Writers Tricks of the Trade VOLUME 8, ISSUE 4 - Page 15

O N W RITING C HASE S CENES C AROLYN H OWARD -J OHNSON A UTHOR OF T HE F RUGAL E DITOR , THE WINNINGEST IN HER AWARD - WINNING H OW T O D O I T F RUGALLY S ERIES OF BOOKS FOR WRITERS N OTE FROM C AROLYN : This article is excerpted from some editing I did for a writer of exper- imental fiction when I was on a Greater Los Angeles Writers Society panel. No matter what genre you prefer, you can apply these suggestions to the chase, getaway, or high action scene in your script or manuscript before you send it to an agent or publisher or, better still, while you are writing the first draft. S ometimes even the most fascinat- ing, interesting and irresistible de- tail can slow down the forward movement of your story. So as much as writers are told that detail is im- portant, purge as much as you can from your action scenes and put it somewhere else or dribble it into narrative in other places in your manuscript. In the process, ask yourself if your reader really needs to know the color of the protagonist’s eyes. As important as detail is, some is better left to the imagination of the reader. I can imagine where eye color might be very important, but—on average—it probably isn’t necessary. Here are some quick sug- gestions: 1. Remove some of the detail entirely. Double check. Make it meets the test! 2. Use stronger verbs—especially verbs of movement. 3. Use shorter sentences. By doing so, the rhythm could emulate a fast-beating heart and the pulse of danger. Note that clauses slow copy as surely as passive voice (or tense). W INTER 2019 4. In the interest of a faster pace, try dropping into present tense and moving out of it when the run or danger is past. If you write the scene that way and wait a day or two before rereading it, by doing so, you’ll be able to honestly compare the effects of the two and adjust the tense change so it doesn’t feel obtrusive. 5. If you are trying to achieve a truly heart-beating moment, consider using fragments. Even one-word fragments. 6. Commas can slow the pace. Some- times you must follow grammar rules for commas for clarity. Often that comma slows things down for the reader. Does the comma indicate a pause where the reader wouldn’t normally pause or does it reinforce a natural pause. Does it really help with clarity. Would you achieve this clarity better if you made your long sen- tence into short ones. This is a style choice you get to make. You are looking for the times readers will never notice a comma is absent. You may choose to dis- card some of them. P AGE 10 W RITERS ’ T RICKS OF THE T RADE