Thursday, 14 July 2011

Keep it Tense: Action Scenes

Have you ever been frustrated writing a tense action sequence? What should be tense and immediate wanders slowly to an ending like an explosion in slow-motion. The truth is it’s not difficult to make your action scenes stand out, if you keep a few things in mind.

Long action scenes are boring. Action scenes are often packed with information, move and counter-moves that will leave the reader breathless. The longer you drag out the sequence, the more likely your reader is going to lose that sense of immediacy and just move on.

This is not the time for flowery prose. Wax philosophical about the moon some other time, right now all your character knows is he’s in trouble and he needs to act now.

For me, the discovery of the concept of the MRU improved my action scenes significantly. The idea of the MRU is that you break up the action of your story into two-beat units of motivation followed by reaction. This is a deep point of view trick that is even more important for action scenes. The basics are simple: Something happens, and the character responds.

Keep the danger immediate and real. Don’t bother with the motivations of the scene’s antagonists, just describe their actions so that the reader knows the threat presented to the protagonist.

In fight scenes, the reaction will be active. Movements and immediate decisions make for realistic responses. Thoughts should be short, feelings should be displayed through their action, and dialogue needs to be even more crisp than normal.

Tie all of these together and you’ve got a fight scene that should be well liked by your reader. Just don’t go overboard, too much of a good thing can spoil.

Monday, 11 July 2011

At Least I Have Good Storage

An author I follow, Alicorn, has two things on her site which confuse me: two projects she notes on her list of other writing as being embarrassing to her.

It took me a few minutes to work out why, because I couldn't fathom putting forth anything by my best.

It occurred to me then that having the full scope of an author's work is always interesting: Jane Austen's Lady Susan came out after her death, as did Robert Heinlein's For Us, The Living. The only difference, then, is that Alicorn is not entrusting her early creations to crumbling paper, but keeping them on the internet with her other works. She's not keeping drafts and things she feels she's grown out of just for family and friends. It makes sense, as nothing else she's had up was restricted in that way: her distribution is entirely online, from what I know.

And it gives us a chance as readers to note how much she's grown as a writer without having to wait for her to die and dig through her things, which is always a plus.

I have a similar, if more private, archive in my Google Documents. I think it's probably a sign of the generation I come from that I consider it more indestructible on a collection of servers than in hard copy.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Writing To An Audience

I'm participating in this contest. It's a fun contest, an endurance competition as much as quality. And the thing about having an endurance competition is that you get to know your audience, the judge, pretty well.

I've found that freeing in a lot of ways. Most of the other writing I do, I have in mind for a wider audience. I want to communicate my ideas clearly to a wide range of people. With this, I only need to appeal to one.

That came to the forefront with this round, which included a prompt for a poem. I wrote my poem and had four people read it. Four people who were not the judge, one of whom was also a participant in the contest. Of those four people, only one of them understood the subject matter of the poem, which was particularly dense and opaque.

If it were for any situation other than this contest, that would have sent me into paroxysms of editing anguish.

But this poem was for this contest, to be read and parsed and understood by one judge. I knew he'd get it, so I took their comments about flow and meter to heart for my revisions and tweaked it before submitting it, ignoring their suggestions to make it less opaque.

My faith turned out to not be misplaced: the judge understood the subject matter. I'd gotten through to my audience.

Most of the time, most of us aren't lucky enough to be writing for an audience of one. But what would our writing be like if we were?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

There is Nothing quite as wonderful as Money, Money, Money

One of my friends is completely and utterly baffled at the fact that I don't want to write for a living.

Now, a lot of my friends don't believe most of the things I say, for their own reasons--usually because they can't wrap their head around what I'm saying. I don't begrudge them that, by the way; I can't fathom some of the things they're talking about either. But why do we have to turn everything we love into a moneymaker?

I don't want to write to get published. I never did. I don't write to inform people, or to persuade them. I don't write to churn out the next Great American Novel, or New York Times bestseller, or international sensation. I don't write to be controversial or edgy, or to make people think deep philosophical things.
If I do those things, that's a great side effect. If you do, good for you. But that's not why I write.

I write to entertain. That's all I've ever done. All I want to do is tell a good story--or even a bad one. If people like it, it doesn't really matter, does it?

Now, I'm just going to come out and say it. I've had a really hard time writing lately. Haven't written a thing in months, in fact. Why? Long story. I'll try to sum it up.

It's incredibly pathetic, but I got broken. In the past, I've forgotten why I write; just every now and then I'd stop and go, "wait, this isn't fun anymore. Why am I doing this, again?" And I'd think, and I'd remember why. And I've been trying to cling to that. Then I made the mistake of taking some people more seriously than I should have, and I convinced myself that their goals were what I should have been after, and made them my goals. Did this negatively affect my writing? You bet your ass it did. For a while there I just threw up my hands and gave up writing altogether, because the stories I wanted to tell just didn't work for the new goals.

I lost my love for writing, and in forgetting why I write I lost a part of my soul. And it hurts. It hurts something terrible, because I haven't gotten that love back yet. I'm remembering my goal and trying to keep it close, but the passion's been broken and it's going to be difficult to get back. It's not something that just magically returns when someone admits "just write the story the way you want to," or when they say "but that story's great, you should finish it!"

This is why I decided, years and years ago, that I didn't want to turn writing into my career. I love it too much to turn it into a career. If I turn that into a money making endeavor, then I'm going to have to be constantly writing, constantly researching, constantly marketing myself and trawling the freelance markets for pittance just to stay afloat so I can finish writing my novels. Writing doesn't pay well unless you hit it big, or constantly whore yourself out, and I knew I wasn't going to strike gold the first time and I didn't want to do the latter.

And what I feared came to pass. I stressed out about my writing and became so obsessed with twisting and warping this story I had loved into something that the mainstream market would accept and pay me for that I stopped loving to write.

Some people can write for a living. If you can, good for you. But I can't.

I just love it too much.