Saturday, May 2, 2015

Between the Bindings with Joan Curtis

I'm honored to welcome Joan Curtis, author of The Clock Strikes Midnight, to be a part of our Between the Bindings segment here on The Gal.  As usual with the authors I have chosen, she is full of some very good advice.  Looking to create a great action scene in your story?  Continue reading to see what information she offers on the subject.  :)

Tips for Creating Action Scenes

For some writers, creating action scenes comes easy.  For others, they are harder.  I come from a journalism background.  I learned how to write in short, distinct sentences and how to look for key points quickly.  These traits make it easier for me to write action scenes than it might be for someone coming from an English or English lit background.

Let's take a look at some ways to create action scenes.  What works and what doesn't.
  • Short sentences or phrases.  Sometimes using a single word is all you need.  Whatever you do, however, the sentence must be tight.  Let's look at an example: "He walked into the room and found himself surrounded by a feeling of emptiness, that sense that nothing is there even though he knew she was in the other room and needed his help."  An action scene like this would put the reader to sleep.  Instead: He crashed through the locked door.  Glanced around.  No one.  Listened.  A noise sounded from the other side.  He approached, gun in the air.  Seconds later he held her in his arms.  
  • Use hard, action verbs.  Avoid using passive voice and the "to be" verbs.  Of course, we should avoid passive voice all the time in our writing, but with action scenes it's essential to use active voice.  As for "to be" verbs.  Sometimes we have no choice, but again, use them sparingly when writing action scenes.  Example: "The meeting was scheduled for later but he was early as he always was and when he found the door was locked, he tried to break in, but his tools had not been replaced and he ended up bungling through the door."  Again, I can hear our readers snoring.  First, the sentence is too long and second the writer uses passive voice three times (can you catch them?).  Let's see if we can rewrite it: Mark scheduled the meeting for six.  He edged closer to the door.  No sound.  He fingered the knob.  Turned.  Nothing.  He reached for his trusty screwdriver and probed the lock.  Impossible.  A footstep approached.  Mark bashed through the door.   
  • Imagine the character's feelings.  We can't get too much in the character's head during an action scene.  It is not a time for internal dialogue unless that dialogue plays with the actions, as in this excerpt from The Clock Strikes Midnight.  Notice how internal dialogue and feelings play with the action: She resumed the butt-crawl.  Having no idea how long she had been struggling like a snail across the floor, she continued to ease herself along the edge of the wall.  Time crept by.  Once she reached the shelves, she backed up to them and finger searcher.  Her hand rubbed across the smooth surface of jar after jar.  Finally she hit on a round object.  She had no idea what it was but the edge felt sharp.  A lid from a Mason jar?    
  • Mix your short and long sentences.  Here's another example from The Clock Strikes Midnight: Finally, she got it placed exactly where she wanted it.  A noise sounded from the staircase.  Damn!  The door opened and footsteps edged down the stairs preceded by a flashlight.    
  • Use dialogue, but quick short sentences.  Not long explanations.  Example: "Who do you want to see?" said Louis.  "I'm looking for the girl that you kidnapped," Mark answered.  Let's re-write this to: "What the--" Louis blurted.  "Where's the girl?"  "What girl?"  Mark grabbed him by the throat.  "You know what girl."  

About the author:
Joan is an award winning writer who has published 5 books and numerous stories.  In her newest mystery/suspense novel, The Clock Strikes Midnight, we meet Janie Knox, a tormented young woman who escaped her home and family after a jury convicted her stepfather of killing her mother.  Full of twists and turns, readers learn of a trail of long-hidden family secrets that plague the lives of both Janie and her older sister, Marlene.  Not until the last page do all the secrets reveal themselves and the web of lies finally release its hold on the two sisters.
            Joan has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember.  She reads all kinds of books, including women's fiction, mysteries, biography, and nonfiction related to her work.  She does not read fantasy, horror or romance.  Her passion as a reader lies closer to literary writing with a commercial bent.  Her debut novel, The Clock Strikes Midnight, is exactly the kind of book Joan loves to read.
            "I write about characters who remind me of myself at times and my sister at times, but never fully so.  My stories are told from a woman's point of view.  Characters drive my writing and reading."
            Having grown up in the South with a mother from Westchester County New York, Joan has a unique take on blending the southern traditions with the eye of a northerner.  She spent most of her childhood in North Carolin and now resides in Georgia.

About the book:
The Clock Strikes Midnight is a race against time in a quest for revenge and atonement.  This is a story about hate, love, betrayal and forgiveness.
            If you found out you had only three months to live, what would you do?  That's the question Janie Knox faces int his fast-paced mystery full of uncertainty and tension that will surprise you until the very last page.
            Hiding behind the facade of a normal life, Janie keeps her family secrets tucked inside a broken heart.  Everything changes on the day she learns she's going to die.  With the clock ticking and her time running out, she rushes to finish what she couldn't do when she was 17 - destroy her mother's killer.  But she can't do it alone.
            Janie returns to her childhood home to elicit help from her sister.  She faces more than she bargained for when she discovers her sister's life in shambles.  Meanwhile, her mother's convicted killer, her stepfather, recently released from prison, blackmails the sisters and plots to extract millions from the state in retribution.  New revelations challenge Janie's resolve, but she refuses to allow either time or her enemies to stop her from uncovering the truth she's held captive for over 20 years.


JoanCurtis said...

Thanks for the chance to visit your blog! I'll gladly interact with any people who wish to comment.

I'd love to hear what you think about writing action scenes. Share your thoughts...

Kathy McIntosh said...

Your advice is spot on, and not so easy to follow. (The passive voice and I have a passive-aggressive relationship.)
Your book sounds great!

JoanCurtis said...

Thanks for your comment, Kathy. Yes, as writers we struggle with so many ways to improve our writing. I continue to learn each day--after each edit, after each novel read.