A few days ago, on a hot afternoon with not much else to do for entertainment, we saw the new Mission Impossible movie. A good one, but for the purpose of this post I want to focus on what this movie has a lot of, and that is action.
Of course, distant voices whisper through the blogosphere, it’s an action flick for goodness sake.
Yes, that it sure is.
The opening scene (five minutes or so), is jammed-packed with action — some of it cliché, but most good enough to grab the viewer by the neck and keep her on that seat. Keep the mind from wandering, yet my mind wandered way the heck off. Watching Tom Cruise run all over the place and do all sorts of impossible tricks while keeping his cool, got me to thinking …. hey, what about building action in a book?
After having written a couple of mystery novels (one published), having gone through edits with the publishing-house editor, and currently working on another mystery novel, there were a few things drilled into my skull over the years.
Deep breath, or if you’d like to take a break and grab a glass of water, or better yet wine … I’ll wait for you.
Okay, here I go.
An action scene isn’t just a car chase, a fistfight, or a hot-and-heavy sex scene. No. In my wandering mind, an action scene needs the pace cranked up to its most intense level to build tension, deliver emotional impact, and move the plot forward with one big punch.
So, how does an author turn scenes into heart-pounding experiences for the reader while building tension and emotional impact and advancing the plot?
Well, watch a movie like Mission Impossible, for one.
Or, in a book, keep descriptions to a minimum. The setting should be established before the action begins so we know where the action is happening. A winding mountain pathway during the night, a crowded street during morning rush hour, the prince’s secret boudoir, whatever the setting, it should be introduced before the action begins to limit the need for description.
When the action begins, my dears, an author only needs to mention the details that create the immediacy, urgency, or the sense of dread, panic, romance, or in short, the scene’s emotional goal.
That’s it. Easy, no?
Here is a short action scene from my book, Stranger or Friend:
With his heavy boot on her back, he held her face to the ground. Shoved hard, as if to push her into the dirt. Desperate for air, Zoe tried to reach back, to claw at the boot. Her lips mashed against the rock, splitting open. Her teeth and gums grated against stone. Her mouth filled with a metallic taste. Blood, lots of blood. Why didn’t he just kill her? Frozen in fear and pain, she willed her mind to work. Maybe if she’d wait out the boot, if she’d keep her bearings a little longer … maybe she’d be all right. But she was not all right. She felt a broken connection with her consciousness. She fought to keep her mind as one entity, while the boot squashed her face against the rock. Someone was crushing her skull. A distant part of her was shoved to a bottom where she sunk into her own spit and blood. Zoe struggled for a breath at the bottom of this pool, but darkness intruded. No sky, no trees, no way to tell which way was up.
The idea here was to keep the momentum going, show the character’s struggle while she was being badly hurt.
While action is the lifeblood of mysteries and thrillers, I think we need momentum in any book, and that, my friends, means action.
What else have I learned? That I make a lousy movie companion, because my mind wanders to the parallels between the flick on the screen and books. All the time.
What say you, dear blogging friend?
Images credit: www.self-helpapedia.com, fineartamerica.com