Today I workshopped a draft of a high-action scene or two. Good thing it was only a draft. I took way too long to arrive at the heart of the scene, used words that felt too formal and had a lot of dogmatic dialogue, very convenient for me, not so much for the reader.
Writing Tip for Today: Many of my students fear presenting a scene that fails, either from inappropriate word choices, preachy or long-winded dialogue or just in taking too long to get to the action. I’m here to tell you that reading a scene that needs work isn’t a bad thing for these reasons:
- Go ahead–Fall Flat. In your group, you’re among friends (if you aren’t find a new group).You get to try out your stuff in a nonthreatening environment. Especially with high-action scenes, readers need the correct balance of dialogue to other scenic elements, word choices that add to urgency and they don’t want to wait for pages while you, the author explain stuff (RUE, Resist the Urge to Explain, remember?). It may be a bit embarrassing, but you’re more likely to learn from the experience. I know I did today.
- Read It Aloud. With the immediate pressure of others listening, you can hear the shortcomings of a slow-paced action scene for yourself. Reading prose aloud can be the fastest way to identify and know how to remedy a scene that needs help. Chances are, as you read you are feeling the same as readers–you want the action and you want it now. Makes all those eloquent speeches, descriptions and explanations pale in comparison. As I read, I was getting anxious for action in what I’d written, even though it all seemed great prior to the critique session. Go figure.
- Go Where It’s Happening. By workshopping a raw draft, you’ll be likely to pinpoint the spots where not only the action or dialogue lags, but also where your individual word choices fall short. As we talked about before, long sentences, long words, and uncommon words slow everything down. When you revise, let your vocabulary and your sentences get shorter to give the illusion of movement. Rewrite so that characters interrupt each other, build up tension organically and be sure the conflict means a lot to both parties.
Writing is rewriting, right? Doesn’t matter if you’re well-published or pre-published, every writer must spend time in the revision room. A high-action scene deserves the very best you can write. Pardon me, but I’ve got work to do.