I read Kelly Komm's award winning novel, Sacrifice, and was struck by how seamlessly the action scenes were woven into the story. And there are LOTS of action scenes...sword fights, monster slayings, hiding, fleeing, and falling in love... whew!
What tricks did this author use to bring these scenes alive with just her words?
I asked Kelly if she'd share her secrets and she kindly agreed to write this guest blog. Thanks, Kelly!
Leap Through Your Story with Action Boulders
Act. It. Out.
This may sound absurd, but hey, you’re a writer. You’ve already punched the “crazy” ticket to take on such a lifestyle. So get up. Grab your kid’s Mario Kart wheel and drive your getaway car. Leap onto the couch with that blow-up sword from the local fair and confront your dragon. Barrel up the stairs; will you outrun your psychopath? Acting out your scenes is THE most effective way to bring honesty to your story. You want your protagonist to fight off a half-dozen ninjas? Step into his slippers. How do you hold your samurai sword? Do you growl, or scan frantically for an exit? Are you sweating? Is there broccoli in that one’s teeth? The options are endless when you physically imagine your tale from the point of view of your characters. Imagination is one thing, but to enact your ideas gives you a unique sense of ownership.
Action scenes give you a unique opportunity to share back-story, comedic relief, a key element, or even aspects of your character’s personality that you may not otherwise reveal or even know about. Nothing uncovers the true colours of someone the way a desperate situation does. To reference a movie, If Indiana Jones wasn’t thrown in that train car full of snakes as a teen, would he have developed his notorious fear of the slithery serpents? Or how about Harry Potter? Would the history of Harry’s scar have been as effectively remembered if he’d acquired it from Voldemort in passing versus the dramatic, action-packed nursery battle of wizard legend? I know when I wrote the first sword-fighting scene in Sacrifice involving my heroine and her guardian, Garick, I discovered a side of him I hadn’t even known about. It turns out play-fighting brings out a sarcastic side of Garick—not to mention the fact that he HATES to lose. How would you react in a new, high-action situation? Chances are you don’t know what your characters will do either. Throw them into the fray and see what happens.
Paint It with Words
Jane ran. She jumped over the wall. It was high. She landed poorly and broke her ankle. The villains caught up.
Action scenes are different from most other types of scenes due to several factors. One of my favourites: DESCRIPTION. With action, you’re usually painting a visual scene with minimal inf0rmation and dialogue, so let your brush lead you. Wear out your thesaurus! Shimmer! Shriek! Stroke! Snuffle! Savour! Infuse your story with every detail and really embellish. Get to know every angle of your story; editing is for reigning in, after you know exactly what each scene should look, sound, feel, smell and taste like.
Another factor: ELEVATION. If your story has a requirement of action scenes, chances are you have an exciting story in the works. Ensure your tale is moving forward in every way it should be. Nothing hooks a reader like ending a chapter with a breathtaking cliff-hanger.
One more: SHOW, DON’T TELL. And I mean that literally. Not sure how to reveal your hero’s feelings for your heroine? Nothing says true love like armed bank robbery for the funds to buy an engagement ring. Now you’ve got a new twist. Especially if your heroine’s new job is at the bank. Action scenes can often cause accidental brainstorming, even if it is just for you.
Are those boulders beginning to earn a more scenic spot in your story stream? A last tactic: explore the action boulders in stories you found particularly effective. What was it that drew you in? Why, and how? Now, pick up that pen and dive into that river! Lasso the biggest boulder you can and let it anchor you through the rapids of your flowing fable.
Kelly Komm is the Canadian author of Sacrifice, an award-winning young adult fantasy novel. For more information, please visit www.kellykomm.com
Eileen Schuh, Canadian writer www.eileenschuh.com