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Thursday, October 25, 2018

It Is Finally NaNo Time Again!

After a four year break in any attempts at doing National Novel Writing Month, I'm now taking another stab at it.

For those who don't know, National Novel Writing Month, otherwise shortened to NaNoWriMo, or its even shorter version, NaNo, is when writers from all over the world get together online to encourage each other to write a novel in a month of at least 50K words.

"Nay, nay," I can hear someone saying. "You can't write a novel in a  month! At least not a publishable novel."

"Nay, nay," I say, most of my published novels were originally written during NaNo. The only exceptions to that is Reality's Dawn, and two that are recently done but not published yet, Reality Game and Rebellion. And all of those the bulk of them were written in around a month or less. Professional writers write even faster than that.

What takes me so long is editing!

Anyway, I'm going to write my third novel this year, come November. Except, this one will be special. It is my Parkinson's novel. I plan upon publishing it, to have most, if not all, of the proceeds go to Parkinson's research. I'll probably donate it to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

It is called "Deep Brain Invasion," and obvious spin on Deep Brain Stimulation, otherwise known as DBS. DBS is a procedure I went through last September where two leads are planted into one's brain, where electrical impulses from a battery pack, also implanted, block the erroneous signals from the brain that cause the tremors and problems with other muscle movements. It isn't a cure, but does help people like me live a "normal" life for a while longer. Hopefully, for years. Prior to this, around every four hours I would take a dose of my medication that would result in about an hour of feeling "normal." The other three hours, using my left hand wasn't easy.

Anyway, due to that, I not only can type more freely, I also have a story for my Parkinson's novel. I came up with the idea shortly after the surgery, and wrote out a short story that will end up being my first chapter. I've written one other chapter. Now I simply need to write another 50k words this coming month to hopefully finish it out.

So this is special for several reasons. The last time I finished a novel for NaNo was in 2012, Virtual Game which is currently out for sale. That was the 4th year I had ever won NaNo. It was to be my last . . . until now, that is. I fully expect to finish this year, and hopefully for years to come.

Anyway, I wanted to let my readers know that I'll be posting my progress and other related things, hopefully each day of November. If you want to follow my progress, subscribe. If you don't want to be bombarded with daily or near daily posts of my progress during November, then unsubscribe, at least for November.

You have been warned!

But seriously, I hope you'll stick around and cheer me on to the finish line.

Friday, October 19, 2018

7 Suggestions to Writing Action Scenes

Here in Colorado, I missed a chance to attend the local writer group this past Sunday. Basically, I'm not used to going to anything on Sunday afternoon. So I missed even the reminder I had set to go off to, you know, to remind me of the upcoming event. I regretted missing it, because an author was going to discuss writing action scenes. Since I do write such scenes, I was interested in what he would have to add to my knowledge base.

So, since I missed that, I thought I would share what I do know about writing action scenes. Then I'll go next month to the next meeting. If I remember, that is. To look at my phone, that is.

So, what do I know about writing action scenes? I know I don't know it all, but what I do know, I'll share.

Definition of an action scene.


First, we need to define exactly what we are talking about when we refer to "action" scenes. We are talking about whenever any action that moves the plot forward needs to take place. It could be running from something or someone, or a fight, or a car chase, or even a board game. Any action which involves increasing tension until it resolves to some degree.

A lot of authors say they don't like writing action scenes. If so, they are probably doing it wrong, and it comes through in whatever action scenes they do write. What they generally mean is they don't like writing fight scenes. But an action scene is much more than fighting, as I've described above. Most every book will have some action scenes in it, even romance. Thus the need for us to examine how to write them in a manner that not only becomes enjoyable, but realistic.

Now, here are seven suggestions I have for writing action scenes.

1. Keep in mind the purpose of an action scene


Why have an action scene? What do they accomplish?  Two words: tension and resolution. That's why so many climaxes use them so often. But the goal, whether one is talking about action scenes in movies or in a book are to create tension about what will happen to the character, to put him or her in jeopardy that you are not sure they will escape. If you are having an action scene purely for its own sake, you're missing the whole point of having one in there. Instead of it being an important plot-moving element, it becomes mere plot decoration. Sort of like having a token action scene because it is expected.

Basic rule of thumb, if it does nothing for the tension of the story and the character(s), it is best to cut it or just say it happened without describing it.

2. Action scenes have a narrow focus.


By that, I mean that when a character goes into a battle or such, he or she focuses on the battle rather than a lot of other stuff going on around them. They won't notice the color of a drapery unless it falls on them or their opponent. So sensory data gets narrowed to whatever is going on in the battle or action. Think of all the adrenaline going through their veins. They will tend to only focus on the task at hand, or if well trained, only relevant data like noticing a fist coming at them from the side.

So your writing will need to reflect that narrow focus. Don't take time to describe any scenery except for that which directly is relevant to the action, to make sense of it. For instance, you could say something like, "A blue Dodge van careened toward them." But you wouldn't want to say, "We ran past a blue Dodge van as I plunged my fist toward his face."

To be realistic, you only should notice what your character would in that situation.

3. Action scenes happen fast.


This is good news for people who write an action scene: you don't need to spend pages writing out blow by blow accounts of everything. What does this mean for writing them?

It means action scenes should only be as long as required to describe the action adequately enough that the reader doesn't get lost. Probably one of the harder action scenes I've written was in my book, Mind Game, where I describe a space battle between three ships. It was a challenge to give enough detail that people could follow or get a picture in their minds as to what was happening in this three-dimensional-movement environment, but not so much that I made it appear longer than it would in real life.

Let's focus on sword fighting, for instance. Most sword fights happen in two or three moves. You rarely see the types of sword fights you see in movies where they battle it out for several minutes. It usually takes 2 to 5 seconds. Therefore, your writing should reflect that. If you have them swinging at each other more than three times, it starts to work its way toward non-realism.

That also means you'll want to use brief, short, sentences to describe action scenes. Conjunctions are not your friend if they are tying two long and complete sentences together. Break them up. The only thoughts of the character need to be focused on the battle or action at hand. This is not, generally, the time for long monologues or thoughtlogs as the case may be.

4. Focus more on the experience of the pov character than on the action itself.


That could be counter to what I just said above, but a balance needs to be maintained. Describe the action as necessary, but what the reader is really interested in is the character's experience. This is where showing can be very handy. Take these two examples:

Example 1: I hit him in the mouth and he slammed his fist into my gut.

Example 2: I swung my fist. It rammed into his jaw with a loud crack. My lungs expelled their air as a force slammed into my gut. I collapsed. The steely taste of blood rose into my mouth.

See how the second example raises the tension more than the first? The first just conveys what is happening. The second conveys what is happening to the character, what he or she is experiencing.

5. Don't have your characters talk a lot in an action scene.


What they do say should be short, to the point, and matching the drama of the moment. You might get "Look out!" or "Duck!" What you shouldn't get, unless your writing a literary piece, is long thoughts and discussions that put all the action on pause.

Just think, if you are in an action scene, like I was one time after my car spun out on the side of the road. The car's wheel stub was on fire, I didn't talk much. I ran as fast as I could to a nearby gas station to tell them to call the fire dept.

You wouldn't expect (though you often get) long discussions between characters. Or friendly banter like Spiderman or Deadpool. Those two are character traits. You don't often see much dialog (there are always exceptions) for instance, in Captain America's fights. There always tends to be pauses in the action to discuss something, but other than for characterization, you don't want most of your characters to say a lot during action scenes. Whatever they do say, should be to move the action forward or to build further tension.

6. Don't attempt to mimic the movies.


Movies use a lot of action scenes. Camera work is designed for it. You can see what is happening, and just seeing the main character dangling over that pool of acid is enough to keep you glued to the screen to see whether and how he escapes, or not, as the case my be.

However, as in point 4 above, just describing what happened from a camera pov is boring in writing. I've had people tell me they tend to skim and/or skip action scenes in most novels. The reason is they don't increase the tension in a novel as they do on the silver screen.

That's why point 4 is so important to include in any action scene. The tension will come more from what will happen to the character. So whether we are talking being hit or being dealt a bad hand in a poker game, we had better know what it means to the character's pov or you haven't conveyed good tension.

7. Your point of view will be an important factor how and what is described.


The above assumes you are writing in first or third limited person. If you are using an omniscient pov, however, your tactics can change. Keeping in mind the building of tension, you will have more freedom to get by with abbreviated action scenes. You can pull back for a broad view of a fight, as J. R. Tolkien does in Lord of the Rings, or you have the freedom to go into a specific head for a more personal view.

In either case, you do what will build tension most. For instance, I recall the scene in the movie, Lord of the Rings, where you have an extended fight scene with orcs and Legolas at Helms Deep. However, in the book, Tolkien only describes it in a sentence or two, referring to the sun glinting off Legolas' blade as he swung his sword over and over. In that pov, he could get away with that brief description. But to have focused on what happened, blow by blow, as he killed orc after orc, would have been tedious and wouldn't have built the tension as it did in the movie. Some complain that the movie's fight scenes were too long as well.

In first or limited third person pov, you would have to use a telling transition to skip over all that, something like, "My muscles grew weak as I hacked away at orc after orc. After several minutes of killing, I saw a bright light coming over the hill." But the omniscient pov has the value of being more descriptive in this instance.

Summary


So keep tension in your action scenes. They should build tension through them until it resolves, or partially resolves. All the above points focus on that aspect and making them as realistic as possible. If you can accomplish that while breaking any of the above suggestions, more power to you. But keeping the above points in mind will help to keep your action scenes pulling the reader into them, instead of something to skip over.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Scary Ride

My Halloween story for 2018. Enjoy!

-----------------------

“Mom, can I go?” I held out a flier to her. It read, “This Halloween, ride the Spookiest Roller Coaster you’ve ever rode in your LIFE!”

My mom scanned the flier. “Stephen, is Greg going with you to this?”

I nodded. “Everyone will go there. I don’t want to be the only one in school who hasn’t gone.”

She shrugged. “Don’t see any reason why not. But, be back in time to take your younger brother out trick-or-treating. Okay?”

“Oh, I guess.” Though I’d rather spend the evening with my friends. But I couldn’t tell mom that. I smiled instead. “Thanks, mom.”

“You’re welcome, son.” She returned to cooking dinner. Was that a hint of a smile I saw on her as she turned away from me?

I pulled the phone from my pocket as I walked into the living room. I called Greg. When he answered, I said, “Hi Greg. I’m in. Mom gave her okay.”

“Me too. But only if I was back in time to help with the dishing out the candy.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, my mom wants me back in time to take my brother out trick-or-treating.”

“Bummer.”

“Yeah, but it is what it is” I smiled. “Though, she didn’t say exactly when I had to be back.”

He laughed. “Be careful. When the clock strikes midnight . . .”

I chuckled at his attempt at humor. “What? Will I turn into a vampire?”

“Or worse, a ghost.”

“See you later, Joker.”

He continued laughing. “Bye, Casper.”

The line went dead.


# # #


The entrance appeared to be a standard “scary” ride entrance. A simple sign that had letters dripping “blood” that said, “Scary Roller Coaster: The Scariest Ride of Your Life!”

I pointed at the sign. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

Greg brushed his auburn hair back. “Yeah, these rides rarely live up to their hype.”

After several minutes, we finally entered the carts. Attendants came along to ensure everyone’s bar was locked in place and seat belts were snapped together.

Over the loudspeaker, a cackling voice said, “Enjoy your scare!”  The ride lurched forward and we entered a dark hole that the rails wound into. In the darkness I heard the clanking of the chains as the carts were pulled toward the top of a drop.  The tension grew greater with each second that brought us nearer the drop that we couldn’t see.

Finally, with a flash of lights, a giant stood on the top of the tracks as we sped past his legs. He reached down, barely missing the last cart as we careened down the first big dip. A dozen or so ghost lit up the dark as they flew just above us. Over the loudspeakers we could hear “Ohooooooooooo” and laughing, mixed in with screams from people in the carts.

Then the whole place lit up with sparks. Screams came from somewhere deep inside the building. Then everything grew dark. The coaster continued on its journey in silence, but nothing else happened for a few seconds. Then light once again lit up the building and died off quickly. The ghost came back to life, glowing as before. Except, this time, they brushed against me as they flew by. And the feeling was like nothing I’d ever felt before. A deathly coldness numbed my body where they had brushed against me.

As the roller coaster reached a new peak and started to dive into a new dip, a row of traditional monsters appeared beside us and reached out. Except this time, they were grabbing people.  They had problems pulling anyone out belted in as we were. One person in front of me screamed as the monster pulled so hard on him, only to have him slip from his grasp.

This was either a very convincing acting job, or something had gone terribly wrong. The facial expressions of the monster appeared genuinely disappointed at not pulling the guy out of his seat. One thing was for sure: these were not robotic monsters.

Then the lights darkened for a few seconds. When it reappeared, a vampire sat in the seat right in front of me. The vampire leaned over and sunk its teeth into the neck of the person sitting next to him. I screamed, by reaction to what I was seeing.  Then the vampire turned its head and looked me in the eyes. These were not the eyes of a robot, but of a real person, who now had the blood of his last meal dripping from his teeth.

His stare sent shivers down my spine. Then the lights went out again. Someone tried to nuzzle in between me and Greg. I couldn’t take it anymore. As the coaster continued rolling through banks and turns, I undid my seat belt and lifted my bar. Centripetal force kept me pinned in.

The lights came on and Greg no longer sat there. But the vampire did. He started to reach over toward me. About then, the coaster went through a twisting roll. I barely had time to grab the bar before I fell out of my seat. The vampire, however, wasn’t so lucky. He fell downward. As the cart came out of the twist and started going up, I worked my way back into my seat and buckled back in.

My heart was pumping now. But it raced even faster when I saw a bat flying beside the coaster. As it attempted to move toward the cart, I kept batting it away. Then as if it willed it to happen, the lights fell dark again. I kept swinging my arms wildly in hopes I would keep the vampire away.

The lights reemerged from the darkness and my heart froze. The coaster careened toward a “track under repair” sign, with the frayed edges of the track hanging over a precipice. I started frantically trying to get my seat belt undone. I pulled on it frantically, but nothing would give. As the end of the track approached, I braced myself. I hoped mom would understand why I missed taking my brother out, assuming I even survived this crazy ride.

The cart blew through the sign, which busted into fragments. Then the cart sank, but I felt something pull me up and out of the cart. When the lights came back on, I looked up and saw the vampire, holding me with his hands, flying through the air.  I was doomed to become a vampire!

We landed on a platform a little ways off. Then he let go and smiled.

I said, “Don’t you want to drink my blood?”

He shook his head. “Nope. I enjoy a good beer now and then, but no blood.”

I stared at him. My eyes, no doubt, betrayed my confusion.

“That’s because,” he said, “you’re on ‘You’ve Been Had’!”

I blinked. “What?”

A door opened up to the side of the platform and everyone yelled, “Surprise!” Cameras surrounded me.

Greg approached me and said, “We got you good, eh?”

“You mean, this was all an elaborate set up?”

“With the help of some good actors, yes.”

I breathed in deep. “Everyone on the cart was an actor?”

Greg laughed, “Several, not everyone.” He pointed at me, “You should have seen your face! We’ve got the whole thing on video.”

Mom’s face popped up in the crowd. “Which we’ll have fun watching over and over again. Now, Stephen, let’s get on with trick-or-treating.”

I pointed a finger at Greg. “I’ll get you back for this, if it is the last thing I do.” Because, I thought, the ride almost was the last thing I would ever do.

“One things for sure,” Greg said. “This was the scariest ride of your life.”

I breathed a sign of relief. My heart still pumped hard from the experience. “On that, we definitely agree.”