Let’s get started with this month of blogging dangerously! So, since I’m starting with A, I figured, I’ll dig right in and talk a bit about action as a part of writing a novel, and how I’m thinking about it.
I’ve been writing short-novel length attempts yearly as a part of National Novel Writing Month since 2004. I wouldn’t say that they’re all novels, or stories, as many of them were experiments in trying to figure out what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it. Some were also just for complete and silly fun. I’m looking at you Zombocalypse New York City novel of complete ridiculousness.
One thing that was lacking in many of my early efforts was consistent and purposeful action. There were a lot and I mean a LOT of pages of plain dialogue without any action at all. I’m not even talking about action like where people are fighting or running or whatever. I’m talking about action like… someone picks up a cup of water because they’re thirsty, or another person leaves the room and slams the door, or a character has to go grocery shopping but also is having a phone call conversation with their mother to talk about a future visit or why they’re quitting their job. Whatever. I was writing tons of dialogue with occasional chase scenes and sporadic internal monologues.
So how do you get out of doing that when you know that it’s not fun to read? Well, I recently went to a talk by Hank Phillippi Ryan about jumpstarting your writing. One of her tricks when she gets stuck is that she leans back, closes her eyes, and imagines her novel as a movie. She then tries to see if it works as a movie, keeping her entertained and wanting to know what happens next. So, to help myself, I’ve been doing a lot of observation, watching lots of movies and reading lots of books where the creators are REALLY good at just showing what people do while they have conversations, or while they’re trying to save the world. There are quieter scenes, and very exciting scenes, but there’s always something happening, and there’s always a reason for the person doing whatever they’re doing. This is the kind of thing I’m working on, and thinking about. It’s not always easy, but it helps keep my stories from becoming a philosophical treatise on boredom.
If you write, how do you handle making sure that you keep things moving on the page? What are your tips and tricks? If you read, have you noticed this sort of thing and do you have a favorite scene where the actions of the characters worked really well for telling you about the story?