Last night I dreamt I went to went to Manderly again…
Actually, I didn’t, but it’s a famous opener for a reason. It sounds a heck of a lot classier than:
Last night, I dreamed I was running around with a bunch of kids fighting a bunch of other kids on a populated island, and then we holed up in a mobile home. I had just dyed my hair a blue that was both dark and bright, with streaks of lighter aqua and was thinking about how it really brought out my eyes when the bad guys came to the window and tried to get us. So this one girl lunged at them, a look of intense and horrible concentration on her face and the girl who was hanging in the window gasped as all her teeth turned to white chicklet gum and fell out of her mouth to the floor, blood spilling everywhere. So then they were really mad and their fists turned to small, flesh-colored cinderblocks, and they were duking it out with the intense girl and Clark Kent through this little kitchen window. It was pretty freaky, what with the block fists with the holes in them on both sides, but not wholly threatening. Until the trailer started to move and the slid across the packed dirt of the lot…
My interpretation: I’ve been thinking about action scenes.
The other day I talked about Monster Hunter International which is full of action. And that’s part of why I read it, because I’m not comfortable writing the fight scenes, and I need to read more and see how it’s done.
B and I were watching the special features on the Challenge of the Super Friends the other night and one of the things that kept coming up in the commentary was how there had was a period of relative non-violence for superheroes, where they’re tackling a lot of natural disasters and stuff, and that part of the awesomeness of Challenge is how they actually had cool villains to battle. (ah ha, tip 1, make it hard). Even so, they’re still not terribly hands-on and it is what it is.
In a lot of my reading, the action hasn’t been very hands-on, unless we’re talking the bedroom action (oh. yeah.). There’s been a lot of out-witting the foe. A lot of distance. The occasional surprise elbow from a spunky heroine that allows the hero to get the drop on the villain. So much threatening from weapons that are never fired that you start to wonder if any of these guns are even loaded. But, you know, it is what it is.
I don’t object to violence in my entertainment (as long as it remains entertaining). On the contrary, violence can pull you in, invest you, raise the stakes and make you feel the story like little else can. Sometimes the mere threat is not enough. The reader has to know you’re serious. Has to feel like you can might just cross a line–even if you’re in a genre where some lines are just never going to be crossed. As a reader, I’ve found the the shock value of a good beat-down is a way to get there. Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind, is a great example of an author who just shackled me to a character with my utter devotion because he just kept on torturing the poor the guy and yet Richard would just keep getting up, finding his feet, and choosing to move on with his mission. (Of course, in subsequent books, he just pushed past my personal tolerance and I had to quit, but the first book will always rock.)
I think this is part of what’s going on with the popularity of paranormal romance. Certainly not all PNR is violent, but the fantasy aspects seem to lend permission to it, and I think we’re seeing more vivid stories and higher stakes than we were seeing in romantic suspense.
Or I’m just totally off base. I don’t know. I’m just yammering here.
Back to the Monster Hunters. MHI was most definitely hands-on, although there were also plenty of shotguns, grenades, and some anti-tank weaponry. Two things I noticed here:
1. The use of all five senses in the battle scenes. Carefully, of course, without getting in the way, but thinking about loss of hearing, the sound of screams, pain, the look and feel of spattering body fluids, the smell of battle, the dirt in the mouth, rage, desperation… And delivering it all fearlessly as as a writer.
2. Sequences. These were rarely simple in-and-out missions with one fist fight to serve as the conflict before the prize. These battles started off with scary odds and then just kept growing. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any bleaker, something new would happen. Challenge after challenge after challenge, each one drawing you in, investing you emotionally as you turn pages to find out how the protag is ever going to get out of this and if all his friends will survive. So that by the time it’s over, you feel like you’re nearly as exhausted as the rest of the group.
So I don’t really have a conclusion. This isn’t one of those things where I feel like I know what I’m talking about. I just thought I’d throw out some observations about writing action and violence and see if anything bounces back. Got anything ideas?
I really think that nothing helps you grow as a writer like a really good crit. The biggest thing that the indie movement has working against it is a lack of good editing. Editors are out there, but we don’t know who to go to, we’re concerned about the costs, will it be worth it, should I trust this person’s opinion of my work, etc.
I would like to have professional editing and proof-reading recommendations, but so far these have been services I’ve traded with friends since I’m lucky enough to have some BAMF indie friends. I’d love it if you would email me with your experiences using professional editing services. What you thought of the quality of the work, how long it took, how much was paid, anything about the process that a fellow indie might like to know. Email me with those stories, ask your friends to do likewise, and if I can collect enough info I’ll be able to present them in some way hopefully others can benefit from. Please specify if your editor work on your content, or proof-reading only. Please understand that I’m looking for client testimonials and will probably not include info sent by editors directly. Please ask your clients to contact me.