
 Date:         Thursday, April 15, 1999 02:10 PM

BookMarc #23
Writing/rewriting part 5

In describing an action scene, one in which rapid movement takes place, a fight, a tornado zooming down on a town, a car crash, we should strive to convey it so the reader gets carried along in the moment. I think the best way to do that is to show it through the eyes of your Point of View (POV) character. In this way we can relate internal dialogue to the action so that the reader experiences what is taking place. The key point here is showing rather then telling, because in showing we engage our readers and give them a sense of presence. Let me use a made-up example.

    Stagman, gun steady, wiggled the fingers of his free hand. "I'll take the diamond now."
    Harry nodded.
    He might be about to get himself killed, but how else to save Sally? He only hoped Stagman was just as much of an amateur as he, except, of course, the guy had a forty-five.
    Harry pulled out the 54 carat stone and pitched it, high and wide, twirling in the air, buoyed as a kite by the wind, sun popping off its many facets like Chinese fireworks.
    Stagman suckered for it.
    And Harry charged in right behind.
    Head down. Arms out. Hitting him waist high, smashing his shoulder into Stagman's gut, hearing him grunt. Churning legs, driving the guy back, but the ***** refused to cave.
    Then the world crashed on the back of Harry's head.

Let's see if we can break open some of the elements of what I was trying to accomplish. First, the bit of body language reinforces Stagman's words and gives a visual to place us in the scene. Then Harry's nodding sets us up for what he's thinking in the next paragraph. I'll talk more about this in POV, but w/o that action, the first sentence of interior dialogue would be ambiguous and disrupt the flow so essential here to keep charging on. The interior dialogue itself gives reason and hope for the desperate action that follows. This is especially important if the action is extraordinary for this character. Okay, it's exaggerating a bit to say a diamond is buoyed by the wind and sun popping off it's facets, but I'm trying to stretch things out here, long sentence with a lot of visual clauses, to give the impression a length of time is passing with the twirling and popping sun, like a slow motion camera...and slam home "Stagman suckered for it." I don't think "suckered" is a word, but is there any doubt what's happening? After this I want things to go fast. Short sentences. Short clauses. Not worrying about grammar here, just bam, bam, bam.

Does it work? You have to be the judge.

One other thing. I'm not sure "hearing him grunt" fits the flow--a judgement call--but I wanted it for sound. Look again at the example we used in BookMarc #20:

They galloped over a rise a half-mile outside Haffas. A pink dawn silhouetted its domes and minarets, turning the desert city into a promise of rebirth. Oself rubbed grit from the long ride out of his eyes, and listened as a cock's crow rode out on a light breeze to greet him, breathed in a cool air enriched with the sweet fragrance of jasmine and the tart draft of camel-dung cooking-fires, and felt his doubts slip away with the shadows of night.

Do you see what makes this paragraph work? It engages the senses. Sight, sound, touch, smell. Only taste is missing and I tried to simulate that with the 'tart draft,' and contrasted that with the 'sweet fragrance' to stimulate a known sweet and sour response in our minds. We often limit ourselves to visuals when we put things down on paper, but see how the use of the other senses multiplies the feeling of presence? We always want our readers to feel like they are right there, watching it happen, right before very their eyes. And nose, and ears, and tongue, and skin.

And by the way, for those of you who correctly pointed out some shortcomings of this paragraph in BookMarc #20, does this revision clear some of them up? Comments? Rebuttals? Suggestions? Additions?

In BookMarc #24 we'll finished up writing/rewriting with an often unused fiction writing tool.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch BookMarc February 13, 1999

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